: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at

Copyright and the Canonization of a Christmas Classic

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
Go to Comments | Be the First to Comment

Ronald Rychlak recounts the role of copyright (or in this case the lack thereof) in making It’s a Wonderful Life the ubiquitous holiday movie it is today.

The movie had not yet become a Christmas classic when, in 1974, its copyright protection was allowed to expire. That meant that television stations could air it over and over without paying full royalties. (There were still some smaller, derivative royalties due on the storyline, but it is not clear that they were always paid.) For a period of time from the mid-1970s into the 1990s, It’s a Wonderful Life seemed to be on several stations, several times each week during the Christmas season. In fact, one episode of the old television series Cheers even dealt with the movie’s frequent airings.

These repeated showings, made possible by the termination of copyright protection, turned It’s a Wonderful Life into the Christmas tradition that it is today. That, in turn, sent people searching for ways to capitalize on the film.

Videotapes of It’s a Wonderful Life were produced by several different manufacturers. Since they did not have to pay full royalties or even get permission to use the images, any VHS producer could bring the popular movie to market, and numerous ones did.

There are similar public-domain-to-riches stories, notably New Line Cinema‘s success in bankrolling the 1936 Reefer Madness in to bigger and better things. Co-founders Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne, who met while attending Columbia Law School, discuss the role of the film in an interview with Charlie Rose in 2007 (relevant part of the conversation starts at around 13:29).

Bookmark this Page:
  • digg
  • Furl
  • Ma.gnolia
  • Reddit
  • YahooMyWeb
  • e-mail
  • Facebook
  • Live
  • Slashdot
  • StumbleUpon

No related posts.

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

Category: copyright and other imaginary property


Leave a Reply