100 years ago today: Copyright and the moving picture industries

Today when we hear about the \”moving picture\” industry and copyrights we expect another story of some portion of the film industry charging others with infringing on the copyrights they hold. 100 years ago the news was about copyright infringement in the other direction.

In the November 14 1911 edition of The San Francisco Call reported (COPYRIGHT DECISION HITS PHOTO PLAY MEN) that on the previous day the United States Supreme Court had handed down a decision affirming the 1908 lower court ruling that the Kalem Co. had violated copyright when it filmed an adaptation of Ben Hur without permission from the copyright holders.

The importance of this decision in upholding the rights of writers is not recognizable only in hindsight. The New York Times not only reported it on the day they followed that up with a piece in the Topics of the Times on November 15 1911 which argued in that some vague \”public benefit\” should not stand in the way the rights of those who create through \”mental effort\” owning and benefiting from the that which they produced.


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