Posts Tagged ‘film

REWIND: 100 Movies In The Public Domain

- August 29th, 2012

UPDATE: This piece first appeared in December 2010. My friend Sheila Reagan was just asking me for a link to it because she wanted to dominate more public movies and, since I was already digging it up for her, I decided to re-post it on the blog. These things are a lot of work, after all, and — if the information is still valid and interesting — it bears repeating. So scrunch closer, kids, and let’s turn on the projector …

 

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It seems like every movie, TV show and song ever recorded is floating around somewhere on the Internet, free to be plucked out of cyberspace by anyone with a computer.

Most of those bits and bytes are pirated editions or, at best, have a very sketchy legal pedigree.

That doesn’t seem to bother most of the world under 30, but copyright infringement, plagiarism and theft of intellectual property are some of the very few things I’m squeamish about. Perhaps it’s an age issue, perhaps it’s just my background as an old-fashioned newspaper editor.

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I’m much happier delving into the mountain of movies — thousands and thousands of them — that are in the public domain and free to be legally downloaded, copied, reproduced, manipulated, whatever you want.

There’s a fantastic not-for-profit website called Internet Archive at www.archive.org that gives you free access to millions of documents and high-quality digital artifacts — including more than 2,000 movies and 2,000 TV shows that are now in the public domain.

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It’s got plenty of other great stuff too, ranging from a live music archive of more than 85,000 concerts (check out the Grateful Dead, Sheila) to 100,000 images of space and earth from  NASA to 745,000 audio recordings to more than a million digital books.

But for now we’re going to stick to feature films that are in the public domain.

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As I said, there are thousands and thousands of the critters — ranging from what is referred to as the first real motion picture ever made, a 46-second 1895 documentary called Exiting the Factory (original French title: La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon) to movies made in the 21st Century.

I’m going to tell you a bit about 100 of those public-domain films that I find interesting or weird, but this list is arbitrary and is truly just the tip of the iceberg.

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First, however, I want to give you a very quick (and very crude) rundown on what “public domain” is. You can just skip the italicized part if you prefer to get straight to the movies.

In the context of intellectual property — which is what movies, books and the like are — “public domain” means the property (i.e. movie) in question is not owned by one person or group or company, but is as free to be used by everyone as the air we breathe.

Generally a film falls into the public domain because its copyright has expired or wasn’t filed properly in the first place or was not renewed on time (this only affects films released in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963, which I will sort of explain in a minute).

Any film produced by the U.S., Canadian or British  governments — i.e., with the public’s money — is also in the public domain.

All films released before 1923 are in the public domain in the U.S.

There is another key point: Where you are determines what the copyright provisions are for any given work.

In the U.S., it used to be a 28-year term, followed by a 28-year renewal term. Many films ended up in the public domain because somebody somewhere forgot to renew the copyright in that 28th year.

Then the U.S. copyright term got bumped up to 75 years from the movie’s release, then up to its current 95 years. There is now no renewal requirement in the U.S. and a law passed in 1978 made renewal retroactively automatic for any film released 1964-1977 as well.

Confusing, isn’t it?

Of course, Canadian film copyright law is different — and much tougher because the law that was written to apply to books and other individual works also applies to films.

For Canadian books and films, the copyright lasts for the life of the last surviving creator plus 50 years.

That makes sense for a book, which might have one or two authors and maybe an illustrator or photographer. But for a movie, with hundreds of people involved in the “creative process,” it becomes almost impossible to determine when a film would finally be considered in the public domain. (Most Canadian film production companies have film crews and casts sign over their rights to the company, but it’s still a quagmire).

The 1973 Canadian film Alien Thunder (or Dan Candy’s Law) is still copyrighted in Canada but is considered in the public domain in the U.S. I can only assume the film had no explicit statement of  copyright in its American release because that’s just about the only way a film made since 1963 goes public domain there.

In any case, you can’t legally download Alien Thunder for free and monkey around with it in Canada — but you can in the U.S.

Whew. I think that’s the gist of “public domain” although I’m sure I’ve misinterpreted some aspects. And I’m sure someone will correct me. Thanks in advance.

Now, the one movie that probably springs to mind first when you think “public domain” is It’s A Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s 1946 weepy/cheery in which distraught bank manager George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is saved from committing suicide on Christmas Eve by his guardian angel. You (used to) see it a lot on TV at this time of year.

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It actually isn’t in the public domain now, although it was from 1974 (when the then-copyright holder neglected to renew) until 1993 (when Republic Pictures was able to re-establish copyright in a complicated court case.)

Enough blather. Let’s get on to 100 movies in the public domain, many of which you can find at the Internet Archive or, in varying states, on YouTube.

They’re pretty much in alphabetical order, although you’ll notice a few strays because I wasn’t going to renumber the whole damn thing to get some late additions in.

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1. Abraham Lincoln (1930)
One of only two D.W. Griffith talkies, the Lincoln film was a sort of “make good” on Griffith’s part for his earlier, better known — and very racist — film The Birth Of A Nation (also in the public domain), which glorified the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War U.S. South.

2. Algiers (1938)
Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr “come to the Casbah.”

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3. Alien Thunder (1973, AKA Dan Candy’s Law)
Donald Sutherland as Mountie Dan Candy and Chief Dan George as wise, old chief Sounding Sky in the old Canadian West. In the public domain in the U.S., but still under copyright protection in Canada, where it was produced. Sutherland has reportedly said Alien Thunder/Dan Candy’s Law is the worst movie he was ever in.

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4. Angel And The Badman (1947)
Wild West gunman John Wayne is reformed by nice Quaker lady Gail Russell. Angel was the first film on which Wayne was the producer.

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5. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Sergei Eisenstein’s famous film about the Russian naval mutiny and social clashes of 1905, precursor to the 1917 revolution.

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6. Beat The Devil (1953)
John Huston’s offbeat takeoff on noir crime films like his own Maltese Falcon. Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida are a motley crew of conmen and dreamers thrust together in a seedy Italian port town and aboard an equally seedy tramp steamer bound for Mombasa. The film was co-written by Huston and Truman Capote, often on a day-to-day basis, and was basically an excuse for Huston, Bogart, Lorre and Capote to go on a month-long bender in various scenic Mediterranean locales. Bogart hated the finished film, in part because he had invested in the production and ended up losing quite a bit of money. The producers lost even more when someone messed up the copyright.

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7. Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
Bela Lugosi, of course, and the nightclub team of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who had a short-lived career in the early ‘50s mimicking the then-hot comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

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8. The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
D.W. Griffith’s aforementioned Civil War epic, grand in scope but contaminated by racism. Its premiere title was The Clansman.

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9. The Blue Angel (1930)
Germany’s first major sound film was directed by Josef von Sternberg and introduced Marlene Dietrich to the world as sultry, devious cabaret queen Lola Lola.

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10. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962)
Mad scientist’s fiancé gets decapitated in car accident, he keeps the head “alive” in his lab against the wishes of the head (known affectionately as Jan in the Pan), and ultimately dies at the hands of an abused monster (telepathically controlled by Jan in the Pan) kept locked up in the lab. “I told you to let me die,” Jan cackles maniacally (wouldn’t you be maniacal in those circumstances?) as the lab goes up in flames.

11. Bride Of The Gorilla (1951)
No, it’s not a ripoff of King Kong. It’s about a curse placed on South American plantation manager Raymond Burr that turns him into a gorilla at night. The fact that gorillas are only found in Africa, not South America, didn’t seem to bother anyone.

