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CBS Refuses To Preserve Jack Benny Footage 323

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 zuki ( 845560 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:31PM (#30827654) Journal
    Found something on Boing-Boing's comments which might make us take this with a grain of salt:

    Here (with his permission) is a comment from Stan Taffel, who is a media preservationist and posted this to the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv (AMIA-L). According to Stan, this controversy has been orchestrated by a fan club person who sells copies of the shows. Stan also tells me he's just been speaking with a company who is trying to secure a license to release the shows. Again, I'm just reporting what others have said, and have no personal stake or opinion other than that these shows should be made available to those who fervently want to see them.

    Stan's comment:
    "I have spoken to my source at CBS and am happy to report that the "hype" is just what it is; all hype.
    CBS is ready and willing to sub license any property (as they did with Studio One etc.) for a fee.
    Laura Leff, the "President" of the Jack Benny Fan Club she began a few years ago, is very good at
    generating P R and has done a very good job at starting a Facebook petition against CBS and getting
    articles and giving interviews pleading for the release of 25 Benny shows. She says that CBS has "locked"
    these films away and will not be preserved. This is not the case.
    The 25 Benny shows as well as the full run of the series is stored in state of the art facilities. The film elements
    are safe and in good shape. CBS is also aware of the fact that Ms. Leff has a library of many existing shows
    and charges for making copies; dupes of both copywritten and PD shows are offered from her website.

    While I applaud her tenacity and love for Jack Benny (she organized a fine website and a convention a few
    years ago), it seems that the truth has been diluted and the actual state of the predicament has been reported
    in error. She is great at "self promoting". What it boils down to is this: She is a huge fan who just wants to
    have copies of the shows and has gone this route to try and obtain them. CBS doesn't know how she was
    "supervising" a transfer of one of the color shows as that is not her job. True, it was an NBC special and
    maybe she was invited to see a conversion but "supervising"? She is friends with Joan Benny (Jack's
    daughter) so perhaps that's how she was invited to see the inner workings. She has gained attention to her
    fan club and her plight, however misrepresented it is.

    CBS is not the enemy here; they will sub contract The Jack Benny out. As these are supposedly P D shows
    (and that's not definite) there are other sources to locate them and once they're out, anyone can dupe them
    and sell them for no fee. CBS isn't the only source for 16mm kinescopes. They even told her to try to find
    them through other avenues, fully aware she wants to add them to her "collection".
    Should these films be available - of course. However, business is business and CBS pays for the storage
    of these and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of elements and that's not cheap. To give copies to her
    for her archive is not so simple even if she pays for her copies. Maybe some company will come forward
    and these shows will be seen. Time will tell."
  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:34PM (#30827680)

    In that case, what does CBS mean by, "there are so many issues with those shows, that even if we took the time to figure it out, we still almost certainly wouldn't do the deal"?

    (From TFA, of course.)

  • by bertoelcon ( 1557907 ) * on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:35PM (#30827686)

    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.

    They can't be both? Mother fuckers don't have to be fucking a human mother.

  • Re:Well! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:38PM (#30827704)

    At the time, you had to explicitly renew your copyright at 28 years []. For example, a fair number of old Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s are in the public domain [] because the owner at the time, Associated Artists Productions, failed to renew the copyright.

  • by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:40PM (#30827718)

    Replying to my own article because it's even worse than that, as said in a very interesting comment in the boingboing article: apparently
    1) the person who started this whole thing sells copies of shows, and they're not all PD.
    2) she's a fan who's using this as an excuse to expand her collection.
    3) her claim that she was "overseeing the color specials transfer" seems to be a lie.
    4) CBS is willing to license these episodes out; they did not, as falsely claimed, say that it would be too much trouble even if they could iron out the legal issues
    5) the episodes are not some unique thing that only CBS has copies of

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:46PM (#30827758) Homepage

    If I write a book when I'm 20, then publish it when I'm 70, my Copyright will extend from the year I published it, not when I wrote it.

    That's not true. Since at least the Berne Convention in the 1970s, copyright protection is automatic, and publication is not a prerequisite. Your work is copyrighted the instant you lift your pen. Under the Berne Convention, however, whether you wrote the book when you were 20 or when you were 70, the copyright would still extend to 50 years after your death. Later amendments to copyright law in the United States have extended the term further, and the situation can get fairly complicated for "works for hire" or works owned by a company, as the Jack Benny show may be.

  • by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @10:46PM (#30827762) Homepage

    The headline and article are grossly misleading. CBS is not opposed to preserving this material. Rather, it is unwilling to assume the legal costs of protecting itself against copyright infringement suits if it distributes the material. While I agree that this is an unfortunate effect of the current copyright regime, it simply is not true that CBS is refusing to preserve these shows. They have not discarded them or destroyed them; they're keeping the originals in their vault.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:14PM (#30827898)

    You shouldn't degrade horses like that. Horses have feelings too.

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:18PM (#30827924) Homepage Journal

    Pity Johnny Carson is also dead. He and Benny were extremely close, and he would have raised holy hell over this. And the dude had a lot of clout.

    Can't get outraged, though. Media conglomerates have already used up most of my outrage, and I want to save what's left for genocide, the Republican party, and other serious stuff.

