The Missing Ending Of Little Shop Of Horrors Shows Up Online

from the wkrp-like dept

One of the best examples of copyright being used to stifle the sharing of content is the fact that no one is able to see the famous sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati in its intended form because no one can get the licenses to use the music that was part of the original show. Instead, all of the great classic rock that was used has been replaced with not-very-good made up songs. It appears that something similar happened with the 1986 movie version of Little Shop of Horrors. Apparently, the DVD release contained a special “alternate ending” that cost $5 million and 11-months to produce, showing 24-minutes of footage of an army of giant plants devouring New York City. The apparently gruesome ending upset test audiences and wasn’t used in the movie release — but was available on the DVD… for a grand total of five days until someone realized that there were (of course) copyright problems and the DVD was recalled. Warner Bros. Studios promised that the ending would be rereleased on DVD, but while the studios fought over copyright issues, apparently the original footage was burned in a fire. Ain’t copyright great?

10 Zen Monkeys looks into the history of the lost footage, noting that even while the studio argued over the content which ended up lost in a fire, some folks have uploaded the alternate ending to YouTube. Now, obviously, this is technically in violation of copyright, but considering that the studio let the original version burn up in a studio fire, doesn’t it make sense to let the content remain?

The article linked above notes a few interesting other factoids around the story — including the fact that in the alternate ending, there’s a scene where an agent is haggling over the rights to the story of the killer plant, and exclaims: “We don’t have to deal with you. A god-damn vegetable is public domain! You ask our lawyers!” Turns out he was wrong, apparently. Also, the original 1960s version of the movie was shot in two days, in order to get it done before the end of 1959 — because after 1959, any movie would have to pay residuals to actors. We’ve pointed out how destructive such royalty agreements can be, and as the article notes, it made it much harder to create certain types of movies. Just a few more stories of unfortunate results of a bad system.

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Comments on “The Missing Ending Of Little Shop Of Horrors Shows Up Online”

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Paul says:

“Now, obviously, this is technically in violation of copyright, but considering that the studio let the original version burn up in a studio fire, doesn’t it make sense to let the content remain? “

oh, so, if the original of some famous painting, burnt up in a fire, everyone should be allowed to redistribute copies of it, freely, on coffee mugs, post cards, and underwear?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Why shouldn’t they? The studio have removed their own ability to distribute the content by being so careless, why shouldn’t fans of the movie (I include myself in that description) be allowed to view it?

To give another famous movie example – F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was meant to have been destroyed due to copyright violations, yet pirated copies allowed the movie to live on. It has since become an inspiration to many modern filmmakers and is considered a very important historical piece.

Meanwhile, Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight was carelessly handled by the studio after the silent era (when they assumed that there was no longer a market), and it was eventually destroyed in a studio fire. The studio were overly controlling of prints of their movies and insisted that they were all returned immediately after viewing. As far as anyone knows, they had the only prints. So, apart from a few still photos, the movie is now lost to history and nobody can view it.

So, yes, this should be allowed to happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

By that logic, wouldn’t someone who has violated copyright laws and now is up to their eyeballs in lawsuits because he posted a poor copy of a film on his own personal website… Wouldnt that person want to do everything in his power to destroy the only original versions of that film?

I am with Paul on this one.

Kent says:

Re: Re: Paul

Technically YouTube is getting money from ad revenue… but the site is free, so a large part of that revenue probably (i’m only guessing) goes to running the data centers and paying for bandwidth.

Of course, a greedy movie corporation would probably realize this and think “Hey that could be OUR advertising revenue stream!!” and request a copyright infringement and have the video removed


Steve (profile) says:

Fair use and photocopying

I just looked up US fair use doctrine –
The most important thing here appears to be the effect on the work’s value. Since I haven’t seen (but always intended to see) little shop of horrors, I am now inclined to watch it before I look at the ending.

If anything, this increases the value, so I don’t see a problem there.

In NZ, where I’m from, you’re allowed to photocopy any book that is out of print. If you can’t buy it, it’s their fault.

Stew says:

Go Pirates!

How can anyone possibly claim copyright on a work that doesn’t exist? If it is no longer existent, then obviously the copyright holder can’t make any money from it.

Posting this clip on YouTube doesn’t do any harm at all to the copyright holder. He can’t claim loss of revenue. In fact it will probably bring the copyright holder a few extra bucks because of a renewed interest in the part of the property that was not burned up.

The example of a famous painting being burned up and people selling t-shirts with the image is not at all relevant. A painting is an image, and that image is copyrighted. NOT the painting itself. So those hypothetical t-shirts actually do take potential income from the copyright holder.

JMG says:

Re: Wow

Hell, test audiences didn’t like the original ending to Army of Darkness so we got the Shop SMart ending (which I do love). I’m guessing the test audience hadn’t seen the stage musical because that’s the ending they didn’t like. Test audiences always want the happy ending. To quote Frank Oz: “In a stage play, you kill the leads and they come out for a bow – in a movie, they don’t come out for a bow, they’re dead. And the audience loved those people, and they hated us for it.”

I own the recalled DVD and the footage is a very rough cut in black and white featuring Paul Dooley (of Sixteen Candles fame) instead of Jim Belushi with sound and effects missing. It was a film adaptation of a stage production, and should have retained the ending.

hegemon13 says:


So glad you posted this, just because I can’t wait to watch the alternate ending! Did the DVD ever actually hit shelves? If so, some people out there have it. Perhaps the studio could jump on ebay, pay an exorbitant price for the DVD, and source the new DVD off of that one.

Oh, and FYI, the original 1960s version was shot in two days because Roger Corman was given very temporary access to a set before it was torn down. They had to finish in two days because that was all the longer they had to access the set. I doubt residuals had anything to do with it; Roger Corman didn’t even bother to copyright the film because he saw no prospect for profits beyond its theatrical run.

Paul says:

by Mike – Nov 6th, 2008 @ 5:59am

Hey I bet they got paid from their insurance company for the movie (at least partially)…. so in fact it is NOT even their movie to claim copyright.

When your car burns up in a fire and you get a check from them…that car is no longer yours..

You assume they were compensated for the loss, then state your conclusion as fact? You need to base your arguments on better grounds.

The idea that a company would be forced to give up copyright for a work that was destroyed due to an insurance claim is ludicrous and your car analogy is even more appalling. You are comparing intellectual property to physical property.

zcat (profile) says:

curious thing about youtube

If you’re a copyright holder, You can upload a sample of work you claim copyright on and youtube will automagically search for video clips that match (even if it’s not bit-for-bit identical)

And once you identify your work, they have several options for the copyright holders. You can have the work taken down (obviously), but you can also leave it up and get detailed viewer stats or have youtube ‘monetize’ it for you by displaying advertising next to the video, which you get paid for.

That’s pretty cool, although it’s a bit creepy when you upload a fifteen second segment of Snoopy’s Christmas and later gets told that the copyright holder is metaphorically watching over your shoulder.

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