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12. The Boy In The Plastic Bubble (1976)
John Travolta is a teen with a malfunctioning immune system which means he lives his life in a sealed, sterile room until he gets a protective space suit that lets him go out into the world — and fall in love.

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13. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Robert Wiene’s visually stunning expressionist horror film.

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14. Carnival Of Souls (1962)
Otherwordly woman conjures up ghouls by playing an organ in an abandoned amusement park. Filmed for $33,000 by Herk Harvey in Lawrence, Kansas, and Salt Lake City.

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15. Charade (1963)
One of my favourite movies, Charade is a stylish, suspenseful thriller set in Paris with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn playing a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a bunch of baddies like Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. It’s been called “the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made.” The film had an incomplete copyright notice and so entered the public domain immediately on its release.

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16. Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961)
This horror comedy is a vintage cheapie from Roger Corman, the man who became a Hollywood legend by producing more than 300 shlock films, directing about 50 of them himself, and giving directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron their starts as directors. Corman made Creature and two other films — with the same cast and crew — in less than a month in Puerto Rico, where he was shooting because of tax breaks. Many of Corman’s films have ended up in the public domain.

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17. Dancing Pirate (1936)
A Boston dance teacher gets shanghaied by buccaneers. Surprisingly, it’s not a comedy. It was billed as “the first dancing musical,” which is absolutely untrue. Frank Morgan, who went on to become the Wizard of Oz in 1939, has a supporting role.

18. Dark Journey (1937)
British secret agent Vivien Leigh falls in love with German secret agent Conrad Veidt in World War I.

19. D.O.A. (1950)
Classic film noir in which a poisoned man tries to solve his own murder.

20. Dead Men Walk (1943)
Back-from-the-dead psycho seeks revenge on his good twin brother.

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21. Death Rides A Horse (1967)
One of the better spaghetti westerns in the public domain featuring ferret-faced antihero Lee Van Cleef. Quentin Tarrantino used many elements of Death Rides A Horse in Kill Bill, including excerpts of Death’s theme music.

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22. Dementia 13 (1963)
Slasher thriller was Francis Ford Coppola’s first “legitimate” (as in non-porn) directing assignment. Shot in Ireland on $22,000 from Roger Corman’s aforementioned American International Pictures (plus a $20,000 European sidedeal that Corman didn’t know about). Corman hated the movie Coppola brought back from Ireland, took control of it from Coppola and had another director shoot some additional axe-murder footage — not in Ireland, of course.

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23. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
This well-done silent horror film gives John Barrymore, in his prime, the chance to pull out all the stops as the split-personality Jekyll/Hyde. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the novel in less than a week of feverish, round-the-clock work fueled by a steady diet of cocaine.

24. Diabolique (1955)
Diabolique (originally Les Diaboliques — The Devils) is a French classic starring Simone Signoret as the mistress of a brutish teacher who teams up with his wife to murder him. Wonderful twists and turns. It’s either a horror film or a thriller, but whatever it is, Diabolique is considered to have some of the scariest scenes in movie history.

25. Divorce of Lady X (1938)
British romantic comedy with Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier.

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26.Dressed To Kill (1946)
Dressed To Kill was the 14th — and last — of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series of Sherlock Holmes movies, several of which are in the public domain. Though not based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story, the plot is still good, Rathbone and Bruce are in fine form and you even get to hear Dr. Watson quack like a duck.

27. The Eagle (1925)
Silent star Rudolph Valentino plays a Cossack Lone Ranger in Czarist Russia. Famous for an early long tracking shot in a banquet scene.

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28. Ecstasy (1933)
Ecstasy is a stilted melodrama that became immensely controversial — and popular — because of the amount of sex in it. The beautiful Hedy Lamarr spends significant time running around nude and Ecstasy is said to contain “the first on-screen depiction of a female orgasm” (face only). Filmed in German in Czechoslovakia.

29. Escape From Sobibor (1987)
Alan Arkin leads a good cast in this story of the real uprising and mass breakout of Jews from the Nazis’ Sobibor death camp during World War II.

30. Embryo (1976)
Rock Hudson as a doctor whose experiments with genetics go very, very wrong — or right, depending on how you feel about seeing Barbara Carrera as the naked superwoman he creates. Again, missing copyright info put it into the public domain on release.

31. A Farewell To Arms (1932)
Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes in the first film version of Ernest Hemingway’s semi-autobiographical war novel.

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32. The Fast And The Furious (1955)
Mystery-comedy directed by Busby Berkeley, the guy better known for choreographing large-scale dance musicals like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade.

33. Father’s Little Dividend (1951)
Vincente Minnelli (Liza’s father) directs Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor in the sequel to Father Of The Bride.

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34. Faust (1926)
F.W. Murnau’s gothic, haunting deal-with-the-devil morality play was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time and put the producing studio, UFA Berlin, in serious financial difficulty. As I mentioned before,  anyone can  manipulate or modify films in the public domain: Just look at how American digital media artist Kurt Ralske compressed all 167,000 frames of the original 116-minute Faust into a three-minute blast of images. If you don’t want to watch the whole fabulous Faust in real time, just let Ralske’s three-minute visual tsunami wash over you. It’s stunning, non-linear filmmaking and your brain has actually synthesized the whole story by the end of three minutes.

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35. Freaks (1932)
Tod Browning’s Depression-era exploitation film about bad doings in a carnival cast real-life sideshow performers as the deformed “freaks” of the title. The freaks turn out to be the honourable, caring heroes and the “normal” circus performers are the villains.

36. The Front Page (1931)
Howard Hughes produced the screwball comedy, based on the stage play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur about a Chicago reporter’s schemes to help a condemned murderer escape so he can get an exclusive interview.

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37. The General (1927)
Almost all of Buster Keaton’s silent comedy classics — like this one about an unlikely railroading Civil War hero — are in the public domain.

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38. The Gold Rush (1925)
As with Keaton, most of comic genius Charlie Chaplin’s silent films are in the public domain.

39. God’s Gun (1976)
Spaghetti western with Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone and Sybil Danning. Van Cleef is a priest turned vigilante.

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40. The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Directed by film pioneer Edwin S. Porter for Thomas Edison’s movie company, Robbery was only 12 minutes long but is considered a cinematic milestone that used innovative filming techniques and location shooting (with the New Jersey countryside filling in for the American West). The end of film, in which one of the train robbers points his gun at the camera and fires, sent early audiences screaming out of the theatre.

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41. Greed (1924)
Erich von Stroheim’s silent drama about a dentist, his wife, her lover and a lottery win ran an incredible 10 hours in its first version. Under studio pressure, von Stroheim cut Greed down to six hours and then four hours, before MGM took control and hacked it down to about 2.5 hours for release. Most of the cut footage was destroyed so Greed is now considered one of the great “lost films” of movie history.

42. Glamour Gal (1945)
A propaganda documentary made for the U.S. Marine Corps tells the story of “Glamour Gal,” a mobile artillery piece and the team of Marines who operated it during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

43. Gulliver’s Travels (1939)
Dave Fleischer’s cartoon feature version of the Jonathan Swift satire of human foibles.

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44. Hands Of A Stranger (1962)
Experimental transplant replaces pianist’s damaged hands with those of an executed murderer. Then the hands take on a life of their own.

