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The National Film Registry’s Copyright Connection

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Today, the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board announced this year’s list of films added to the National Film Registry. Many favorite films are already part of the Registry, including Star Wars, The Muppet Movie, Airplane!, This Is Spinal Tap, The Breakfast Club, Top Gun, and The Princess Bride. This year’s additions do not disappoint—they range from 1898 to 2005 and include comedies, documentaries, horror films, heart-breaking love stories, and animated classics.

Most of the films on this year’s list are currently protected under copyright law. There are, however, several films in the public domain, which means that the term for copyright protection in the United States has expired. From this year’s list, Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898), Dixon-Wanamaker Expedition to Crow Agency (1908), and The Girl Without a Soul (1917) all are in the public domain.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm

Cinderella (1950) is a derivative work based on a public domain folk tale that has seen thousands of variants throughout the world. Charles Perrault published a well-known French version of the story in 1697 in Histoires ou contes du temps passé. Perhaps even more popular, the Brothers Grimm published a version of the story in their folk tale collection Grimms’ Fairy Tales in 1812.

Other films are derivatives of works still under copyright protection, therefore the creators needed permission to make the films. The Shining (1980) is based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name, and Hud (1963) is based on the novel Horseman, Pass By by Larry McMurtry. My Fair Lady (1964) is a derivative of the stage musical of the same name, which itself is a derivative of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion. Days of Wine and Roses (1962) writer J.P. Miller adapted the screenplay from his own 1958 teleplay Playhouse 90.

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications, which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work.” — Title 17, section 101, United States Code

Brokeback Mountain (2005) is a derivative of Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story of the same name. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) also is a derivative work of a short story, “Bad Time at Honda,” by Howard Breslin, which appeared in The American Magazine in 1947.

Entrance to the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios
Entrance to the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios

Jurassic Park (1993) is a derivative work based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same name. Jurassic Park is an example of a film that also inspired many more derivative works, including five movie sequels (with more in development) and the animated Lego Jurassic World series. There also are spinoff novels, video games, comic books, and theme park rides.

Of course not all entries are derivative works. Ayoka Chenzira’s Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy Headed People (1984) is an original work incorporating mixed media and animation. It does, however, use other published creative works, including magazine photos, to illustrate how the hair experiences and culture of black women contrasts with white beauty standards. The Pickup on South Street (1953) screenplay is an original work by Samuel Fuller, and Eve’s Bayou (1997) is an original work by Kasi Lemmons.

I only have seen two movies on this year’s list, so I need to track down these titles and have a movie night. What is your favorite new addition to the National Film Registry? Reply in the comments, and then go enjoy a film!

Comments (4)

  1. There’s another public domain film in this batch: One-Eyed Jacks, which was improperly renewed by a third party. The underlying work, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones, a 1956 novel by Charles Neider, remains protected.

  2. How can I copy right my scripts and my movies ?

  3. I am trying to find out if a 1868 U.S. film called The Monitors is in the public domain or still under copyright, and who owns the rights? Could you please help me?

  4. I am trying to find out if a 1969 U.S. film called The Monitors is in the public domain or still under copyright, and who owns the rights? Could you please help me?

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