CBS Would Rather Kill Off Classic Jack Benny Video Footage Than Let Fans Rescue And Digitize It

from the killing-culture dept

In the past, we've seen time and time again how copyright has been used to lock up culture and make it inaccessible. At times this is literally destroying culture, as content is left on degrading media, and those who can preserve it are blocked from doing so. The latest example of this, as sent in by an anonymous reader, involves the famous comedian Jack Benny. Apparently, a bunch of Jack Benny fans have been seeking the right to digitize old audio/video footage of Benny from CBS in order to preserve it. But, in a short-sighted decision, CBS has instead decided to lock up the content and let it disintegrate away (literally):
Late last week the International Jack Benny Fan Club got some very bad news: rather than allow the club with the Benny family's enthusiastic blessing to digitally preserve some unreleased public domain Benny show masters that CBS has in its possession, the network is giving a thumbs down to the idea -- thus sealing these shows' fate so they will never be seen again. In effect, it's a bullet through the head of this body of Benny work. And here is the most frustrating tidbit for comedy fans and those who study comedy: the Fan Club offered to do the preservation at no cost to CBS.
Yes, some of this content is public domain. Of course, that doesn't mean anyone has a right to access it, but it is rather ridiculous that CBS won't even bother to release the public domain material.

Update: In the comments, Ben pointed to this response which claims that there is more to this story, and that CBS just didn't want to give the content out to this particular fan group. I still don't quite understand what the problem is with that fan group, and why CBS won't allow it, but it gives a bit more perspective on the story.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:05pm

    What you're forgetting Mike is that merely digitizing analog content magically gives an entirely new copyright. CBS does not want this fan club to get that new copyright.

     

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  2.  
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    yo ho n bottle a rum, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:07pm

    and i pirate why

    you should also add how the bbc intentionally destroyed a large amount of old doctor who as well
    form the age of the 1st and second doctor ( yes more was lost in a fire but we all have lost now )

    when they do this perhaps we should ask for our money back as in we gave you the copyright and your forever it so i want my money back as your not going with even the spirit

     

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  3.  
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    more lost art, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:09pm

    nosferato

    was hte movie that this first happened too the owner died and his wife went and sued anyone with a copy trying ot rmeove it form anyones hands thus destroying most of it , while half arsed copy exists its thanks ONLY to ealry pirates that kept quiet

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:15pm

    This is corporate lawyers making decisions, nothing more and they tend to see in black and white. I spent three years cutting for a large network that shall remain nameless and when it came time to look for work and cut a demo reel, I was informed that they would NOT be providing me with the material I needed in order to do so because of copyright. This despite the fact that no demo reel = no work in my industry. I was told that I could not use the footage in way that would result in financial gain for myself and they saw my shooping a demo reel around to find work as exactly that. I had to sue them to get the footage out of them and even then there were MASSIVE stipulations on it's use. Lawyers are fucking clowns.

     

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  5.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:25pm

    Re:

    Without a sarcmark I can't tell if you're being sarcastic, but in case you're not: They can always pay the fan club a small sum to do the work, making it a work for hire. That way, the copyrights stay firmly in the hands of the lawyers, the way our founding fathers intended. [insert sarcmark here]

     

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  6.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re:

    "I can't tell if you're being sarcastic"

    I thought my use of "magically" made it clear. I guess I'd better pay up for my inappropriate use of sarcasm.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    yea Infamous Joe has it

    AT least do that so its not lost, and such

    prob is Joe that fans tend to share and suddenly its everywhere ya know
    they cant pay them for it and then not make money back
    thats why its lost art now.
    and exactly what abuse of rights is.

    if you aren't using it YOU LOSE the right
    thats what the founding fathers of your land intended
    we give you this limited right so you can continue to use and invent off it not shelf it and hide it form the world

    the free masons of the world should seriously look at what they are helping to do here , and i'll say this, if this is a church movement to suppress knowledge and freedom its gonna back fire large.

    the ancient order kept the knowledge for when it could be free, so pirates are like the old masons

    the new masons are about secrets and how many you hold and such, money wealth etc

    do ya think those early masons had this vision in mind they are after all YOUR FOUNDING FATHERS

    ive checked and most benny ends in 65
    in Canada thats another 5 years of copyrights( 50 year max )
    usa its MUCH LONGER
    buy then it will be interesting if it sits on a shelf what condition its in.