45. Hell’s House (1932)
A young Bette Davis starred in this condemnation of the New York state hard-labour reform school system.

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46. Hemp For Victory (1942)
Another World War II propaganda film, this one made for the U.S. Department of Agriculture extolling the virtues of hemp — the rope-making kind, not the smoking kind.

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47. Hercules (1958)
Italian production starring wooden American actor Steve Reeves started a “sand and sandals” movie trend. Sequels such as Hercules Unchained (1959), Hercules And The Tyrants of Babylon (1964) and Hercules Versus Moon Men (1964) are also in the public domain.

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48. His Girl Friday (1940)
Howard Hawkes remade the screwball newspaper comedy The Front Page with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.

49. The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
Actress Ida Lupino directed this film noir story about a psycho serial killer.

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50. I Cover The Waterfront (1933)
It’s about a newspaper reporter who finds crime, corruption and love while covering the waterfront beat. Claudette Colbert was a mid-range leading lady when she played the love interest. A year later she was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars with the release of Cleopatra, Imitation Of Life and It Happened One Night.

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51. I Eat Your Skin (1964)
It involves a mad scientist and voodoo. I just like the title. In 1970 it was released on a double bill with I Drink Your Blood, a completely unrelated splatter film supposedly based on the Manson Family, which is not in the public domain.

52. Impact (1949)
Another pretty good film noir.

53. The Inspector General (1949)
Danny Kaye musical comedy.

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54. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)
Western-horror hybrid with the tagline “Roaring guns against raging monster.”

55. Jungle Book (1942)
Zoltan Korda’s colour adventure film based on the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. It was good enough to get four Academy Award nominations.

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56. The Kid (1921)
Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length film was a huge success. A mix in equal parts of comedy and bathos.

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57. King Of The Zombies (1941)
I just like the title. There are zombies in the movie but they are only the tools of a Nazi spymaster in the Caribbean. The movie was made during World War II, don’t forget, even though the U.S. wasn’t an official participant at the time of the film’s release. King Of The Zombies actually got an Academy Award nomination and spawned a 1943 sequel.

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58. Kansas City Confidential (1952)
KCC is a raw, brutal crime drama, little of which actually takes place in Kansas City. It has a great cast of truly bad-ass armoured-car robbers: Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand and Jack Elam. Quentin Tarantino based his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs on the plot of Kansas City Confidential.

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59. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Margaret Lockwood is a wonderful dipsy old British nanny/spy who disappears on a train trip through Central Europe. It was one of Alfred Hitchcock’s last British films before he left for Hollywood.

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60. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
Elizabeth Taylor was rightly considered one of the most beautiful women in the world when she made this romance with director Richard Brooks and co-star Van Johnson.

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61. Last Woman On Earth (1960)
B-movie king Roger Corman strikes again in this post-apocalyptic love/hate-triangle bit of pop anthropology, again filmed in Puerto Rico for tax reasons.

62. The Last Man On Earth (1964)
Not a sequel to Last Woman, this Italian production starring Vincent Price is based on the Richard Matheson horror/sci-fi novel I Am Legend, which also spawned the 1971 Charlton Heston movie The Omega Man and the 2007 Will Smith feature.

63. Little Shop Of Horrors (1960)
Probably Roger Corman’s best-known film, Little Shop Of Horrors is a black comedy about an inept florist and his flesh-eating plant. Corman made the film in two days for $30,000. Jack Nicholson, a frequent collaborator of Corman in the 1960s, plays masochistic dental patient Wilbur Force.

64. The Lone Ranger (1955)
Feature film pieced together from the hit ‘50s TV series with Clayton Moore as the masked avenger and Canada’s  Jay Silverheels as Tonto.

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65. M (1931)
The suspense thriller about a serial child killer was German director Fritz Lang’s first sound film and Lang considered it his best work. It was also the first starring role for a young actor named Peter Lorre, who had previously been typecast as a supporting actor in comedies.

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66. Man From Music Mountain (1938 and 1943)
There are two movies with this name, both directed by Joe Kane and both in the public domain. The first was made in 1938 with Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy. The second was made in 1943 with Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys.

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67. McClintock (1963)
John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara comedy Western based on Shakespeare’s Taming Of the Shrew. Lawsuits after Wayne’s death prevented the copyright from being renewed and the movie slipped into public domain.

68. Meet John Doe (1941)
Starring Gary Cooper, John Doe is one of Frank Capra’s string of “American everyman” comedy-dramas that kept U.S. moviegoers hopeful through the Depression and World War II.

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69. Metropolis (1927)
Well, Fritz Lang may have considered M his best film, but Metropolis was certainly his biggest. His futuristic vision of a deeply class-divided skyscraper city-state has special effects that are still staggering today. It was the most expensive silent film ever made and, along with Murnau’s Faust, almost pushed Germany’s giant UFA studio into bankruptcy. After its Berlin premiere, the film was drastically shortened for general distribution — and reworked entirely for the U.S. market, which feared the dangerous socio-political implications of the original film’s plot. A version of the film very close to the premiere edition was found in Argentina in 2008, restored and shown publicly for the first time in Germany in February 2010.

70. My Favorite Brunette (1947)
Dorothy Lamour teams up with Road partner Bob Hope (minus Bing Crosby except in a cameo role) in this murder-mystery spoof on detectives, mistaken identity and noir movies in general. Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Lorre and Alan Ladd also pop up in cameos.

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71. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s low-budget feature about a small group of people in a farmhouse fighting off flesh-eating zombies started a new trend in American horror films and engendered a series of Living Dead sequels, knockoffs and ripoffs. Again, public domain status resulted from missing copyright information in the original release.

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72. Nosferatu (1922)
Max Schreck was a fairly successful and normal looking stage and film actor in Germany before he was cast as the unbelievably creepy Count Orlock in Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s unacknowledged reworking of Bram Stoker’s Dracula vampire melodrama. As with all Murnau films, Nosferatu is visually stunning and Schreck is certainly the scariest vampire I’ve ever seen. As I said earlier, Nosferatu’s creative debt to Dracula was unacknowledged, so when Bram Stoker’s widow won a lawsuit against the production studio, Prana Film, it declared bankruptcy rather than pay the widow her due.

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73. One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
The only film Marlon Brando ever directed stars Brando as the outlaw Rio and Karl Malden as his friend/nemesis Dad.

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74. The Outlaw (1943)
Howard Hughes produced and co-directed this Western that featured more of Jane Russell’s bosom than it did of purported title character Billy the Kid. Because of controversy over the film’s sexiness, The Outlaw got only limited release in 1943 although it had been completed two years earlier. It finally got general release in 1946 but by then, because of the ongoing notoriety of the production, Jane Russell had already become one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols. Hughes, a self-taught aeronautic engineer, did in fact create a special reinforced uplift bra to enhance Russell’s bustline but Jane, in her autobiography, said Hughes’ mechanical monster was a bust, so to speak, and she wore her own un-uplifting bras throughout filming.

75. Penny Serenade (1941)
Well, this film seems a little strange to me — it’s all about love and loss and adoption and loss and adoption and redemption and love. With a little Japan thrown in for good measure. But it got Cary Grant one of his two Academy Award nominations, so it must have some degree of cinematic value.

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76. Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
The first (silent) version of more than half a dozen film incarnations of Phantom. This one starred Lon Chaney (the dad, not the Junior you’re used to seeing in horror movies) in self-applied makeup that was considered quite shocking for the time — and is still pretty scary.

