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CBS Refuses To Preserve Jack Benny Footage 323

Posted by kdawson
from the thirty-nine-forever dept.
goosman writes "The president of the International Jack Benny Fan Club had the opportunity to review some holdings of the CBS vaults while assisting them with some transfers. In the vaults she found 25 shows on film that were unreleased, but in the public domain. The IJBFC offered to pay for the digitization and preservation of these shows; they got a letter of enthusiastic support from the Benny estate. CBS has so far refused to allow this preservation to happen." BoingBoing and TechDirt have both covered this act of cultural destruction.
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CBS Refuses To Preserve Jack Benny Footage

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  • by conureman (748753) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:09PM (#30827536)

    Why do these people run things?

  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:14PM (#30827552)
    As a big fan of Jack Benny's work I have to say CBS aren't a bunch of mother fuckers. They're a bunch of horse fuckers.
  • Benny is great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:16PM (#30827574)

    A lot of the stuff in Looney Tunes / Merry Melodies comes from Benny. And he's the master of timing. It's brilliant.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:20PM (#30827600)
    Seriously, refusing to allow this public domain work to be restored at no cost to them means they are not holding up their end of the copyright bargain and so they should now lose their rights and protection under said laws. There's a social contract at work and it's stupid acts like this and the Sonny Bono perpetual protection of Mickey Mouse Act that make me have no qualms about "pirating" material when I feel like it. If they don't want to play nice then I see no reason to play their game at all.
  • Eminent domain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:20PM (#30827606)

    Perhaps the federal government could appropriate the masters via eminent domain and make them available through the Library of Congress.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:21PM (#30827612) Homepage

    ...by copyright, as long as CBS owns the only copies they control it and it is, therefor, not in the public domain. The copies are their property to do with as they see fit.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:21PM (#30827614)

    You shouldn't degrade people like that. Horse fuckers have feelings too.

  • Perfect Example (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EzInKy (115248) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:25PM (#30827632)

    This is a perfect example of all that is wrong with copyright as it exists today. Protection is granted to creators in order to increase works available to the public, not hide them away.

  • by Jiro (131519) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:25PM (#30827636)

    CBS claims that there could be music clearance problems--which is an entirely legitimate possibility. The episodes are probably public domain because when they were made copyrights had to be renewed and there's little chance they were renewed. But if the music came from any outside source, it's quite possible that they *did* renew it, leaving the music in copyright today--and leaving CBS liable for serious damages in court if they just give the episodes to some fans to copy. Blame the copyright system, but do not blame CBS.

  • by BlackSabbath (118110) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:32PM (#30827672) Homepage

    > The copies are their property to do with as they see fit.

    Indeed, and since they have (as yet) not figured out a way to "monetize" these shows, they would, I'm sure, rather see the tapes destroyed rather than release them for consumption in the public domain.

    I'm pretty sure this behaviour can be referred to as an act of bastardry.

  • Since when is someone liable for what someone else does with a copy sold or loaned to someone else? If I run down to the local library and make a copy of a CD, is the library on the hook? Definitely not.

    CBS can sell or lend their reels to this group and say "oh, by the way, the music might still be copyrighted, so you might want to check on that if you're going to make copies".

  • by ari_j (90255) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:39PM (#30827710)
    So kdawson posted a bunch of ill-informed sensationalism and invective on the Slashdot front page? I'm shocked.
  • by stinerman (812158) <nathan...stine@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:42PM (#30827730) Homepage

    This is a problem with the current copyright system as well. There is no mandate that a copy be put on file with the Library of Congress so that when the copyright does expire, someone might have access to it.

    By my calculations, the copyright on Windows 1.0 expires in 2080. Do you think anyone will have a binary sitting around, much less the source to that program at that date? Highly doubtful.

  • by EzInKy (115248) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:44PM (#30827740)


    Blame the copyright system, but do not blame CBS.

    How much money did CBS contribute towards getting the current copyright laws enacted?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @09:58PM (#30827828)

    But since they're a private company and not the government, it's not only okay, but an honorable decision.

  • by fandingo (1541045) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:00PM (#30827838)

    The thing is that they never distributed them. That's like saying that Abraham Lincoln's estate is legally required to make all of his private journals available to you.

    I agree that's its a dick move to keep these works locked up, but I think that it would be dangerous to Force people to make their out-of-copyright works available. Copyright provides powerful tools to entities to control their creative works, but some protection is needed afterwards. If I created something privately, then no one should be able to compel me to release just because its copyright is up. Yes, if they have a copy of the work, then they are free to do what they want with it. It's sort of like the GPL; you don't have to opensource your changes, unless you distribute it. If you keep it private, then it's fine. That's how I feel about this; if they want to keep it private, that's fine.

    Again, I wouldn't do the same thing if I were in their position, but I certainly understand why they do it.

