It's Not Such A Wonderful Public Domain, As Paramount Plans To Block 'It's A Wonderful Life' Sequel

from the shameful dept

If you spend enough time in copyright circles, you know the story of the copyright on the iconic film It's A Wonderful Life. Due to a filing error in 1974, an attempt to renew the copyright on the film failed, thus putting the film itself into the public domain. This meant that, in the late 1970s and 1980s, the film was shown on various TV networks every holiday time -- cementing its reputation. While the film had won a few awards when it was released, it had been a box office flop. It was only the regular showings on TV, thanks to its public domain status, that really gave the film the reputation it has today. Except... the movie itself is based on a short story, called "The Greatest Gift." That story has remained under copyright. In 1993, the copyright holder of that story at the time suddenly announced that since the film was a derivative work of the story, it remained under copyright as such a derivative work. In 1998, Paramount bought the company that held the copyright, and thus, today it claims that it holds the copyright on the film -- though, really only the copyright on the underlying story that the film is based on.

Still, many people recognize (or remember) that the film itself is supposedly in the public domain, and some of them had recently put together a plan to make a sequel, which would even star actress Karolyn Grimes, who played the little girl ("every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!") in the original film. Except... Paramount has done what Paramount does, and said that no such sequel can be made without a license. So, basically, this film that became so popular because of its public domain status has had that status robbed.

In theory, you can see how a filmmaker could try to tip toe around this issue, by making sure that none of the copyright-covered elements from the original story are then included in the sequel, but it would probably be almost impossible to pull that off in any reasonable way. While I recognize that this is mixing up iconic holiday stories, shame on Paramount for being such a Scrooge, stomping out the public domain and stifling creative endeavors.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 10:27am

    Another reason why the Copyfraud Alliance needs to lose their copyright protections.

     

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  2.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 10:58am

    I'm a bit conflicted on this.

    On the one hand, just on general principle I'd like to see the EFF take this on and smack Paramount down. On the other hand... just look at what movie adaptations of old favorites are like these days. I'm not sure I want to see Clarence walking around dressed in black and smiting people who make trouble in the world. So maybe this is actually a good thing? :P

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 10:59am

    Their greed know no bounds. Its endless. Thats why we have to fight them, everywhere, every time, until technology kills them.

     

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  4.  
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    jackn2, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 10:59am

    Damn those pirates at Paramount!

     

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  5.  
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    ThePrick, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:06am

    I never liked...

    I honestly never liked "It's a wonderful life" who's message, to me, always seemed to be 'if you're rich and have helped many other people than your life is worth living. otherwise go ahead and jump off that bridge, asshole'

    Also sequals tend to be worse than the original. So yeah.

     

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  6.  
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    Steerpike (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:09am

    I guess the question is whether the film really is a derivative work, and if it is not, does that mean anyone can make a film adaptation of a written work without permission because film adaptations aren't derivative works?

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:11am

    Let's call them what they are. Public Domain Pirates.

     

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  8. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:18am

    Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    Do we need a crappy remake of ancient schmaltz? No.

    "stifling creative endeavors"? -- Yeah, okay, Mike. At long last, a sort of positive statement of your views: Mike believes new versions of old schmaltz is "creative".

    UP WITH COPYRIGHT! IT REDUCES CRAP!

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:22am

    The US copyright of the 1927 silent film Metropolis lapsed over a half-century ago, and thereafter the film spent decades in the public domain.

    But due to an unfavorable Supreme Court decision, Metropolis was recently placed under the yolk of copyright again -- which this time could very well last forever.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:30am

    Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    I would concur, but I rather quite like some fanfiction.

    Still, I can't imagine a remake of that shining turd being worthwhile.

