Hollywood's Passion For Movie Remakes May Run Into Copyright Problems… Created By Hollywood
from the good-for-the-goose... dept
The MPAA and Hollywood in general have been very, very strong supporters of stricter and more restrictive copyright laws pretty much as far as they can go. Jack Valenti, for many years the head of the MPAA, has famously declared both that, if it were up to him, copyright would last “forever minus a day” and that fair use was not part of the law. But, of course, time and time again, we see that strongest defenders of copyright law often find that they get a bit upset when it constrains them as well. Eriq Gardner has the story of the rise in lawsuits over Hollywood remakes from the estates (or others who purchased the copyrights later) of authors claiming infringement over movies. The main case that resulted in the article is really quite impressive in the number of layers deep that the whole thing goes.
Basically, Viacom (of course, a very strong defender of copyright) is being sued by an outfit called the American Rights Management Company, which claims to hold the copyright on a Damon Runyon story, Madame La Gimp, that was written in 1929. That story was later made into the movie Lady for a Day directed by Frank Capra. A few years later, Capra made yet another movie, also based on the same Runyon story, but this time, the movie was Pocketful of Miracles. About a decade ago, Jackie Chan made a remake, which was just called Miracles, which resulted in a lawsuit and a settlement. The issue now is another movie, which does appear to be either “loosely based on” or “inspired” by one or more of those predecessors, but made for an Indian audience in Bollywood, called Sing is Kinng. Follow all that? Here’s the lawsuit:
While I do feel that Viacom should absolutely be free to make this movie (and others should be free to make their remakes as well), I do have to admit it’s rather amusing to see Viacom and its strong pro-copyright stance potentially come back to bite the company.
Oh, and separately, it should be noted how ridiculous it is that the original Runyon work is still under copyright. When the copyright was registered — as was required in 1929 — the maximum the copyright could have lasted would have been 56 years. That was the “deal” that the US government made in exchange for the monopoly right, the work would go into the public domain by 1986, at the latest. By any measure, the work should be in the public domain. Of course, as we know, in 1976 we got ourselves a new copyright law and in 1998 copyright was extended again — ridiculously applied retroactively. This is a breach of the agreement originally made, which had the deal extended without any benefit to the other side (the public). Oh yeah, and while copyright law today says copyright law is “life plus 70 years,” you might think that this means Runyon’s work should be in the public domain. After all, the man died in 1946 — some 74 years ago. But, you’d be wrong. Because his works were published between 1923 and 1963 (and the copyright was renewed), it gets 95 years of protection from the publication date… meaning it doesn’t go into the public domain until 2025 (assuming — and it’s probably a big assumption — that there are no more copyright extensions).
Hmm. So if the MPAA hadn’t fought so damn hard for copyright law changes and copyright extension, this particular work would have been in the public domain decades ago. But, thanks to the MPAA’s efforts — and Viacom is a major player in the MPAA — it’s covered by copyright for at least another 15 years. Oops.