Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ubiquity of It's a Wonderful Life

When I was a kid, you couldn't change the TV channel during the holidays without bumping into Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. It was everywhere. It could have had its own channel for the month of December. This is no longer the case and it is only on a few times during the holidays now. I always thought that this was so they could sell the DVD, but it is really because in 1973 the owners of copyright forgot to renew it. When copyrights expire, a work goes into public domain. This is why you can put Superman in a song without paying DC Comics. After a while, the people own a work and not its creator.

In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that the holders of a copyright of a story that a film was made of had certain rights over the film. Hence It's a Wonderful Life's ubiquity came to a stop and it only gets put on TV a few times a year. One has to wonder if it would be considered such a classic if the copyright hadn't expired.

  • Link from Slate Magazine's Explainer
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