Letters

Blame the filmmakers, not the copyright laws. Readers respond to Andrew Leonard's story about the "Eyes on the Prize" mess.

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[Read "Eyes on Your Copyrighted Prize," by Andrew Leonard.]

I think Leonard has simplified the problems of “Eyes on the Prize” and twisted the story to fit his own copyrights-are-evil POV. I’ve been an archival footage researcher and consultant for nearly 15 years, and most of this community has known of the problems of this series since the rights began to expire in the ’90s. The original filmmaker, Henry Hampton, died in 1998, and his heirs were unfamiliar with the necessity of renewing the licenses.

It’s all very well for academics to think that copyrights exist to ensnare unwary artists, but in the real world, archival film footage has to earn its keep. Most local news footage would have been scrapped if the stations had been unable to turn a profit with it. Small, specialized archives need money to keep afloat. And very often, filmmakers think clearance is something they can leave to the very end, and then have an intern take care of the paperwork.

– Kate Coe

Wow, as a documentary filmmaker I run into the “archival footage” dilemma all the time. I do not have access to NewsCorp money, so I am screwed.

I too have made a social documentary, about a hawkish Vietnam Vet who transforms into a leading anti-war activist (a compelling narrative with truths Americans need to know about).

I used footage I found hidden deep within Nixon’s private stash recently released by the National Archives. Unfortunately, some of the footage is from a newscast over 30 years old. Why can’t this footage enter the public domain after 30 years?

I cannot legally sell this film, so my only outlet is film festivals. Although many people thank me for making this film (and I will never forget when a successful, commercial documentary filmmaker spoke to me after a screening and said that my doc is what the power of film is all about) the festivals eventually end, and many people who may enjoy my film will not have the opportunity.

One day I may make commercially viable films and then be upset when I see that film pirated online (like Dr. Dre said about Napster, “they are taking food out of my kid’s mouth”). But archival footage is another story, and I am glad to see someone outside the documentary circle discussing this topic.

– Mike Kirschbaum



It was probably a month or two ago that I was looking to buy a copy of “Eyes on the Prize.” I searched PBS sites, Amazon.com and the Net in general trying to find a CD copy of it. I was amazed that such a powerful documentary, one that every American should have to watch in school, was not for sale. Now I know why.

Clearly there need to be copyright protections. However, when laws prevent such a compelling piece of work that documents one of the most important times in our history from being shown, something is terribly wrong. I don’t know how to fix it, but I hope somebody does. And I hope they fix it soon.

– Timothy Carroll

The mentality subscribing to “Alien vs. Predator” downloads deserves to pay copyright fees.

– John Camp

The story’s last sentence — “But aren’t there benefits other than economic to be gained?” — actually sums up the problem of today’s socioeconomic climate. The answer — from actions, not words — is a resounding “No!”

– Gary L. Coakley

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