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77. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
I have nothing to add to what has already been said about Plan 9, dubbed “the worst movie ever made.” It’s a combo alien invader-zombie movie directed by cross-dressing director Ed Wood Jr. starring Bela Lugosi (in stock footage, since Lugosi died three years before Plan 9 was made), camp vamp Vampira and the wonderful Tor Johnson, a former Swedish wrestler who did ghouls better than almost anyone.

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78. The Brother From Another Planet (1984)
One of auteur director John Sayles’ early films, Brother mixes the story of an escaped alien slave from outer space with the black American experience of 1980s New York City. It’s part comedy, part drama and a whole lot of wry, sly social commentary. Again, in the public domain because of improper copyright on the film when it was released.

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79. Randy Rides Alone (1934)
One of John Wayne’s crappy Lone Star Pictures westerns. He was churning out about one a week in the mid-1930s. They were cheap and tacky but they gave Wayne the chance to develop from a twitchy football player into the stoic (repressed?) movie icon he became in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

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80. Reefer Madness (1936)
This cult fave was originally financed by a church group as the educational film Tell Your Children to warn against marijuana, but shifty film distributor Dwain Esper got his hands on it, added some salacious dope party scenes and released it as an exploitation film. Reefer Madness was “lost” until marijuana activist Keith Stroup found a copy in the U.S. Library of Congress and put it on the 1970s midnight movie circuit. New Line Cinema, by the way, got its start distributing Reefer Madness.

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81. Road To Bali (1952)
The sixth of seven Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road pictures was the only one filmed in colour and the last to include Dorothy Lamour. It’s good, features a lot of celebrity cameo appearances and fell into the public domain through another one of those labeling mistakes.

82. Sabotage (1936)
Hitchcock film about “foreign” secret agents setting off bombs around London, not to be confused with his 1942 film Saboteur. Quentin Tarantino used a clip from Sabotage in Inglourious Basterds.

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83. The Great Saint Louis Bank Robbery (1959)
Based on a real holdup, the movie featured many of the cops and bank employees — but none of the robbers — involved in the actual events. The tough, gritty film featured Steve McQueen in one of his early film roles (although he was already a TV star on Wanted: Dead Or Alive at the time).

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84. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
The title says it all.

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85. Santa Fe Trail (1940)
This cavalry western smashes history and fact to smithereens as it purportedly shows the early military careers and relationships of soldiers who went on to become opposing generals in the U.S. Civil War. Leads Errol Flynn, as J.E.B. Stuart, and Ronald Reagan, as George Armstrong Custer, are supposedly best friends and love rivals when, in fact, the two men never met.

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86. The Saturday Night Kid (1929)
Romantic comedy starring Clara Bow and Jean Arthur was one of the early talkies. It’s also a good example of how sexy movies were before Hollywood production-code censorship came into full effect a few years later.

87. Secret Agent (1936)
Spy movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock the same year he made Sabotage. Great cast with John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young and Peter Lorre, who had recently fled from the Nazis in Germany.

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88. Shoot The Piano Player (1962)
The U.S.-release version of 1960’s Tirez Sur Le Pianiste, Francois Truffaut’s jumpy New Wave tribute to bleak cinema noir crime melodramas.

89. A Star Is Born (1937)
The original version starring Janet Gaynor, not the better-known 1954 Judy Garland remake.

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90. The Stranger (1946)
The Stranger is one of Orson Welles’ lesser known films today but it was his most commercially successful film when it was released — making far more money than Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons. Filmed immediately after the end of World War II, The Stranger has Nazi hunter Edward G. Robinson tracking down a war criminal (Welles) who has assumed a new identity as a school teacher. It is believed to be the first film after the war to show footage of concentration camps.

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91. She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
A Roger Corman film (of course). Bad guy shipwrecked. Rips off kindly islanders. Is eaten by shark. Revenge is sweet meat.

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92. Swamp Women (1955)
One of Roger Corman’s first films. Female gang looking for stolen diamond stash in the bayous of Louisiana.

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93. The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe (1972)
If you read my recent blog posts on Hollywood remakes, you know the French spy spoof The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe is a film I like a lot. So it surprised me to discover the film distribution company Peter Rodgers Organization says the U.S. release of the French film is in the public domain. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. The only way you can get copies of the film through amazon.com (in a North American format) is as a Russian version with English subtitles or as a badly recorded and dubbed version which may either be pirated or “public domain.” I just don’t know.

94. Teenage Zombies (1959)
A group of teenagers discover a mad scientist on an island. Not to be confused with Teenagers From Outer Space, also released in 1959 (and also in the public domain).

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Terror of Tiny Town

95. Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
Musical western with an all-midget cast. Many of the cast members, after getting off their Shetland ponies, went on to play Munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz.

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96. The Terror (1963)
Roger Corman, Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and at least five directors (including Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholson) involved in piecing together a convoluted movie about a haunted castle, tragic noblemen, ghostly and witchy women, double identities and jumbled plot lines.

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Annex - Garfield, John (They Made Me a Criminal)_01

97. They Made Me A Criminal (1939)
Busby Berkeley (the dance extravaganza guy) directed movie tough guy John Garfield and The Dead End Kids (later The Bowery Boys) in this cinema noir entry about a boxer on the run after being falsely accused of murder.

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98. Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women (1965)
Of course it’s a Roger Corman film, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring ‘60s sexpot Mamie Van Doren (still alive and still shaking her booty). Corman bought the rights to a 1961 Soviet sci-fi film, Planet of Storms, and used its special effects footage for the space flight sequences.

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99. Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)
Considered the first science fiction film, Le Voyage was a 14-minute wonder about rocket flight to the moon created by the Melies brothers — both magicians — in Paris.

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100. Zulu (1964)
Michael Caine’s first starring role has the Cockney lad as an upper-crust English army officer leading an all-star cast of layabouts and misfits fighting off an overwhelming force of Zulu impis in the middle of South Africa 130 years ago. In the actual Battle of Rorke’s Drift, 11 soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross, the most ever for a single unit in a single battle in British military history. A pretty good film, although there was concern at the time of it being produced under the repressive, racist apartheid regime then in place in South Africa.

A to Z. That’s it. That’s all.

If nothing else, this piece may qualify as one of the longest blog posts ever written. I started out just listing the movies, then had to tell a few stories along the way and, well, at a certain point I figured I had to comment on all of them.

I’m going to watch a movie now. Bye.

 

NOTE: After this piece first appeared, I received the following e-mail from a film company:

“Almost all the post-1923 foreign films, including THE GOLD RUSH, listed in this article are actually copyrighted now since the US government adopted the GATT/Uruguay treaty in 1996. All this films were retroactively copyrighted. Canada is also a signee to the treaty so whatever films are copyrighted in their own country are still copyrighted in Canada. The only exception might be BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN because it’s supposedly PD in it’s own country. In the American films, GREED is definitely in copyright and has never been public domain. I would suspect the same for BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET since it was made after 1976 when copyright laws relaxed about the proper placement of copyright notices.”

To which I replied:

“I know for sure John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet is Public Domain and I have seen so many versions — in vastly varying conditions of reproduction – of Gold Rush that I have to go with the Internet Archive’s assertion that it is public domain. As I said, film copyright and public domain is a very complex area. Just because someone claims something — whether it’s me or a film company — doesn’t make it so. I would be glad to hear other input.”

