As I remember the story, it was very unsuccessful in its original release and the copyright wasn't renewed. There are two ways to look at this story and how you feel about it depends largely on the approach you take. Copyright law may be a byzantine subject, but in the case of George Bailey, it would prove very significant. Abend sued because aforementioned renewal clause was not just a tool to extend copyright but, in a move akin to copyright termination today, was an opportunity for creators to renegotiate contracts and terms based upon changes in the marketplace. In short, though the film itself is in the public domain, the story and music are not, making it impossible to show the film in its entirety on television without permission from the copyright holders, in this case, Republic Pictures. Where it once seemed to be on a constant loop during December, it’s now only shown a few times per year. DISSOLVE: 3 EXT. But did you know that the latter lead to the former? The case, Stewart v. Abend, pitted a production company co-owned by James Stewart against a literary agent, heldon Abend, who purchased the rights to many movies and stories, including the rights to “It Had to Be Murder”, a story by Cornell Woolrich, which the film “Rear Window” was based upon. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) cast and crew credits, including actors, actresses, directors, writers and more. Those are the broad strokes of this movies history, which can be found in Techdirt, Wikipedia, and elsewhere. If you spend enough time in copyright circles, you know the story of the copyright on the iconic film It's A Wonderful Life. Combined with their recent acquisition of the music rights to the film, the company had the rights to both the music and movie’s story, effectively granting them control of the film. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. It’s A Wonderful Life, Thanks To A Copyright Snafu. The newly-returned owners were thus able to stop any unauthorized … An entire genre of knockoffs and clones never followed it. There was no fee, so a lot of stations aired it year after year, and people slowly began liking it. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. Your email address will not be published. This movie is in the public domain. It’s a Wonderful Life entered the public domain by accident. Because the current copyright owners of It’s a Wonderful Life still owned the movie rights of the original story on which the movie is based, the current copyright owners argued that their rights to the story told in It’s a Wonderful Life still existed and were enforceable to prevent unauthorized showing of the movie in its current form. However, that never happened with “It’s a Wonderful Life”. For Republic Pictures, this was an opportunity to reclaim control of its film. Yet this was not the end of the story – or really the beginning. But in the 90s, a studio would regain control over the film and put copyright to the test. None of that is a criticism of the film it is, in fact, the very reason why this movie is so brilliant. However, if you listen closely, you can also hear traces of the … That meant that in 1974, It’s a Wonderful Life would need renewed protection by its original copyright holders at Republic Pictures (then known as NTA, the National Telefilm Associates). Cost him his hearing in that ear. In 1994, Republic Pictures signed a “long-term” deal granting NBC exclusive rights to air the film, which the station typically does only a handful of times each year. However, when its copyright lapsed it became a massive Christmas favorite beloved of millions. It’s the holiday season, which for many means it is time for their annual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. The whole thing is fascinating, and a model of clarity. The film, in its time, was largely forgotten and that includes the original copyright holders in the film, Republic Pictures. It truly is "A Wonderful Life" !Closing scene from the movie - Its A Wonderful Life That’s when someone laid claim to the copyright again, arguing that because they owned the copyright to the story which It’s A Wonderful Life is based on, they also controlled the movie as well. George saved his brother's life that day. With James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell. An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed. This is how the film was played for nearly 20 years and it could have stayed that way forever, if an unrelated copyright case had not changed the course of its history forever. This included key rights to the original television syndication, the original nitrate film elements, the music score, and the film rights to the story on which the film is based, "The Greatest Gift". On one hand, you can look at it from the perspective of Republic Pictures and those who made the film. Today is International Verify Your Backups Day, Kobo Inks Distribution Deal With Writing Community Widbook. In the scene where the Bailey Building and … After several screenwriters worked on adaptations, RKO sold the rights to the story in 1945 to Frank Capra 's production company for the same $10,000, which he adapted into It's a Wonderful Life. I suggest that if he could remake "its a wonderful life" he would make many changes. But whether you feel Republic Pictures is simply reclaiming what is rightfully its or spoiling a cherished tradition out of greed, the one thing that is clear is that holiday television is not the same as it was 30 years ago because of this and the case serves as another example of how copyright impacts culture just as much as culture impacts copyright. It’s A Wonderful Life did not make a major mark on the box office when it was released and won a single Oscar for its special effects. It's a Wonderful Life is not particularly complex, deep or stylistically marvelous. To them, the copyright in the film lapsed due to nothing more than what was likely a clerical error and it went on to become a holiday classic, making millions for TV stations, all without doing anything to recoup the film’s costs or support the people who invested in the film or otherwise made it possible. This is in part because the “holiday” genre of films was already well established by the time “It’s a Wonderful Life” was produced. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart film, the 1954 movie “Rear Window”. The tale starts with a short story called The Greatest Gift (on which It’s A Wonderful Life is based), and it ends with the copyright for the story trumping the copyright for the movie. Klikel Christmas Bell Ornament with Angel Wing and Heart Charms - It's A Wonderful Life Bell Ornament- Memorial Gift. I don’t know about you, but I remain unconvinced that one can lay claim to the copyright of a derivative work after that work has lapsed into the public domain. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart film, the 1954 movie “Rear Window”. Facebook Twitter It’s A Wonderful Life holds a special place in American culture, and as I’m sure you know it also holds  a special place in US copyright law. According to the 1909 Copyright Act, creative works were protected for 28 years at a time. For years, anyone … In 1993, Republic Pictures began to send out notice of copyright claim letters to TV networks, cable stations and anyone else who might have sought to distribute or display the film. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. Initially I thought John Hess’s way of speaking might drive me crazy, but his precise delivery is actually appropriate to the legal subject matter. […] The video at the top of this piece is 21 minutes long, but is actually very interesting, and well worth watching. At the end of the film, Bailey chooses to live again and races home to a happy ending that is one of the best-known scenes in all of film history. TV networks, eager for cheap holiday-oriented content, latched on to the film and began to play it during the holiday season. Directed by Frank Capra. Required fields are marked *. > I'm curious about Wonderful Life being recopyrighted based on music. The best and worst things that ever happened to "It's a Wonderful Life" are that it fell out of copyright protection and into the shadowy no-man's-land of the public domain. “It’s a Wonderful Life” debuted in 1946 and was based on a short story, “The Greatest Gift”, which was written by Phillip Van Doren Stern in 1939. Someone forgot to renew the copyright on It’s A Wonderful Life, and as a result this classic movie was free for any TV channel to broadcast – which they did, time after time after time after time, right up until 1993. Though near-constant airplay, the film found something it hadn’t before, an audience. The story was first published as a book in December 1944, with illustrations by Rafaello Busoni. It’s also clear that the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is atypical of its peers. © 2005-2021 Plagiarism Today All Rights Reserved, debuted in 1946 and was based on a short story, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving different James Stewart film, in a move akin to copyright termination today, Republic Pictures began to send out notice of copyright claim letters. Signup to get FREE Daily updates on copyright and plagiarism news. The film, despite being headlined by James Stewart, one of the biggest actors at the time, was not a commercial success. Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. The ionic story was once a mainstay of the holiday season, re-running on television, ad nauseum, from the end of November until the start of the new year. Originally released in 1946, It’s A Wonderful Life was a marginally successful movie which passed into the public domain in the early 1970s following a snafu with its renewal paperwork. 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