    Especially in currant market conditions where it's likely to be directed by Micheal Bay.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:39am

    Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    No it doesn't. Copyright lengths increase crap because only one company is allowed to do remakes and sequels of certain works, meaning other interpretations are killed while the original company can just pump out a nothing special remake for some cash knowing there's no competition

     

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  12.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:39am

    Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    Where the fuck does it say anything about the quality of a work in the copyright clause in the US Constitution?
    Nowhere, you turd. Copyright was never meant to be used as a tool to stop the production of derivative works simply because they would be perceived by some to be crap.
    Still, at least you admit just how and why you love copyright. It filters out (censors) the stuff you don't like.

     

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  13.  
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    MrWilson, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:40am

    Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    "Do we need a crappy remake of ancient schmaltz? No."

    Who are you to tell the free market what it "needs?" If Paramount could make a $100m sequel to the movie and make a profit off of it, you would otherwise argue that it was their right to do so. But your subjective tastes get in the way of your previously-stated ideals and suddenly you'll flip and argue against the rights of copyright holders to make money.

    Every time OOTB reveals his hypocrisy in an absurdly obvious manner, a responding commenter gets a funny or insightful vote.

     

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    ShivaFang (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:45am

    Copyright covers a specific expression of a work, it does not cover ideas or plot. It doesn't even cover character names (although those can be trademarked)

     

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  15.  
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    RyanNerd (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:47am

    Paramount is still staffed with Copyright Idiots

    Back in the stone age of the Internet when everyone wondered what the hell HTTP:// was for (you know around 1993 or so). I created a fan site for StarTrek. It was a simple web page where people could leave comments, post pictures and discuss what we all liked about the show and movies.
    Within a few months I recieved a nastygram in my mail from Paramount basically saying that if I didn't take my site down they would sick their lawyers on me.
    Seeing as how I had no money (I was starving student at the time and made the site to play with the new web thingy technology.) I put notice on the website word for word of the nastygram and shut the site down about one week later.
    It sure didn't make any friends for Paramount.

     

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  16.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:49am

    Re:

    I'm not sure I want to see Clarence walking around dressed in black and smiting people who make trouble in the world. So maybe this is actually a good thing?
    To misappropriate an old saying; "Your films suck with a vengeance inconceivable to man, but I'll defend to the death your right to make such crap."

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 11:59am

    In 1993, the copyright holder of that story at the time suddenly announced that since the film was a derivative work of the story, it remained under copyright as such a derivative work.

    That is an interesting theory, and implies that the copyright of all derivative works remain with the original works author(s). Could make an interesting case against Paramount, as they claim copyright derivative that films they make, and that it belongs to a original works author.

     

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  18.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:09pm

    Re: I never liked...

    I'm sorry... who in that movie was rich and helping people? You might need to see it again.

     

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  19.  
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    JMT (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:12pm

    Re:

    I know where you're coming from, but letting companies get away with abuse of copyright law like this is far more harmful to culture than the possibility of a crappy sequel.

     

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  20.  
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    cosmicrat, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:18pm

    They could still license it.

    Although I'm no fan of copyright maximalism and especially stealing something from the public domain through lawyering shenanigans, I have to point out this is not preventing a sequel from being made. It sounds like Paramount isn't against a sequel being made, they it's want (probably a very large) piece of the buy. Licensing and acquiring IP rights is a standard part of making any movie.

    Now whether a sequel *should* be made, that's a different question.

     

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  21.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re:

    Crappy sequels will be quickly forgotten, but copyright is forever.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Thugs.

     

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  23.  
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    jameshogg (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:30pm

    Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    ...you think It's A Wonderful Life is crap?

     

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  24.  
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    cpt kangarooski, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:40pm

    Re:

    So just ignore them. Same as you would if you didn't like a particular adaptation or performance of Shakespeare or Dickens or something.

    That's an advantage of works being in the public domain. Even if you hate the authorized film of a book, the lack of exclusivity and licensing costs allows more alternative adaptations to appear. (Provided that someone cares to make them) And even if none of those float your boat, you can always make your own.