Nothing’s changed since I wrote those words. You can trust the Internet Archive to exercise a high degree of due diligence when it comes to Public Domain.

Hang The Pirates — But Start With The Movie Moguls And Record Execs

- January 25th, 2012

Kim-Dotcom-Schmitz

 

Here’s the scene:

 

Law enforcement agents smash their way into a private building with sledgehammers and crowbars as part of a broad organized crackdown on “pirates” and “outlaws” who are brazenly flouting U.S. copyright and patent law, supposedly costing the legitimate copyright and patent holders a fortune in lost — “stolen” — revenue.

 

The legally mandated enforcers cause extensive, malicious damage and confiscate equipment, files, material and money that are the legal property of the building’s owner, who is charged with a variety of offences related to the alleged theft of intellectual property in the form of motion-picture films and technology.

 

Having shut down the business of the building without the necessity of a guilty verdict in court and having appropriated private property, again without a court finding of guilt, the enforcers leave the victim of their legally sanctioned invasion to pick up the broken pieces of his life.

 

Sounds a lot like Kim Dotcom (nee Schmitz), the Internet tycoon currently sitting in a New Zealand jail waiting for the U.S. government and its Hollywood backers to finally, slowly (the U.S. won’t actually produce documents for another month) get around to filing a formal extradition request on copyright infringement conspiracy charges.

 

But it’s not.

 

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The victim could have been Carl Laemmle or William Fox or one of the dozen other independent producers who were later glorified as the founders of Hollywood. The legal enforcers were hired thugs representing Thomas Edison’s motion picture trust, a monopoly combine that controlled almost all aspects of movie technology, production and distribution in the U.S. before World War I. And the time was 1910 — more than 100 years ago.

The House with Closed Shutters - 1910 - Sister sews Confederate flag

Edison considered Laemmle and the other independent film producers and distributors to be “pirates” and filed almost 300 legal actions against Laemmle’s Independent Motion Picture (IMP) Company between 1909 and 1912.

 

The legal manoeuvrings were just the semi-civilized tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, Edison’s gangs of enforcers smashed independent film studios and theatres, stole cameras, projectors and film stock, threatened and beat up cast and crew members on independent productions and, in some cases, burned down buildings and entire city blocks housing the competition.

 

One hundred years ago, Carl Laemmle’s shoes were a very dicey place to be, just as Kim Dotcom’s are today.

 

But Laemmle ultimately prevailed.

 

He held out against Edison’s legal (and illegal) onslaught, he moved his film production activities to the friendlier and safer climes of California, and he was the one who had the last laugh when U.S. federal court, topped up with Teddy Roosevelt’s Trust Buster justices, declared Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company and General Film Company (distribution arm) to be an illegal monopoly and ordered the trust broken up.

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Meanwhile, Laemmle and the other independents who invented Hollywood (like William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Sam Goldfish/Goldwyn, Jesse Lansky, Adolph Zuker, Marcus Loew and the Warner boys) thrived, expanded and exerted increasing control over the motion picture “industry.”

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COMPARE THESE TWO LISTS

 

The first list is the membership of Edison’s MPPC cross-licensing trust group: Biograph, American Vitagraph Company, Selig Polyscope Company, Lubin, American Star Films, American Pathe Pictures, Essanay Studios, and Kalem Company.

 

Those companies ruled the motion picture world 100 years ago. How many of them exist now? How many of their names even ring a bell except in some antique, ghostly corner of our brains?

 

Now here’s a list of the “pirate” film companies that were formed by the “outlaws” who fled to California to escape the legal constraints of Thomas Edison back in the eastern U.S.: 20th Century-Fox, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Studios (successor company to Laemmle’s IMP) and Warner Bros.

 

Those five (later joined by Columbia Pictures, United Artists and RKO Radio Pictures) became the undisputed masters of Hollywood’s Golden Age and are still the dominant (monopolistic, some might say) players in the film industry.

 

Don’t believe me about the “monopolistic” part? You think the current film bid-ness is too diversified and freewheeling to be dubbed a monopoly?

 

Consider this:

 

When the Edison Trust was broken up, the U.S. department of justice alleged that the eight corporations participating in the monopoly controlled between 70% and 80% of a $100-million industry.

 

Today, the North American film industry is a $10-BILLION BUSINESS and ONLY SIX CORPORATIONS CONTROL 81.6% OF IT.

(That $10 billion is just “domestic” North American box office. “Overseas” accounts for roughly two-thirds of Hollywood’s business every year.)

 

Here’s a rundown of studio share of the $10,174,000,000 North American box office (Canada is considered part of the U.S. domestic market) for 2011, according to industry scorekeeper boxofficemojo,com:

 

1. Paramount (Viacom) — 19.2% ($1.96 billion)

 

2. Warner Bros. (Time-Warner) — 17.9% ($1.83 billion)

 

3. Columbia (Sony) — 12.5% ($1.27 billion)

 

4. Buena Vista/Walt Disney (Walt Disney Co.) — 12.2% ($1.24 billion)

 

5. Universal (Comcast-GE) — 10.2%  ($1.04 billion)

 

6. 20th Century-Fox (Murdoch’s News Corp.) — 9.6% ($978 million)

 

Everyone else in the world apart from these six companies shares the remaining 18.4%, compared to the 20-30% the independents had in the days of the Edison monopoly.

 

And those six studios have their own exclusive trade association, the Motion Picture Association of America, which looks after their interests — and their interests alone — in dealing with the world outside Hollywood.

 

It’s the MPAA which is currently driving the anti-piracy bus and which is howling the most with self-righteous indignation  and which is using every ounce of its bought-and-paid-for political influence (and that’s a lot) in Washington to pursue Kim Dotcom and other perceived “pirates.”

 

 

Soooooooooooo … Fast-forward 100 years from the Edison Trust’s all-out war to crush the independents to the modern media wars of January 2012.

 

The film corporations that were spawned by the very pirates and outlaws who created a hole-in-the-wall getaway hideout in Hollywood are now leading the charge to eradicate uncontrolled Internet access to works and technology they say they hold copyright and patent title to.

 

And they even use much of the same hypocritical, moralistic language that the Edison Trust used to claim the high ground over the shabby, nasty little rats, weasels, thieves and cheats stealing from them.

 

And it is that high moral tone wrapped in a judicial gown of legalistic rectitude that I find most offensive about this whole war against Kim Dotcom’s MegaUpload, The Pirate Bay and other Internet independents that the movie studios (and record companies) say are stealing milk from their babies’ mouths.

 

Why?

 

Because it is just so much hypocritical bull. The major movie and record companies uphold the law only because in this particular set of circumstances it benefits them.

 

They would (in most if not all cases) gladly bend or circumvent the laws of the United States or any other nation on earth if it better served their purposes — and they could get away with it.

 

That sanctimonious, Bible-spouting predator Thomas Edison, by the way, was not above piracy when it suited him.

 

Here’s part of the Wikpedia entry on Edison:

 

“In 1902, agents of Thomas Edison bribed a theater owner in London for a copy of A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès. Edison then made hundreds of copies and showed them in New York City. Méliès received no compensation. He was counting on taking the film to the US and recapture its huge cost by showing it throughout the country when he realized it had already been shown there by Edison. This effectively bankrupted Méliès.”