  • Not so fast (Score:4, Insightful)

    by S-100 (1295224) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:05PM (#30827866)
    Just because a performance is in the public domain doesn't mean that the physical master tapes cannot be privately owned and controlled. I suspect that part of CBS's reluctance to release the programs is the less-than-politically-correct portrayal of Rochester, just as Disney has buried some if its work in its vaults (e.g. Song of the South). Before you condemn them all as a bunch of idiots, releasing the masters is a zero-gain proposition for the owners, and there is a potential downside that it's their duty to consider.
  • by muridae (966931) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:25PM (#30827956)

    Who owns the film? That is really the only question the needs to be answered. If CBS owns it, then there is nothing the fans or anyone else can do other than raise hell till someone listens.

    Look, if I owned a classic Picaso painting, just because one of Picaso's theoretical descendants want it digitized would not give them to right to take the painting from me. Copyright only limits what the owner of the media can do when distributing or reproducing it, and it expiring does not suddenly put restrictions on the owners. In fact, all it does to CBS is remove restrictions on what they can do with the film.

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:26PM (#30827962) Homepage Journal

    They only held the copyright.

    That makes them their works. I'm with fandingo; they are being supreme jerks about this, but it's their property and they can do as they please with it. Now, if there were copies out there somewhere, those could be legally redistributed (unless the concerns about songs in the skits are correct).

  • by MurphyZero (717692) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:43PM (#30828082)
    The two terms are not mutually exclusive, in fact there's a huge overlap.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:48PM (#30828112) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if the National Archives would consider beginning eminent domain proceedings to force a buyout of the material.

    As it is in the public domain, its "eminent domain price" would be its auction value of the originals after high-quality copies have been made available to all for free.

  • Just Donate Them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hutz (900771) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:48PM (#30828114)
    The Museum of Television and Radio is now known as The Paley Center for Media [paleycenter.org] - named for William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. This isn't that hard to figure out.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:52PM (#30828132) Journal

    There is so much in the summary, the articles and the web pages associated with this that fall somewhere between hype and bald faced lies that I'm not going to waste my time picking it apart. Someone saw a sympathetic audience and played it. You've been played like Clapton's Strat and you made exactly the music they wanted you to. Too bad nobody saw fit to investigate any of this. Anyone that actually gave shit about anything more than the chance to spout off might have at least tried to contact any of the several broadcast museums like Paley Center, Museum of TV and Radio or Museum of Broadcast Communications.

    Come on kids, try reconciling the fact that they've got these things locked in a vault with the accusation of "failing to preserve" and try to imagine the mental gymnastics required not to trip over that if you weren't already jumping head first into what you thought was yet another copyright law bashing. I'm astounded at how few bullshit meters got pegged by this.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:56PM (#30828156) Homepage Journal

    Lots of blame to go around. The responsible parties, in order:

    • Supreme court
    • Congress
    • Lawyers
    • CBS

    It's always painful to see culture, protected TEMPORARILY by the authorizing document (constitution) in order to encourage its creation for EVERYONE'S BENEFIT, destroyed by a government and its minions out of control.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:03PM (#30828196)

    pure unadulterated GREED.

  • by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:32PM (#30828402) Journal

    Then why haven't they quoted a price? In capitalism, everything has a price. Also, fans could organize and ask them what their price is, possibly even scrape up some dough and make an offer.

    But not sure I like the precedent of rewarding them for being cowardly greedy jerks. So also, or only threaten to sue them if they won't play ball. That can be a credible threat. Anyone can sue for any reason. Even if a suit is tossed out of court, it still costs them. But it may be possible to come up with some complaint that might not be summarily dismissed, or might look like it could fly, and that just might scare them into being a little more cooperative.

  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:37PM (#30828422) Journal

    But nobody here is proposing that your Picasso be taken from you. Some folks just want to hire a professional, at no cost to you (except, perhaps, to be a courteous host) to shoot a picture of it. They want to do this so that more of the world can see the work, not because they'd like to deprive you of your possession, which you would retain.

    (Note: I'm not saying that you should let them photograph your hypothetical Picasso, nor am I casting any judgment in the matter. I'm just clarifying your analogy, which fairly reeked of the "copying == stealing" mantra, whether you intended it that way or not.)

  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:40PM (#30828444)

    I'd reverse the order, and tchange it to "big business and its minions, the government": it's not as if politicians care one way or the other, but their paymasters do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:54PM (#30828524)

    Someone could steal these archived film reels, digitize them, and redistribute the digitized content for a profit. Even though they can face legal sanctions for theft, the redistribution of the content would still be perfectly legal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:57PM (#30828548)

    I disagree with your order. This is more accurate:

    *Legislature (they create our IP laws)
    *CBS (et al; they also create our IP laws)
    *Supreme Court (they work within the IP bounds)
    *All of us (we create policy through use

    The inclusion of lawyers was inappropriate. Lawyers provide a service and act as a proxy.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:59PM (#30828558) Journal

    Everybody but us, huh? You know... the people who elect the politicians who write the laws and appoint the members of the supreme court. Oh.. and continue to make CBS rich. No no no... not us.. we don't have anything to do with it. We are totally blame free. "minions out of control"... just who the hell do you think is responsible for controlling them? God? They aren't out of order... You're out of order!

