30 Years Later, Copyright Cloud Lifted from Classic Film

So far, 2007 has been a year filled with an unusual amount of good copyright news for consumers and creators. First came the news (well covered by Bill, here and here) that, after years of resistance, E&O insurers were finally willing to cover documentary films that had not cleared rights to clips from earlier works that appeared in the film so long as the filmmaker reasonably concludes (and a lawyer agrees) that the clips are fair use.

Now this. Driving home from work yesterday, I heard the following piece on NPR: Long-Lost Classic ‘Killer of Sheep’ Hits Theaters. The story concerns film director Charles Burnett‘s 1977 Killer of Sheep, a work that has been listed on the National Film Registry since 1990 but has never been lawfully exhibited in wide release. Copyright issues involving the rights to the popular songs featured on the film’s soundtrack have resulted in the film being shown only furtively in smaller venues. Now, after a prolonged negotiation process with the rights holders, the film can be shown widely. The NPR story is an excellent account of the hoops creators must jump through under the regulatory regime of copyright, and the often confusing morass of rules that govern the copyright in musical works and sound recordings. (One of the better tools for helping untangle those rules, written in a language that non-lawyers will recognize as fairly close to English, is the Creative Commons Podcasting Legal Guide). NPR’s piece is worth a listen (and makes it sound as if the movie, finally coming to a theater near you after 30 years in limbo, will be well worth seeking out as well).

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