    I don't like the Star Wars prequels, but if Star Wars fell out of copyright, I bet that someone else would make better ones, with better stories and better characters. Just because Lucas would not be involved with the unauthorized prequels wouldn't make them worse. The story matters, not the imprimatur.

     

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  25.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re:

    Can't think of a better argument for limiting copyright than the Star Wars prequels.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    shame on Congress for not making the public domain how it was intended to be and ensuring that it was protected fully from companies and industries like Paramount, who are only interested in stifling as much as possible whatever they can so as to continue milking something that they are scared will allow another person or company to get some money from while giving pleasure to a lot more people!

    Congress, the way you have NOT done your job so many times over so many things, i find it hard to understand what the hell is the point of having you? then i remembered that you have to do as much as you can, for fees of course, to ensure certain industries continue to screw the people as much as possible. sorry for that oversight!!

     

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  27.  
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    housh (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:46pm

    Re: I never liked...

    Yeah, you missed the entire point of the movie. He was never rich, they lived in a broken-down house that they fixed up, and he spent his life serving others and never really thinking about himself.

    The point of the movie was that you may never see exactly what influence one life ultimately has on others'.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    While movie remakes and sequels can be blocked by the copyright owner, music "remakes" cannot.

    Songwriters have no legal way to prevent someone they don't like from singing their songs. This allows record labels to fire and replace band members (sometimes all of them) and then have the replacement crew go on tour playing the same songs as before -- hoping fans won't notice the new faces, or notice that the original members might be out touring under a new name that no one has heard before.

     

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  29.  
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    cpt kangarooski, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    Re: I never liked...

    I never liked "It's a Wonderful Life" because I thought that Pottersville was a much better town.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    Do we need a crappy remake of ancient schmaltz?

    Yes, absolutely. Copyright is all about increasing the quantity of works; not the quality, as that's a subjective matter that the government isn't competent to judge.

    "stifling creative endeavors"? -- Yeah, okay, Mike. At long last, a sort of positive statement of your views: Mike believes new versions of old schmaltz is "creative".

    And he's right. For example, Shakespeare wrote a new version of Romeo and Juliet, but the story was "old schmaltz" by his day. And it's one of the greatest works of literature in the English language. The story isn't his creation, but the execution of it is, and it's very good, very creative.

    So I guess Mike would be right.

    You, OTOH, are a moron who doesn't put together one thought before posting some blather that is always directly contrary to whatever the article was about. Mike could write an article saying that the Earth is round, and you'd proudly prattle on about how flat it is.

     

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  31.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    Re: They could still license it.

    I suppose they could, maybe, but they shouldn't have to. That's really the point.

     

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  32.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    My god...someone actually found a legit reason NOT to round up all copies of the prequels and burn them on a bonfire? I'm amazed.

     

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  33.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Re: I never liked...

    uh huh, 'cause potterville had hookers and blow ! !!

     

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  34.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:29pm

    illustrates my overarching point precisely:

    to wit: WE THE PEOPLE make things popular by our acceptance and enjoyment of it; it becomes OURS (YOU gave it to us!)...

    things like this movie (which i didn't know was not popular when it came out) got a second life BECAUSE of its widespread exposure, BECAUSE of US, not THEM ! ! !

    same with viral hits and such like 'gangnam style': NOBODY on earth would have heard it or responded to it or given it a snowballs chance in hell of making 'serious' money, IF IT WASN'T FOR US, not THEM ! ! !

    the nike swooshtika isn't popular because nike did such a mind-shattering job of designing the ultimate logo; no, it is popular because WE MADE IT POPULAR...
    there is ZERO inherent value in the swooshtika, it is ONLY our interest and popularization that make it 'valuable'...

    kmart's vietnamese-made sneakers may have a logo that -objectively speaking- is ten times the masterpiece that the swooshtika is, but we don't see people buying shirts and crap with that 'prettier' logo splashed all over everything, BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT MADE THEM POPULAR...
    (even though there may be 10 pairs of kmart sneakers sold for every over-priced piece of nike crap...)

