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.
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.
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.
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.
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