     

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  8.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:34pm

    wow

    nice, cbs. way to twist public domain and ensure things never make it there.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:34pm

    Re:

    That's an insult to fucking clowns!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    1$ for you, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:39pm

    how to prevent this

    if the work is supposed ot be public domain and they destroy it rather then free it , would not forcing by law a copy be given of every video and tv ep to the govt for archiving be more appropriate this way its out of there hands when a copy gets released as in local law.

    this also might create quite a few jobs and the govt can pay them what a store bought copy is FOR ONE copy with the right to back up for preservation needs.

    it be nice if somehting sane like this happened then with insane 50 year copyright have a look at the 60's for tv
    and movies they can then get bent have 50 years and we'll all stop watching the new
    yup you do yourself to competing against legally legit free too.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:46pm

    But copyright protects the artist!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    its not about the artists its about invention, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:52pm

    @ 11

    go read what they originally wrote about copyrights

    limited right of ownership and controls so that one could invent more off and USE.

    once you stop and remove it from the world to use or invent YOU should lose the right and or be forced to give it away.

     

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  13.  
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    1$ for you, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

    adlib

    and im not tlakiong about a show in reruns either
    im tlaking about when the show ends it should got o public domain as the intent is no longer there that your inventing off it anymore YOUR not making more shows are you?
    no and this is the perversion of the original concept of copyright

    if i make a computer program and keep updating it forever then why shouldn't i get rights forever

    the tv show or movie is over nothing new created no new episodes, it gets seen you give it a few years and like a decade and after that its public's. YOUR not doing any more inventing are you or work? nope you lazy fraking bastards. thats exactly what actors and musicans big time are lazy fraktards

    otherwise your a lazy greasy filthy fat pig that deserves not my respect while i and others goto work each day for a living and pay and pay and pay
    we the people are sick of this issue it needs to get buried permanently

    and what gets me is places like this hte majority agree OK enough go out there also spread the word say the same thing on ctv.ca on globeandmails pages get moving and DO
    you want to affect change BE THE VOICE and THE HAND

     

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  14.  
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    kevjohn, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 2:07pm

    travesty

    That's a damn shame. I picked up a 4 DVD set of The Jack Benny Show from a big box store for $5 a year or so ago just on a humbug. It's only 5 bucks right? Good purchase. It was some of the funniest stuff I've seen in a long time! I'll come down against any stance that will end up with fewer people seeing his work rather than more. It's a damn shame that CBS can't figure out a way to make a worthwhile profit (in their estimation) off of this and other material, even if the profit is just in earning the goodwill of its customers.

     

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  15.  
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    Danny, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 2:26pm

    Seriously?

     

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  16.  
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    Danny, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 2:27pm

    Seriously?

    They decided it was better to let rot than to use it somewhere? In this day and age when you can have 500 channels and STILL not be able to find anything on on any given day they chose this? I mean they could have at least played at 3am when no one it up or something...

     

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  17.  
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    Peggy (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 2:37pm

    Jack Benny

    I hope CBS remembers the fate of GM. Dead car company who murdered their electric car. How sad that they hold his work hostage to their profits. How difficult to understand.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    :), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 2:47pm

    popeye and Woody the Woodpecker.

    I think those are in the public domain, I wonder if it is possible to redrawn all those cartoons in SVG with some modern touchs.

    Yay!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    transmaster (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 3:16pm

    Moonbat alert

    GM Killed their electric car. Do you know anything about EV1 it was a dog, no range, long recharge times, etc. And don't feed us the bovine scatology about it was a plot hatched between GM and the oil companies to kill the turkey off. The only reason why the EV1 was produced to begin with was because of the tree huggers at CARB mandated it. They only where able to lease 800 of them. GM spent a billion dollars developing the EV1. The nessary battery technology had not yet been developed when the EV1 was in production. Anyway what does GM have to do with CBS sitting some Jack Benney shows. The relaxation of this rediculous CARB mandate led to the Hybrid cars we have today.

