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  • Copyright and Scholars' Rights
  • Annette Davison (bio)

I recently spent several hours trying to sort out the rights needed to include a still image from a film in a book chapter for an edited collection of academic essays. Everyone was helpful, but it didn't detract from the fact that considerable persistence was required to ensure a successful outcome. The director was happy about the use, and pointed me toward the rights holders, requiring only that he be kept informed. The rights holders of the film gave me a price, but also required agreement from the performer captured in the still image. The performer was not aware of this, and simply stated that I would need to gain permission from the rights holder of the film. Nevertheless, I got there in the end, and the chapter will benefit greatly as a result. I was also lucky enough to have the support of a sympathetic editor who agreed to pay the rights holders for permission to print this still. Since the British Film Institute did not hold a still of the particular scene, I also had to capture the image from the DVD. This required another set of skills, but with the support of more technologically-savvy colleagues the image was captured without too much difficulty.

This is but one recent example. I have experienced extraordinary assistance from some individuals: one British producer was truly magnificent when I wanted to print images from one of his films in a book chapter. I spent an afternoon with him, collecting relevant items from his storage facility, arranging for the reproductions of stills, and negotiating a very reasonable price for permission to publish.

Several years ago Kristin Thompson, acting as chair of a committee for the Society for Cinema Studies (as it was then), wrote a persuasive report arguing that the use of frame enlargements to illustrate scholarly work is covered by 'fair use' exemptions from copyright.1 Citing Gerald Mast on the use of publicity stills, it was suggested that in asking for permissions scholars demonstrate their acceptance of the idea that permissions are necessary, and may thus make it harder for those citing fair use to make their claim (Mast 1989). Some enlightened publishers do indeed stand by fair use (or 'fair dealing', in the UK) in the case of film stills. And yet, this [End Page 9] is not the norm in my experience.2

And what of a film's music? Gaining permission to publish extracts of film scores, or one's own transcriptions where scores are not readily available to the researcher, can be a complicated and frustrating process. I am pleased to say that, today, some of the major studios are very helpful. Others, less so. Or, perhaps I have simply not yet found the right person to ask. Back catalogues of films are regularly bought and sold, acquired and merged, and keeping up to date with who owns the rights to a film can be time consuming in itself. Difficulties are exacerbated in cases where a film's production company has long since ceased to exist. In the case of film music, the situation is further complicated by the fact that ownership of the score's copyright is dependent upon the original contract negotiated between the studio/producer and the composer. In some cases composers may retain copyright of their scores, perhaps in lieu of a proportion of payment. Studio archives hold some of these contracts amongst their music department and/or production files. However, if they cannot be found in these archives they can be difficult to come by; if a production company fails and their records are not archived, this information is lost. Given the nature of working on a film, it can take a significant period of time to locate a film composer (if he or she is still living) to ask about a contract for a specific film.3 If only I had been able to spend the hours (days? weeks?) I've spent tracking down rights holders actually doing the research to be published…

Thus far in my own experience publishers have been reluctant to assist me in gaining these rights; they...


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