    WE make or break the popularity of EVERYTHING, THEN we are punished for our efforts by the TECHNICAL 'owners' of it, but NOT the 'REAL OWNERS' of that tiny piece of culture, US, ALL of us collectively...

    without US making buying/use decisions, disney, nike, starbucks, cox cable, etc, etc, etc, aren't worth shit...

    we literally own them, but without owning them...

     

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  35.  
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    McFortner (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:29pm

    I can see the title now

    "It's a Wonderful Life... For Copyright Trolls."
    2013 McFortner

     

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  36.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: I never liked...

    I like the movie, but I agree -- from the first time I saw it as a young child, it was obvious to me that Potterville was a much better place to live than Bedford Falls. If George Bailey really wanted to make the world better, he should have offed himself.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:06pm

    milking sequels

    hollywood have a long history of milking a theme. I suspect that if the books were opened sequels are were the money is.
    If they let someone else make a sequel that group makes a healthy profit

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    kind of an allegory of the angel gets their wings bit...

     

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  39.  
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    D G, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 3:58pm

    " he should have offed himself"

    Didn't attempt to do so in the movie until that wingless angel Clarence interfered?

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 4:02pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Forget Paramount. Disney is the master of both.

     

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  41.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 6:02pm

    And...

    This is the reason why I don't buy movies any more, and rarely go see them in theaters. I refuse to give these asshats a penny of my money! When they stop being such dickheads and make movies easily, and cheaply available, then maybe I'll reconsider my position.

     

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  42.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2013 @ 8:12pm

    out_of_the_blue can't stand it when due process is enforced.

     

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  43.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Nov 23rd, 2013 @ 12:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Yep, just look at what they're doing to Pixar. Sequels sequels sequels

     

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  44.  
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    Bergman (profile), Nov 23rd, 2013 @ 12:16am

    Not Scrooge necessarily...

    How the Paramount stole Christmas, anyone?

     

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  45.  
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    The Conscious Catholic, Nov 23rd, 2013 @ 6:56am

    Good lord

    I guess the MPAA care little about the consequences, this will become a public relations disaster sooner or later, but as long as they have money, they won't worry until its too late

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous, Nov 23rd, 2013 @ 11:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Revenge Of The Sith" is good. The other two...not so much.

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    Re: I never liked...

    I guess you never really watched the movie. He was rich but not in Monterey means. He had his family to live for. If you have your famy everything else is a plus.

     

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  48.  
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    Pragmatic, Nov 25th, 2013 @ 5:48am

    Re: Re: Yet another where I fail to see the downside!

    ... from me. I vote most Blue-opposing comments Insightful if they make a good point. "X___ hates it when due process is enforced" gets reported.

     

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  49.  
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    DannyB (profile), Nov 25th, 2013 @ 8:15am

    Every time you download an mp3 . . .

    Every time you download an mp3, an angel gets its wings.

     

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  50.  
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    DannyB (profile), Nov 25th, 2013 @ 8:17am

    Re: They could still license it.

    > Licensing and acquiring IP rights is a standard part of making any movie.

    Paying a protection racket to not have your business burned to the ground is a standard part of being in business.

     

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  51.  
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    Niall (profile), Nov 27th, 2013 @ 12:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Pixar always were Disney - it's only since they became more independent that they got more sequal-oriented. I suppose it's hard to create totally new, wonderful worlds every couple of years.

     

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  52.  
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    Niall (profile), Nov 27th, 2013 @ 12:56am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The last couple of minutes of Episode 2, where they embark the clones to the Imperial March.

    The Duel of the Fates in Episode 1.

    Natalie Portman :)

    The rest could probably be junked.

     

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  53.  
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    nasch (profile), Nov 27th, 2013 @ 7:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Pixar always were Disney - it's only since they became more independent that they got more sequal-oriented.

    They got more independent when Disney bought them??

     

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


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