     

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  20.  
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    RobShaver, Jan 19th, 2010 @ 3:17pm

    Write to the CBS sponsors

    The sponsors are where the leverage is. It cost them nothing to let the film rot. So the public ... us ... has to make it more trouble to keep them than to give them away.

    Remember the original Star Trek got an extra year because of the letter writing campaign to NBC brought them to their knees. The letters were just addressed to the business office so NBC couldn't find the correspondence they needed to run the business buried in all the "keep Star Trek" noise.

    Well, I don't think snail-mail will do that today, but if we stop watching CBS and let the sponsors know, well then we might just have some leverage.

    Just a thought.

    Rob:-]

     

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  21.  
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    transmaster (profile), Jan 19th, 2010 @ 5:13pm

    Re: Write to the CBS sponsors

    That is an excellent idea.

     

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  22.  
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    slander (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 12:19am

    Re: nosferato

    Huh?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    slander (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 1:19am

    Re: Re:

    I was insulted by fucking clowns, you insensitive clod!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 2:06am

    Re: and i pirate why

    In the case of the BBC destroying Doctor Who episodes (and in The Netherlands, Dutch broadcaster NCRV destroyed a whole tv-series called "Ja zuster, nee zuster") was because whole reels were reused, as film was very expensive in those days.
    Both are different situations from what's happening here.

    In this case the episodes are completely intact, and in a known location, CBS just doesn't want to release it to the public.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2010 @ 2:11am

    Somebody should steal the tapes. Robin Hood of Culture needed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2010 @ 4:40am

    Re: Moonbat alert

    But People would have bought their leased EV1's. GM sent them to the crusher instead of taking money for them. This seems to be an identical thing to CBS leaving Benny on the shelf to rot rather than letting them loose.

    Give them to the fan club and let them sort out the legal headaches. Ask them for 10% of any profits made and consider it a good deal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    ethorad (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 4:51am

    Re:

    Well lawyers will fuck anything, although I'm not sure what their sexual proclivities have to do with the rest of your argument ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Ben (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 7:11am

    Re: Article

    This article seems to be a fail, and Mike may have jumped to a bunch of conclusions. Take this story with a big grain of salt:

    From Boing-boing:

    Here (with his permission) is a comment from Stan Taffel, who is a media preservationist and posted this to the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv (AMIA-L). According to Stan, this controversy has been orchestrated by a fan club person who sells copies of the shows. Stan also tells me he's just been speaking with a company who is trying to secure a license to release the shows. Again, I'm just reporting what others have said, and have no personal stake or opinion other than that these shows should be made available to those who fervently want to see them.

    Stan's comment:
    "I have spoken to my source at CBS and am happy to report that the "hype" is just what it is; all hype.
    CBS is ready and willing to sub license any property (as they did with Studio One etc.) for a fee.
    Laura Leff, the "President" of the Jack Benny Fan Club she began a few years ago, is very good at
    generating P R and has done a very good job at starting a Facebook petition against CBS and getting
    articles and giving interviews pleading for the release of 25 Benny shows. She says that CBS has "locked"
    these films away and will not be preserved. This is not the case.
    The 25 Benny shows as well as the full run of the series is stored in state of the art facilities. The film elements
    are safe and in good shape. CBS is also aware of the fact that Ms. Leff has a library of many existing shows
    and charges for making copies; dupes of both copywritten and PD shows are offered from her website.

    While I applaud her tenacity and love for Jack Benny (she organized a fine website and a convention a few
    years ago), it seems that the truth has been diluted and the actual state of the predicament has been reported
    in error. She is great at "self promoting". What it boils down to is this: She is a huge fan who just wants to
    have copies of the shows and has gone this route to try and obtain them. CBS doesn't know how she was
    "supervising" a transfer of one of the color shows as that is not her job. True, it was an NBC special and
    maybe she was invited to see a conversion but "supervising"? She is friends with Joan Benny (Jack's
    daughter) so perhaps that's how she was invited to see the inner workings. She has gained attention to her
    fan club and her plight, however misrepresented it is.