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Well, Edison’s piracy didn’t actually bankrupt Melies — that resulted from a later, poorly conceived business deal with the Pathe film folks in Europe, but the Edison rip-off sure didn’t help (even though Melies’ American Star Films was one of the corporate cogs in the Edison Trust monopoly.)

 

So there was certainly no evidence of “practise what you preach” in the behaviour of Thomas Edison or the movie-making kingpins who followed him.

 

 FOR THE RECORD

I’ve focused primarily on the film industry in this piece and left the music business aside because, frankly, the major-label recording industry has committed too many sins against music, art, humanity and common sense to fit into the already bursting confines of this space.

 

And, despite the proliferation of independent record labels, the “industry” is still quite monolithic and monopolistic in its traditional distribution practices — thus the panic over the uncontrolled inroads the Internet is making.

 

In terms of control, the cabal of mainstream industry titans is becoming a smaller group every year and none of the current crop of cabalistas is worthy of licking the L.A. grime off Mo Ostin’s shoes.

 

At the end of the 1980s, the recording industry in North America was controlled by the Big Six (BMG, CBS, EMI, MCA, WEA and PolyGram, the last of which deserved to die because it wouldn’t become a three-letter acronym).

 

By the end of the ’90s, it was the Big Five after Sony bought CBS and PolyGram and MCA merged into Universal Music Group (UMG).

 

In 2004, it became the Big Four when Sony acquired BMG.

 

And now, after Universal’s acquisition last year of the struggling EMI Group,  it is the Big Three: UMG, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.

 

Consider this list of SOME (only some) of the labels owned and controlled by the Universal Music Group (the largest of the Big Three), once a subsidiary of the Universal movie empire but now a force unto itself owned by the French media (and formerly sewer) conglomerate Vivendi:

 

A&M Records, Geffen Records, Island Records, Def Jam Recordings, Motown Records, Mercury Records, Verve Records, Impulse! Records, Roc-A-Fella Records, Decca Records, Interscope Records, GPR Records, Deutsche Grammophon, Polydor Records, London Records, MCA Nashville Records, Lost Highway Records, Casablanca Records, Fonovisa Records,  Universal Music Classical, Universal Music Jazz, Universal Music Latino, Disa Records, Machete Music, Fontana International. And the list goes on.

 

Sony (second biggest of the B3) has a stable of labels that includes Columbia, Epic and RCA.

 

Warner Music Group is the un-biggest of the Big Three (and apparently suffering the most … And Then There Were Two?) but still controls more than 50 labels, from Asylum to Atlantic to Elektra and from Rhino to Rykodisc to Reprise.

 

So there are a lot of labels out there, but only three conglomerates control primary access to most of the recorded music that is today being purchased (or acquired without purchase, as the case may be).

 

The only thing I will say about the music recording industry and its war on piracy is this: Study after study has concluded that unpaid music downloads do not appear to be a significant factor in the continual decline of CD sales and the slower rise in “legitimate” digital sales.

 

(Don’t get into an argument with me about this: Argue with the smartypants who conducted the studies and came to the conclusions. And if you don’t know which studies I’m talking about, you have no business being in a discussion about the issue in the first place.)

 

Most of the blame is laid at the feet of the short-sighted, arrogant and ultimately self-defeating practices of the recording industry itself: As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

 

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

“If you want to stop piracy, the way to stop it is by competing with it.”

— Steve Jobs

 

 

PERSONAL ASIDE

 

I have never illegally downloaded any music or video from the Internet or willfully bought pirated CDs or DVDs on the street. I know plenty of people who do, but I don’t advocate the practice and, in fact, I find it philosophically objectionable.

 

I believe — strongly — that artists, performers and creators of every type should be properly rewarded for their efforts and unique contributions, which enrich us all.

 

I believe — strongly — that anyone who abuses the rights and intellectual property of those creators, who steals from them and denies them the full fruits of their labours is scum and should be reviled and punished.

 

I also believe — strongly — that major movie studios and record companies have been some of the worst offenders when it comes to abusing the rights of creative artists, when it comes to stealing from and lying to creative artists, and when it comes to disregarding the laws and moral principles that should protect those creative artists, their rights, and their works.

 

Just ask any artist, musician, composer, actor, director or screenwriter who has had serious business dealings with either the film or music industry. If they are being honest, few if any of those artists will say they have not been ripped off (to a lesser or greater degree) in the process.

 

So it’s either laughable or a crying shame that some of the worst offenders when it comes to the abuse of intellectual property rights of others are often the most fervent defenders of copyright laws when it suits their purposes — and only for as long as it suits their purposes.

 

ANOTHER THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:

“If suing customers for consuming pirate copies becomes central to a company or industry’s business model, then the truth is that that company or industry no longer has a competitive business model.”

— Matt Mason, “The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Re-inventing Capitalism”

 

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LOOK BEHIND THE PROPAGANDA

 

Let’s get to Kim Dotcom for a moment, shall we?

 

I hate the guy.

 

He’s 6-foot-7, says he weighs 300 pounds (I know 300 pounds, baby, and this guy’s at least 350 — on a good day), and he’s got a high-pitched, annoying voice with a cartoon German accent.

 

Plus he legally changed his last name from Schmitz to Dotcom. What gall! Who does he think he is — Harry Warner (born Hirsch Wonskolaser) or David Bowie (born David Jones) or John Wayne (Marion Morrison) or even Uwe Blab (oh, sorry, that’s the former NBA player’s real name, unfortunately).

 

And he’s rich — filthy, stinking rich — and not even 40 yet. That really ticks off a poor old man like me.

 

He owns very expensive cars — a lot of them — and drives them all fast and crazy (although he’s apparently never had an accident or had his licence revoked). And he owns (or leases) a private helicopter, a jet and a yacht.

 

In short, Kim Dotcom is a greedy, arrogant A-hole.

 

But that’s not a crime.

 

If it was, then ALL of the heads of the major movie studios and record companies would be in jail. A majority of the CEOs of America’s top corporations would also be doing bunkies with Bubba. And I’d probably be convicted too.

 

But, as I’ve already said, none of those character flaws is a crime.

 

So why is Kim Dotcom sitting in a New Zealand jail right now and the rest of us greedy, arrogant A-holes aren’t?

 

Because the MPAA, through the auspices of the FBI and the U.S. government (abetted by the RCMP and the Canadian government and other governments), has ACCUSED Mr. Dotcom of engaging in a conspiracy to pirate the intellectual property of said MPAA members.

 

And Mr. Dotcom’s global Internet business — one of the largest Internet businesses in the world with millions of legitimate, lawful customers suddenly cut off from access to their legitimate, lawful personal data — has been shut down lock, stock and barrel while Mr. Dotcom sits in jail waiting to find out exactly what the details of the charges are and what the evidence is supporting those charges. So he can begin preparing a defence, first against extradition to the U.S. and secondly against the charges themselves in a U.S. court.

UPDATE (from The Wall Street Journal, 5:04 a.m. Jan. 26, 2012): 

“WELLINGTON— A New Zealand judge granted bail to Megaupload.com executives Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato as they await possible extradition to the U.S. on charges including copyright infringement, after the judge decided they posed a minimum flight risk.

“Mr. Van der Kolk, 29 years old, and Mr. Batato, 38, were arrested (last) Thursday in Auckland along with Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom, 38, and Mathias Ortmann, 40, the chief technical officer, after they and four colleagues were named in a Federal Bureau of Investigation indictment.”