  • by Eskarel (565631) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:48AM (#30828782)

    Grow up, this has nothing to do with copyright law.

    TFA even says that they're in the public domain. The only thing stopping anyone from preserving this stuff is the fact that the only copies in existence are owned by CBS. CBS owns the medium on which these things are stored and they are perfectly within their rights, even if the constitution prohibited any sort of copyright whatsoever, to refuse to give them to anyone for any reason they damned well feel like.

    They're not refusing the right to copy the work(they can't) they're refusing to hand over tape reels which they own to someone else. It's not the right thing for them to do, but it is within their rights, and would be within their rights even if intellectual property were outlawed.

  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @01:32AM (#30828944) Journal

    TFA even says that they're in the public domain.

    Possibly true, although TFA does not provide much to justify this assertion. The shows were not broadcast (i.e. unpublished), so it is not at all certain that they will enter the public domain. The copyright status was not stated in TFA, which quoted a CBS exec as saying the rights situation was muddled.
    If a work is kept private, it need not ever enter the public domain. Its owner may choose to release it, but there is no obligation to do so. If a work is published under copyright, it will eventually enter the public domain (although the wait is appallingly long). If it is published without copyright, it is immediately in the public domain.
    From the third-hand information in TFS & TFA, it seems that these shows were not broadcast or released in other form. Unpublished works are private property, so CBS' stance is legally correct, whatever the wishes of others.

    Grow up, this has nothing to do with copyright law.
    ...
    ...they're refusing to hand over tape reels which they own to someone else. It's not the right thing for them to do, but it is within their rights, and would be within their rights even if intellectual property were outlawed.

    And this is what makes the copyright vs public domain issue moot. Even if everyone has the right to copy them, CBS is not a public library and is under no obligation to hand over their tapes. But if they were registered for copyright, should not a copy have been submitted to a library of record (e.g. LOC)?

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @02:25AM (#30829136) Homepage

    The reasoning behind this from CBS is that any media released that is in the public domain will cause people to being drawn away from watching new things with copyright on that the media business can do money from.

    So expect that original footage going out of copyright are going for destruction instead of re-release since they can't make money from it.

    Exception would be well-known footage since that would be bad PR.

  • Supreme Court (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @02:28AM (#30829148) Homepage Journal

    Wait, it's the Supreme Court's fault that Congress passed crap laws?

    No. It's the supreme court's fault that they misuse article III as if it were article V, which it in no way resembles or implies; it's the supreme court's fault that they disobey the constitution on behalf of the entire government; it's the supreme court's fault that the government is operating far outside its constitutionally authorized bounds.

    The supreme court set themselves up -- unauthorized by the people -- as those who could re-define the constitution. Then, on top of that, they worked, and are working, to destroy everything it stands for. That's why they're at the top of that list. They enable the congress to make, and keep in force, laws that are explicitly forbidden, or not authorized, by the constitution.

    The constitution has one critical flaw: It has no teeth. Violating it, on the part of judges, legislators... there is no penalty. Because of this, they can do whatever they want. And they do. This is why we are suffering under the inversion of the commerce clause. This is why we have ex post facto laws. This is why eight of the ten amendments of the bill of rights have been turned into caricatures of themselves in currently extant law. And this is why copyright law no longer resembles anything even vaguely implied in Article I, section 8, paragraph 8.

  • by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @03:49AM (#30829488)

    Try to make a good copy of the Mona Lisa

    Copyright is about making an artificial scarcity, not quality control.

    Museums often don't allow you to bring a camera with a tripod to the museum, and for exactly this reason.

    Flat out wrong, twice.

    Many museums permit camera's, tripod or not. Secondly I can buy Mona Lisa towels, curtains, place-mats, tablecloths and reprints in a copyright-fearing western nation because you are permitted to replicate the image as it's out of copyright.

    Now if, I say if a museum did forbid camera's it would not be for "copy protection" it would be so you didn't disturb the other patrons at worse, to make sure you buy the print from the museum gift shop, at the very worse.

    Copy protection is for quality control, poppycock. How this tripe gets modded interesting is beyond me.

  • Re:Supreme Court (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @03:52AM (#30829508)

    I guess I would still blame Congress more, for actually passing the laws, rather than the Supreme Court for failing to invalidate them. Congressmen also swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, which ought to mean not passing unconstitutional laws, even if the Supreme Court would not strike them down.

