“Why aren’t you linking to this movie on YouTube?”
“Why don’t you direct people to Netflix?”
“Are there any free silent films you can share with me?”
I get asked these questions pretty often and so I thought I would post a little article to discuss the ins and outs of silent film linking and why I make certain decisions.
Legal Stuff: This article applies to my website and the copyright laws of my country, I am not presenting it as legal advice or a one-size-fits-all approach. To the best of my knowledge, everything here is accurate but if it isn’t, I didn’t mean to do it. I promise.
I see many silent films on YouTube, why don’t you link to them?
YouTube has calmed down in recent years but it is still the wild west as far as silent movies are concerned. A good number of the silent films available on the site are, frankly, not worth watching. They’re battered public domain prints, often poorly transferred and they sport either inappropriate scores or no scores at all. Why the heck would I link over to content that presents silent films so poorly? (Especially if quality home video editions are available.) It’s hard enough to get people to appreciate professionally transferred silents with great scores.
And then there are the gorgeous, restored films lifted from home video releases. Um, yeah, not going to link over to pirated stuff. Sorry. In addition to everything else, knowingly linking to material that infringes on someone’s copyright can land websites in legal trouble. (A silent film may be in the public domain but scores, restoration work, new title cards, etc. may still be under copyright.)
But Nosferatu was saved through piracy! I want to pirate!
Stop being obtuse. There is an enormous difference between a film being saved from deliberate destruction (or a collector copy being privately swapped) and bit-torrenting a silent film widely available on home video because you don’t want to cough up $20. This is not open for discussion. Don’t even try.
But some people try. Oh boy, do they try. Like this person accused the venerable Lobster Films of committing a crime by claiming copyright ownership over their own restoration.
So, to recap, ripping a copyrighted restoration from a DVD and posting it online as their own is not wrong but the PEOPLE WHO DID THE RESTORING exercising their legals rights is criminal. Up is down, down is up, cats and dogs are living together.
Independent silent film restorers and distributors are not shadowy multinational corporations. They’re usually small businesses run by enthusiasts and they’re not getting rich. They rely on sales of earlier items to finance future products and pirating from them is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Stealing from them does not make you Robin Hood. It makes you Dennis Moore. (See what I did there? I linked to the official Monty Python YouTube channel.)
What about Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc.?
These are all companies that offer legal streaming but their content shifts pretty quickly. If I linked to streamable silents, I would be doing nothing but updating my reviews all day. There’s no workable central hub for streaming right now and so we will have to wait for technology to catch up, if it ever does. For now, my links will be focused on DVD/Bluray.
Why are your film availability links so North America-centric?
I live in California and so I tend to link to film sources that I am personally familiar with. I do try to link over to foreign releases if they represent the only available edition but generally speaking, I am staying in my comfort zone.
Are there any free silent film titles you will link to?
Yes! Everyone likes free stuff and there are plenty of legal ways to see silent movies with zero cash changing hands. Archives and organizations like the Library of Congress, the Irish Film Institute, the National Film Preservation Foundation and the BFI have all made quality versions of their holdings available for free and legal streaming. Private collectors like Christopher Bird and accompanists like Ben Model have also made films available through YouTube.
Further, these streaming sources tend to be more stable (i.e. they don’t pull stuff down randomly) than the big guys and so I am much more inclined to link to them.
I hope this answered a few of your questions. Be honest, be legal, support the good guys and we get more silent movies. Happy viewing!
Like what you’re reading? Please consider sponsoring me on Patreon. All patrons will get early previews of upcoming features, exclusive polls and other goodies.