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SQUAWK box: ‘Tis the season to be gratis

With one year winding down and another beginning, realscreen asked its readers what they think the new year will hold. Many pointed to the continuing dominance of hd and the ongoing advance into emerging technologies - though many of those new toys are still waiting for a business model. Several also held forth on the return of 'capital D' documentaries to broadcaster skeds.
January 1, 2006

With one year winding down and another beginning, realscreen asked its readers what they think the new year will hold. Many pointed to the continuing dominance of hd and the ongoing advance into emerging technologies – though many of those new toys are still waiting for a business model. Several also held forth on the return of ‘capital D’ documentaries to broadcaster skeds.

But while filmmakers may dream of sugarplums and silent investors this holiday season, researchers – including Ann Petrone, who works for doc legend Errol Morris – have something else on their minds. Petrone wants less restrictions on footage, and it isn’t as unlikely as it may initially seem:

‘In 2006, I’m wishing for less copyright protection. Let me explain my heresy in the age of rampant film piracy: there is currently a bill before the US House of Representatives known as the Public Domain Enhancement Act – HR 208. If passed (it’s currently in committee), this bill would simplify the process of tracking down a copyright owner and, at the same time, make more archival ‘orphan’ films available for free use in the public domain.

‘It’s pretty simple: to retain the copyright, a nominal tax of $1 must be paid 50 years from the date of creation. The copyright office at the Library of Congress would maintain an online database so it would be very easy to locate the copyright holder.

‘There is a real need for this when the films in question aren’t major studio releases, but rather the products of defunct production companies, industrials, educational films, home movies, newsreels, outtakes, etc. In other words: the gold mine of archival footage around which great documentaries are built.

‘So, let me rephrase my original thought: in 2006, I want to have free and easy use of gobs and gobs of archival footage. And isn’t that every researcher’s wish for the New Year?’

About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at mkashty@brunico.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty

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