    CBS is not the enemy here; they will sub contract The Jack Benny out. As these are supposedly P D shows
    (and that's not definite) there are other sources to locate them and once they're out, anyone can dupe them
    and sell them for no fee. CBS isn't the only source for 16mm kinescopes. They even told her to try to find
    them through other avenues, fully aware she wants to add them to her "collection".
    Should these films be available - of course. However, business is business and CBS pays for the storage
    of these and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of elements and that's not cheap. To give copies to her
    for her archive is not so simple even if she pays for her copies. Maybe some company will come forward
    and these shows will be seen. Time will tell."

     

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  29.  
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    Ben (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 7:12am

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    JustMe (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 8:00am

    Ben, how is that even close to a fail? Unless you read the paragraphs differently, I don't see CBS saying "here, please preserve them." I see them saying "Sorry, try to find copies elsewhere but we aren't going to give you copies."


    Also, regarding the OP. I know it was sarcasm. But the original point still stands and illustrates one of the many problems with copyright law.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Ben (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 10:07am

    "Ben, how is that even close to a fail? Unless you read the paragraphs differently, I don't see CBS saying "here, please preserve them." I see them saying "Sorry, try to find copies elsewhere but we aren't going to give you copies."

    Well you didn't read it thoroughly then and missed the greater point: the details has been twisted from what is actually happening. The "to preserve them" reason is just a red herring to get access to them by the fan club. They are safely stored in conditions which are likely to be some of the better ones you can find by a company that spends millions to keep their physical copies in good condition. Of course, they have no reason to "give" access to any physical property they own, regardless if the digitization is free or not. And in fact, they will and have had in the past, negotiations to actually license these out properly.

    But to humour you, lets start with the headline:

    "CBS Would Rather Kill Off Classic Jack Benny Video Footage Than Let Fans Rescue And Digitize It"

    Seems a like a fail from the starting title. CBS does not want to kill the video footage. In fact they have it stored safely and in good condition and spend millions to ensure their physical property remains good. They want to protect their physical property. It is a sensational title meant to cause emotional over-reaction. Stir that pot!

    "In the past, we've seen time and time again how copyright has been used to lock up culture and make it inaccessible."

    This I agree with. But this case has little to do with copyright. I think Mike is confusing the copies with the physical property ;) . We are in fact talking about the physical property of CBS, not copyright. Copyright isn't stopping this. Access to physical property is.

    "At times this is literally destroying culture, as content is left on degrading media, and those who can preserve it are blocked from doing so."

    Also can't argue that this isn't happening elsewhere. I really don't know if copyright is the reason things are left on degrading media. They only two times I have heard of losing culture is the NASA thing (lost, though not copyrights fault), and Doctor Who (again, the reusing of tapes not copyrights fault). Is there an example you can give me of copyright literally destroying culture?

    It doesn't appear to be so in this case. They apparently are in good condition and stored correctly and safely. The people aren't being blocked by copyrights and in fact others are and have negotiate access to CBS's physical copies. CBS does want to protect their original physical copies after all.

    "The latest example of this, as sent in by an anonymous reader, involves the famous comedian Jack Benny. Apparently, a bunch of Jack Benny fans have been seeking the right to digitize old audio/video footage of Benny from CBS in order to preserve it. But, in a short-sighted decision, CBS has instead decided to lock up the content and let it disintegrate away (literally)."

    This is not entirely correct, and the details are what matters (as I posted above). They are not "locked" up. They are not letting it "disintegrate" away. The fans, in fact are looking to resell the PD material (not a bad thing, just saying).

    I am not going into the quote in the article too much, but it is also pretty sensational:

    "thus sealing these shows' fate so they will never be seen again." Yep, officially gone forever.... forever.... forever...
    "bullet through the head of this body of Benny work"
    Yeah! BLAM! They fucking KILLED the head of this body of Benny work. They should put CBS on trial! Lol. What a joke. Stir that pot some more.