  • Re:Perfect Example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by selven (1556643) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @05:31AM (#30829990)

    If you have a book, you can copy and modify the book, building on it and creating derivative works. If you have a program, you cannot do that without source code. The whole point of copyright is to encourage people to create works which can eventually be built upon. If that is impossible then copyright has no purpose.

  • Devil's Advocate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Narcogen (666692) <.moc.negocran. .ta. .negocran.> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @06:46AM (#30830390) Homepage

    Let's play devil's advocate for a second.

    These materials are in the public domain. This means that CBS, who owns the physical media on which these performances are recorded, would owe no royalties or other payments to any other rightsholders should it choose to air them or sell them or monetize them in any other way.

    The fanclub wants them preserved (which in this case means copied) and is willing to pay for this, thereby turning what is a potentially valuable asset with no liabilities attached into a worthless commodity.

    Jack Benny's estate supports the fan club's desire to copy... I mean, preserve the content... however the basis of the request to do so is that the material is in the public domain, so the estate has no more right than anyone else to determine what should happen to it, which leaves only CBS, which owns and possesses the physical media.

    This is being called destruction, since presumably CBS has no actual plans to do anything with this footage: if it did, presumably it would have done before now. So if they do not choose to allow copying... I mean, preservation, and something were to happen to the originals in their possession, it would be lost.

    This is admittedly a shame, and is a fault of how such things have been handled up to now. It certainly would be nice if CBS, and other holders of such materials, had a friendly policy of allowing such materials to be disseminated once they enter the public domain.

    However, no one should be surprised when this doesn't happen. From now on, content creators need to be careful about what arrangements they enter into with publishers and distributors, and arrange for physical copies to be archived somewhere, undistributed, ready for preservation when rights expire and materials enter the public domain (assuming this ever happens again in our lifetimes).

  • Re:Supreme Court (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @06:48AM (#30830396) Homepage

    I blame the people of the united states for being witless sheep and not rioting and chasing down congress with torches and pitchforks.

    The laws we have are OUR OWN FAULT.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @08:31AM (#30830936)

    No, it's absolutely copyright law. What's going on is that CBS doesn't want to give anything away. If copyrights were more reasonable, more of their collection would fall into the not-protected area and they would be forced to change their business model to accommodate it. As it is, they can play the game of holding anything that falls out of copyright while lobbying to get it protected again.

  • by Eskarel (565631) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:11AM (#30832120)

    The number of copies was limited because the people who had them never made any copies. These were never broadcast, never sold, there were no copies made. Copyright didn't stop anyone from making copies, the people who made it just didn't make any copies for anyone else.

    As I said, even if copyright law didn't exist. Even if owning ideas was banned by the constitution upon pain of death, it wouldn't make any difference in this case. The only known copy of the shows is the copy created by CBS when they filmed it in the first place. They are under no legal obligation to ever show it to anyone, ever, and even if they'd never copyrighted it, they still wouldn't be under any obligation to show it to anyone, ever.

    No one owns what's on the tapes, but CBS owns the tapes. The whole case hinges on property law, and has nothing to do with intellectual property whatsoever.

  • by demonlapin (527802) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:15AM (#30832146) Homepage Journal

    If you happen to hold the physical media that the only copy is on, you are its guardian, not its owner.

    There is no meaningful discussion that I can have with someone whose concept of property rights encompasses this idea. We're just going to have to agree to disagree.

  • by jythie (914043) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:05AM (#30832922)

    Actually there is another possiblity.

    TV (and movie executives) have seroius ramifications if they suffer the 'embarrassment' of releasing something and then someone else making money off of it.

    This is a big reason why many execs refuse to even license out a show (which brings in some profit) because no one wants to be branded as an exec that let something 'get away'.

    In this case, the VP is probably worried that the preservation might be popular. The probabily of profit is too low for them to do it themselves, but the risk of someone else doing it is too high (with no reward), so the safest option is to let it die.

    This is what happened with Invader Zim for instance. Nick did not think it was profitable for them and did not want to produce it, but it wold be career suicide to sell it to another network if it became profitable there.

  • Re:Well! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anomalyst (742352) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:13AM (#30833080)

    why we show "It's a wonderful life" year after year after year after year after....

    No longer the case, we have been shafted, again. Monetization Uber Alles. From Wikipedia:
    "In 1993, Republic Pictures, which was the successor to NTA, relied on the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Stewart v. Abend (which involved another Stewart film, Rear Window) to enforce its claim to the copyright. While the film's copyright had not been renewed, the plaintiffs were able to argue its status as a derivative work of a work still under copyright. It's a Wonderful Life is no longer shown as often on television as it was before enforcement of that derivative copyright."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It's_a_wonderful_life#Release>

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