Silent Movies Fight Piracy

From the very start, motion pictures were pirates and resold. Almost everybody did it and so different studios developed various methods of protecting their intellectual property.

This unusual method can be found in Alice Guy’s 1900 film Dance of the Seasons: Winter, Snow Dance. Mid-leap, a card slides onto the screen and slips away once again.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

The far more common method was to affix the studio’s logo to some piece of the set itself. In The Dream (1911), look behind Lottie Pickford’s head as she kicks Owen Moore’s hat (excellent technique, by the way). You will see the IMP logo attached to a pillar. You will see this in a great many American releases of the period.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

European film companies would sometimes combat piracy by coloring the intro cards or all the intertitles in a particular color. I do not know for certain if this was the goal of The First International Competition for Airplanes at Brescia (1909) but it would not surprise me.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD.

Copyrights for films were pretty wonky for the first two decades or so. Each individual frame had to be copyrighted and in order to be thorough, some studios submitted paper prints of each frame. Since paper is more stable than nitrate, some films only exist in this format. For example, William S. Hart’s first feature, The Bargain, is preserved in this manner by the Library of Congress. A good thing too because it’s a swell picture.

Read my review here.

Available on DVD and for viewing and download on the Library of Congress’s website.

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6 Replies to “Silent Movies Fight Piracy”

  1. Part of my learning process about silent films, particularly French ones: They didn’t use various props like costume hampers with logos such as Star Films because they were economising.

    1. I wonder if the hand-color helped with piracy at all because it was a main draw for French films and, of course, impossible to dupe with the technology of the time.

  2. My guess, re: the tinted title “rougier”, is that it is a punning reference to its meaning “to blush, or redden one’s cheeks” (in French and German) as well as copyright protection.

  3. Too bad the studios didn’t take it further and preserve their films for posterity. Some were happy to just “dump” their product when they considered it had no future monetary value.

    1. It happens with every new art and entertainment. Some original video games have now deteriorated beyond repair and few are interested in archiving them.

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