Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Oscars and Copyright

By now all the expensive dresses have been returned (or not), along with the bling bling. Ang Lee may (or not) be playing the Crying Game over the Best Picture award. We have all seen pictures of the Chosen few with their statuettes. The origin of the statue is described here:

"Hollywood's most-coveted leading man was designed by MGM's chief art director, Cedric Gibbons in 1928. It depicts a knight holding a crusader's sword, standing on a reel of film. The reel's five spokes symbolize the Academy's original branches: actors, writers, directors, producers, and technicians. Each Oscar checks in at a statuesque 13 1/2 inches, weighs 8 1/2 pounds, and is made of bronze that has been plated with 24-karat gold.

Over the years, Oscar has received several "facelifts." Juvenile actors like Shirley Temple and Hayley Mills received mini replicas, and Walt Disney was honored with a full-sized statue and seven dwarf-sized ones. During WWII, the award was made of plaster. The Oscar we know and love today hasn't changed since the 1940s, when the base was enlarged and changed to metal (it was originally marble) and the Academy started numbering each golden boy. "

From 1929 to 1941, the Academy claimed common law copyright in the Oscar; in that final year, it registered the work with the Copyright Office as an unpublished work and began placing restrictions on the manner in which winners could advertise their Oscar, and also required that Oscar winners give the Academy a right of first refusal on any intended sale of the statue. In 1950, the estate of post-mortem recipient Sid Grauman offered the statue for sale at a public auction, the first time a statue had been offered up.

In a later case involving a knock-off, the claim was made that the Oscar was in the public domain for failure to place a notice on copies. That was a requirement only if the work was published. The select nature of the recipients with the limited purpose of advancing the motion picture arts and sciences, and implied restrictions on further distribution was held to result in a limited publication, that is, no publication. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences v. Creative House Promotions, Inc., 944 F.2d 1446 (9th Cir. 1991), amended, 91 D.A.R. 12181 (9th Cir. Oct. 2, 1991), rev'g 728 F. 1442 (C.D. Cal. 1989).

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