Kim Dotcom’s bail application was turned down Wednesday and Matthias Ortmann’s bail application is expected to be heard Friday, Feb. 3 (it has been postponed once).

Hmmm, which ones have cut the deal, I wonder?

And it will be interesting to see which company employee provided the insider e-mails that the U.S. government is using (selectively and out of context) to help make its case.

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Just stop and think about your opinion of Kim Dotcom for a moment.

 

If your opinion is, like mine, a largely negative one, consider the source of the information on which we have based our views.

 

The general picture of Kim Dotcom is, in large part, the result of a co-ordinated, sustained negative PR campaign launched and directed by Dotcom’s enemies in the film and record industry.

 

Of course Dotcom has revelled in his bad boy image and hasn’t helped his cause by flaunting his obscene wealth and apparent disrespect for his elders.

 

But why is it that all of his actions are seen in the worst possible light instead of the best possible light or — even better — in a neutral, unbiased light? Because spin doctors are paid to put the worst possible valuation on Dotcom’s actions, appearance, attitudes and acquisitions. And he’s not even a GOP presidential candidate. Crikey.

 

Everybody seems to be buying into the propaganda and selling the same story when — if you consider the facts without the bias — it would be just as easy to put a less sinister (or even benevolent) spin on the Dotcom story.

 

When Dotcom appeared at a bail hearing in New Zealand on Monday, Crown attorney Anne Toohey even cited Dotcom’s alleged “lack of respect for authority” as one of the reasons why Dotcom posed an extreme flight risk.

 

The Edison Trust carried out a similar damning PR campaign against Carl Laemmle and other “pirates” a century ago, mocking Laemmle’s appearance (he was a wizened little five-foot-nothing gnome with a funny German accent and strange personal habits) and casting his actions in a sinister, conspiratorial, anti-American light.

 

Every story I see about Kim Dotcom’s arrest refers to the fleet of expensive cars he owns or leases.

 

And the crime in this is …? Quick, somebody — anybody — arrest Jay Leno. I think he owns more expensive cars than Kim Dotcom. And I don’t like the way he looks, either.

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Speaking of which, many stories about Kim Dotcom refer to his Hollywood enemies calling him “Dr. Evil.” That’s just for home consumption. Actually, Dotcom is more often compared in Hollywood to another Austin Powers villain, also played by Mike Myers: Fat Bastard.

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See what I mean? There’s no crime in how Kim Dotcom looks or acts, but it certainly helps his enemies if he is seen in the worst possible light. Hang the Fat Bastard!

 

His criminal record? Actually he has no criminal record. Really.

 

Kim Schmitz was convicted of computer hacking in Germany in 1998, fined and given a suspended sentence. In 2002, he was convicted of insider trading, fined and placed on probation.

 

He has never been convicted of a criminal act anywhere else in the world.

 

For the past decade, Kim Dotcom has kept his nose clean, as far as the courts are concerned. Under German law, with its clean slate provisions designed to help convicted felons re-integrate into society, that means Kim Dotcom’s criminal record has been expunged and he now, for all intents and purposes, has no criminal record.

 

I know that sounds like legalistic sleight of hand, but it does make you think a little differently about the man than the pre-packaged Fat Bastard storyline projects, doesn’t it?

 

“He has no criminal record, has never been convicted of a crime of violence, and has never been sent to jail for committing a crime.”

 

Not quite the same picture as the one we’ve been fed, is it?

 

That doesn’t make it right or true or good — and it certainly doesn’t make Kim Dotcom an innocent man — but it does take a little of the sting out of the “guilty by appearance” mudslinging campaign.

 

And why exactly did it take 60-70 New Zealand police officers in helicopters to raid Dotcom Mansion and arrest a man who would have shown up in a Crown attorney’s office with his lawyers if asked?

 

Who’s idea of a Wild West show was that?

 

As many helicopters and twice as many attackers to take down Fat Bastard as the U.S. used to take out Osama bin Laden?

 

Somebody’s been watching too many Hollywood movies — and has their law enforcement priorities seriously screwed up.

 

By the way, when was the last time you saw a story on Dotcom mention the number of cops involved in arresting him? I think a few people in New Zealand are a little embarrassed by the serious overkill and are trying to quietly disengage a bit.

 

How about the gun?

 

Here’s what Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald had to say about Monday’s bail hearing:

 

“(Crown attorney Anne) Toohey detailed how, during the police raid, Dotcom had run from police to a safe room, hiding behind a pillar and refusing to show his hands despite repeated pleas. A gun — believed to be a modified shotgun of a kind illegal in New Zealand — was found in an open safe just metres away.”

 

I am absolutely confident that no charges or criminal proceedings will ever be launched against Kim Dotcom regarding this weapon “believed to be a modified shotgun of a kind illegal in New Zealand.”

 

It suits the purposes of all Dotcom’s accusers much more to leave this vague, threatening image of a murderous, illegal gun floating around out there than it would to have the gun’s particulars examined in court and to examine exactly how the whole invasion of Dotcom Mansion went down.

 

It would probably turn out that the shotgun is perfectly legal and part of a standard New Zealand safe room protection/survival kit much like LOTR director-producer Peter Jackson probably has in the safe room in his New Zealand mansion.

 

These guys are fabulously wealthy and as such are subject to the constant possibility of violent home invasion and/or the kidnapping of themselves or their families.

 

(Kim Dotcom, by the way, has three adoring children and is married to a loyal, loving woman who is now pregnant with twins. They’re all living in New Zealand. The New Zealand government holds all their passports. And Kim Dotcom’s known assets have been frozen. Does this really sound like a man who is an extreme flight risk? Or does it sound like a man who is being put in a position where he looks bad and is least able to defend himself?)

 

Again, I’m not defending Kim Dotcom. He’s more than able to do that himself — if he’s given a fair, fighting chance. But that takes money and Dotcom’s attackers are doing their very best to deprive him of his own money with which he can mount the best possible defence.

 

The FBI and MPAA claim that Dotcom has made something like $175 million from his acts of piracy in the last couple of years. The MPAA represents a business group that made more than $8 billion in North America alone in the single year 2011. Even if Dotcom were allowed out of jail and allowed access to his own money, it’s not really a fair fight — but at least it would be a little fairer.

 

I do not like the way this whole thing has gone down. It stinks.

 

I don’t like the bully-boy tactics. I don’t like the idea that justice has to be bought. I don’t like the idea that crushing one man can become a government priority because he offends the commercial interests of a specific group of well-connected businessmen.

 

And I most definitely do not like the hypocritical, moralistic stance that these self-serving moneymen and their hired vassels adopt when they are, in fact, just trying to eliminate someone whom they perceive — rightly or wrongly, but so far without proving anything — as profiting from the usage of their property.

 

Like I said, they only get up on their high horses and proclaim the sanctity of copyright law and intellectual property rights when it is in their financial interests.

 

Consider this:

 

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was an international copyright agreement signed by most of the major countries in Europe in 1886 and 1887. Since then, roughly 150 other nations around the world have signed on.

 

Canada has been a member of the Berne Union since 1887 (under the auspices of Great Britain) and signed on itself in 1928 in the run-up to full self-government independent of the British Privy council.

 

The United States finally joined the Berne Convention in 1989, only a couple of years before Bill Clinton became president and more than 100 years after the original signatories.

