Thanks to motion picture copyright laws, a number of well-known films and some excellent obscure ones have ended up in the public domain.
This article, by Nicolas Rapold, from yesterday’s New York Times, is a classic example of the bias that informs Big Media Companies’ coverage of intellectual property issues. Read the story—which is mildly informative in some respects about the labyrinth of copyright law in the 20th century as it affected films—and you’ll read that the Public Domain is
a “dubious club”
a “copyright rabbit hole”
a result of “lapsed protections”
rather than, say, the right and proper final home for the great wealth of cultural output so that it may best benefit all citizens.
It seems clear that the underlying argument is that artistic works are best held under copyright, indefinitely; that any other arrangement is simply a mistake. This mistake has even been remedied in some instances, such as that of certain Hitchcock films that somehow entered the public domain and then were rescued from this hell and placed back in the loving arms of rights holders.
Undercutting that strange argument is the description of how a number of important PD works have been restored by institutions like the Library of Congress and speciality video houses—which would in some cases not have been possible had the works not been in the public domain though, naturally, the article doesn’t mention that part.
Bad Grey Lady. Bad.