  • by muridae ( 966931 ) on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:29PM (#30827988)
    Actually, the library can be if they know you have the intent to violate a copyright and assist you. So would CBS. The phrase you want to look up is "vicarious infringement".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 19, 2010 @11:44PM (#30828094)

    Indeed, the slashdot summary *is* wrong. See posting #31 at the BoingBoing article -- a Ms. Laura Leff is a major fan of Jack Benny. She sells both PD & copyrighted Benny shows:

    "The 25 Benny shows as well as the full run of the series is stored at CBS in state of the art facilities... CBS is also aware of the fact that Ms. Leff has a library of many existing shows and charges for making copies; dupes of both copywritten and PD shows are offered from her website."

    CBS seems to be fairly reasonable; Ms. Leff apparetnly is making much noise for her own benefit.

  • by denmarkw00t ( 892627 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:04AM (#30828202) Homepage Journal

    For some reason, I can't mod you up. I couldn't mod another thread either, FF is acting up. I'll say I support your stance.

    As much as I don't agree with it, the content still belongs to CBS. You can't expect me to give up something I own just because the copyright on it has run out if I still own it and have never opened it up for distribution before. If I sold someone a copy at some point, and the copyright expired, they could copy it and distribute it at will, but if I own the only copy and don't want to give it up, I don't - and shouldn't - have to.

    CBS is still a bunch of dicks, this much is clear.

  • Re:Perfect Example (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:06AM (#30828218)

    You appear to be confused. When CP/M, MS-DOS, PC-DOS, Windows 1.0, etc ... come out of copyright, you will be able to freely distribute the binary executables. The source code remains trade secret indefinitely.

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:07AM (#30828224)

    "Who cares what CBS want? Pay the janitor to make a copy of the tapes.

    Public domain == copying is allowed by *any* member of the public. That means any member of archive staff, or any visitor to the archives can do it."

    No. You are completely misinformed, and your comment is not insightful.

    You can't (for example) borrow my copy of [insert copy of out-of-copyright book here] in order to make a copy, because (for example) I'm concerned that you will destroy the binding in the process. That copy of the book is *my* property, to do with as I wish, including leaving it on my shelf in my house under lock-and-key where you can't ever get it. I am under no obligation to loan it to you in order that you can copy it. The public domain as it applies to copyright means that *should* you get access to my copy or someone else's of the same work, then you can copy and distribute it with no repercussions for doing so. Access to the work is a different matter that is not covered by copyright at all. Maybe I'll be nice and let you work from my copy, but I don't have to be nice, and neither does CBS. Furthermore, based on what other people have reported, the article is rather misleading anyway, and CBS probably isn't the problem (see other posts).

  • Re:Well! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:13AM (#30828266)

    FWIW, the gp's joke is a reference to Jack Benny's perpetual age of 39. He celebrated it 41 times.

    BTW-- for anyone unfamiliar w/Jack Benny's work, he was amazing. A wonderful comic persona--he played a kind of exaggerated alter ego based on himself, much like Woody Allen or Gary Shandling or Larry David -- known for his self-deprecation and wry delivery... he had awesome timing... he'd would typically get laughs just from his silent reactions...

    I used to watch his show back on CBN, which was an extension of his radio show. Really really good stuff.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @02:34AM (#30828954)

    Either you have absolutely no idea what is going on here or you are just a fucking moron.

    1) There are no rights to sign away if CBS allows digital copies of the films to be made because they would already be in the public domain.
    2) Why would the company doing the preservation agree to backup and give all materials to CBS? The reason that they offered to make digital copies is so they could release them to the public.

    In addition, the GP is exactly correct in what he said. CBS owns the films and they don't have to ever release them if they don't want to.

  • Inaccurate heading (Score:4, Informative)

    by BigBadBus ( 653823 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @04:40AM (#30829446) Homepage
    The heading of this news story makes it sound as if the Jack Benny episodes were about to be disposed of, whereas this is not the case. They are being preserved and stored, albeit not "preserved" in a digital sense. The comments made by Film Preservationist [] are an important commentary on this case. As for other TV luminaries being unable to view their own creations, there are precedents on this side of the pond. Peter Cook, I read, wanted to see some of his earlier BBC series but wasn't allowed. Later he found out they had been wiped, and I get the feeling that this was after his request as he offered to pay for copies. The same applies to another celebrity (Sandy Shaw?) who wanted copies of her shows, which were wiped pretty damn quick after her request. I've been following the hunt for missing TV for some time, and a write-up is here [].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @08:59AM (#30830710)

    First of all, Laura Leff did not start the Facebook page. I did. If you took the time to check, Laura Leff is a fan of the page, not an administrator.

    Furthermoer, Ms. Leff is not really in the business of distributing Jack Benny materials, she burns DVDs for fan club members at $10 each. Considering cost and time, I don't think this is a profit-making venture.

    I know nothing of Ms. Leff's relationship with CBS, Joan Benny, or Stan Taffel and do not really see this as material.

    As any Jack Benny fan knows, there is only a couple dozen episodes of the long-running TV program available commercially or otherwise. Whatever the situation, we are showing there is a lot of love for Jack Benny out there.

  • by BForrester ( 946915 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:26AM (#30831494)
    Of course... CBS is more likely to be comprised of horses.

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.