Copyright, droits d’auteur (author’s rights), licensing: Who owns the right to copy film, and how do those copyrights shape access to other spheres of democracy and culture? Across a range of national contexts, the legal right to copy, distribute and exhibit motion pictures was as central to the early film business as patents. Piracy in the early period was also rampant, and arguably helped to power the rapid development of an international film industry. Bureaucratic processes of copyrighting produced records of works that are themselves no longer extant. Other rights were in play, too. There were questions of rights over a dramatic performance or a screen adaptation of a text. There was the matter of the right to be filmed, or not to be filmed, which entailed questions of privacy and unwanted publicity. And, of course, such rights were not available to all, marked as they were by differences in race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and nationality that continue to restrict access today.
This conference takes up the question of rights in this diverse landscape of ownership, copying, piracy, and privacy in early cinema.