    "Yes, some of this content is public domain. Of course, that doesn't mean anyone has a right to access it, but it is rather ridiculous that CBS won't even bother to release the public domain material."

    They will for a fee and the proper setting, and have done so in the past. What is wrong with controlling physical copies so they still have control, and can monetize their physical copies. CBS maintains massive amounts of proper storage to keep these physical items in good condition. Why should they just allow anyone to come and copy them what could be fragile items.

    I am all for getting some of the more stupid copyright items addressed (and God knows there are tons), but this doesn't seem like a copyright issue to me at all, and more of access to physical property one. And the sensationalism and twisted details make this a fail.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 11:10am

    Re: Re: Article

    This article seems to be a fail, and Mike may have jumped to a bunch of conclusions. Take this story with a big grain of salt:

    Interesting. Added a link to the post.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Ben (profile), Jan 20th, 2010 @ 11:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Article

    Thanks Mike for adding the update! One of the reasons I like this site: author participation in the comments. (If only newspapers could do some more of this!) These things and your coverage keep me coming back daily.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Jan 20th, 2010 @ 2:02pm

    NONSENSE

    Put simply: nonsense.

    Someone wants to preserve these recordings by copying them. This is the best possible thing that could happen to these recordings. Letting them ROT for the next 50 years until they finally turn to dust is NOT the best thing. Even under the most optimistic assumptions you could possibly make, these films are rotting away. They may be rotting away at a very slow rate. However, the nature of the physical world means they are rotting.

    It is simply stupid to not convert them into a digital format before the originals deteriorate even further.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    KD, Jan 20th, 2010 @ 5:12pm

    Re: NONSENSE

    No, JEDIDIAH, it seems that you are the one writing nonsense. Did you read the note by Stan Taffel?

    From what I have read, that International Jack Benny Fan Club is, at least in part, an operation (I get the feeling a small one) that makes a business of selling copies of Jack Benny shows. They apparently want access to the 25 newly-discovered films so they can have a little bigger collection of shows to make copies of. It seems that CBS would be willing to sell them access, but wants more than IJBFC wants to pay. (Yes, I'm reading between the lines a bit, but I think that is a reasonably plausible guess at what is going on, given what we've seen about the affair.)

    CBS has made other old material available for resale before this, and they probably will continue to do so, when they can strike a deal that appeals to them.

    CBS apparently is storing the copies of these Jack Benny shows in proper conditions; the copies of the shows are NOT in danger of rapid deterioration because of neglect.

    From the point of view of preserving the history of popular culture, it would be great to have more copies than the (presumably) one per show that CBS has, just in case of some disaster at the CBS storage facility. And it would be great for Jack Benny fans to be able to view those old shows. But I'm not sure that CBS should be compelled to hand over their material on terms they don't agree to.

    I have seen nothing written about this that makes me think that CBS's goal is to bury those copies forever. Since these 25 shows were just recently discovered, it could well be that CBS just hasn't gotten around to finding a suitable licensor. After all, the retail market for viewing copies of old Jack Benny shows probably isn't very large, so it easily could take a while for CBS to find a company that feels they can pay what CBS wants for access and still make a little profit.

    Your post seems to be based on the assumption that if CBS doesn't immediately hand over those films to the IJBFC, the films never will be released. I see no evidence to support that assumption. If several years go by and nothing is done to get copies of those shows into the retail market, then there might be some reason to be concerned that CBS is intentionally burying them. But I see no reason to charge CBS with that yet. Yes, moving quickly to digitally preserve these 25 shows would be better than waiting a while, but there seems to be no reason to panic about it just yet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 21st, 2010 @ 12:50pm

    Another perspective...

    Unless I missed it, there is another, perhaps critical, point. Old film can be quite fragile and can require careful handling and play to avoid degrading it further. Given what CBS appears to have said (thank you, Ben), I think there is far more risk of cultural loss by "giving" these fragile copies to the fan site than just leaving them where they are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    sprearson81 (profile), Jun 9th, 2012 @ 6:55am

    Old film is very susceptible to damage, even from the slightest of movements.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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