 

Such beacons of artistic enlightenment and human rights as Burkina Faso, Libya and Zimbabwe and 100 other nations had all signed the Berne Convention before the U.S.

 

And before joining the Berne Union, the United States gave copyright protection only to works produced in the United States.

 

A book could be published in France or Japan or Canada and, if there was no deal with an American publisher, anyone in the United States could appropriate the contents of that intellectual property for their own purposes and the U.S. government had boo-all to say about it.

 

Same went for movies and music.

 

There were some individual cross-deals that muddied the water, of course, but the United States in general didn’t recognize the proprietary rights of foreign copyright holders.

 

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ONE FINAL KICK AT THE KIM DOTCOM CAN

 

You’d think Kim Dotcom would have a fair shot at beating the (possibly) bogus extradition case since New Zealand is one of the fairest, most democratic countries in the world, but you would be wrong.

 

The film industry and related businesses (such as Weta Workshop and Peter Jackson’s CGI computer animation operations) form the fourth largest economic sector in New Zealand, after the service industry, agriculture and tourism. And most of that sector is directly tied to the Hollywood status quo represented by the MPAA.

 

So I am willing to bet that pragmatic power politics will play a strong enough role in the New Zealand judicial process to boot Kim Dotcom’s fat ass out of his erstwhile island paradise.

 

I hope I’m wrong — for New Zealand’s sake more than Dotcom’s — but my money, if I was a betting man, would back extradition.

 

I am willing to bet that Kim Dotcom will ultimately beat the pirating charges — much as Hollywood founder Carl Laemmle did 100 years ago — IF he has the money to pursue the court fight through the five years — at least — it will take to resolve.

 

That is why the MPAA (through the FBI and the U.S. government) has done everything it can to seize Dotcom’s assets around the world and shut down every source of income stream Dotcom has available.

 

They — the MPAA and its U.S. government agents — want to choke off Dotcom’s money supply so he can’t afford to pay for the massively expensive top-drawer legal defence that will be necessary to fight the massively expensive top-drawer prosecution being brought against him.

 

Again, my money is on Kim Dotcom.

 

When asked why he had the effrontery to suggest he would one day be richer than Bills Gates, Dotcom said: “Because I’m smarter than he is.”

 

I think Dotcom’s also smarter than the (other) greedy, arrogant A-holes who run Hollywood. So as long as Dotcom has enough money to pay for a level legal playing field, I think he will eventually win.

 

But in the meantime — based solely on accusations — Dotcom’s business, MegaUpload, has been shut down.

 

Why is this any different than the U.S. government seizing the property and assets of an accused Mafioso crime boss?

 

Because the shutdown of MegaUpload affects millions of people — honest, legitimate, law-abiding people around the world who have bought and paid for a legitimate hi-tech data storage and retrieval service.

 

The formal charges against Kim Dotcom — when they finally come — will not say that Dotcom stole anything from anyone; the charges will accuse Dotcom of participating in a conspiracy because the legitimate hi-tech business he created was used by a very small portion of his clientele to share possibly illegal pieces of data.

 

Every legitimate service provider in the world — outside of Hollywood — should pray that Dotcom is ultimately vindicated or else we’re all in danger of being victims of a witch hunt.

 

Consider this fictitious (but imaginable) scenario:

 

Suppose Bell Canada feels threatened by Rogers Communications. Because this fictional Bell Canada suspects that some Rogers customers are using the Rogers telecommunications network to carry out illegal activities and because Bell Canada can make up a convincing (if spurious) case that Rogers is aware of  and profiting from the illegal activity, the Canadian government charges four or five senior Rogers executives with conspiracy — and shuts down the whole Rogers telecommunications network.

 

And closed-for-business the Rogers network remains until the whole nightmarish case can wind its way through the labyrinth of the Canadian judicial system, with the strong likelihood that Rogers will end up winning and be allowed to resume business — five or 10 years after it has been knocked out of the marketplace, its income cut off and its customers long gone.

 

And imagine the millions and millions of legitimate Rogers customers who suddenly found themselves denied the telecommunications service they had paid for and counted on. Their lives would be in chaos, their businesses immeasurably harmed, and important stored data lost forever in a technological lockdown.

 

For this evil, fictional Bell Canada, the process is a success. Rogers doesn’t have to be convicted of anything for make-believe bad Bell Canada to be a winner in that scenario. Just by killing Rogers’ business for five or 10 years, the fictional Bell Canada heavyweight comes out ahead.

 

In the short term, anyway. In the long term, fictional evil Bell Canada would probably go the way of the dinosaurs because somebody else was investing in innovation to take away their advantage instead of investing in retrograde, malicious litigation to sustain a fatally flawed business model.

 

That’s essentially what’s happening in the Dotcom-MegaUpload case.

 

I am not pre-supposing that Kim Dotcom is innocent of everything — or anything, for the matter. But is it really right that he be pre-supposed guilty of everything of which he is accused?

 

Hollywood has already won by the simple fact that MegaUpload has been shut down — at a tremendous cost to both a legal international business and millions of innocent-victim customers.

 

Not one damn thing has to be proved against Kim Dotcom and the other executives of MegaUpload for this attack on their business to be a complete success.

 

That scares me tremendously — and really makes me mad.

 

Should the full might of the American government, the Canadian government and several other governments around the world be brought to bear on a legitimate company that is (possibly) being used for (possible) illegal data sharing to mollify Hollywood?

 

Let’s take a look at what the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty, a 1996 sister agreement to the Berne Convention, has to say:

 

“It is understood that the mere provision of physical facilities for enabling or making a communication does not in itself amount to communication within the meaning of this Treaty or the Berne Convention.”

 

But that doesn’t matter.

 

Hollywood wants to take out the communications enabler — Kim Dotcom and his company, MegaUpload — rather than trying to catch the little fishes one by one.

 

I think we all suffer a far greater loss if this abuse of power and arbitrary authoritarianism is allowed to prevail than any loss we would suffer as free and law-abiding people if we make them actually prove the crimes before administering the punishment.

 

So I’m in Kim Dotcom’s corner because I tend to favour the underdog — even if he is a greedy, arrogant A-hole.

 

UPDATE: Here’s a link to a very informative (and quite short) analysis of the MegaUpload situation by Yochai Benkler, professor of entrepreneurial legal studies at Harvard Law School, from the Bloomberg business news agency. Interestingly, the clip is posted on YouTube, which Prof. Benkler points out could be charged with all of the same conspiracy trespasses the U.S. government is levelling at MegaUpload. The difference, Prof. Benkler says, is that YouTube is now too big and powerful for the U.S. Department of Justice to take on. Plus, the government (and film industry) tried to whack YouTube five or six years ago through civil litigation — and got its ass handed to it on a platter by YouTube.

Here’s part of what Prof. Benkler has to say:

“When a new technology comes along … and destabilizes the way the industries have always made money, the first gut response throughout the 20th century has been: Let’s shut down this technology…

“What’s chilling here is that a company can be served with a one-sided indictment that lists a whole set of quasi-legitimate and legitimate technological components that lots of other companies use…

“By the time it will be finished litigating whether that’s enough or not it is dead, because these procedures for forfeiture during the trial will kill the company.”

In other words, the status quo wins just by tying up the accused offender in court and shutting down the targeted business for the duration of the litigation process — which can be three, four, five, even 10 years.