Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Before We Forget Christmas 2006, A Note to Remember

I've always loved "It's A Wonderful Life," the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart movie about values, integrity and humanity that gets played over and over every Christmas.

This year I noticed something new -- and hopeful! -- in references to the movie, however. First, AARP magazine had an interview with Jimmy Hawkins, who played Jimmy Stewart's son in the film. Hawkins had some pointed things to say, including that the movie flopped when it came out and dwelt in obscurity till the 1970s, when "the movie slipped into the public domain and TV stations could show it for free."

This is a key point in today's battle over copyright more or less in perpetuity. Because "It's A Wonderful Life" is not a movie corporations and a Bush/Republican administration would want the American public to see. It and other Capra movies like "You Can't Take It With You" (about greed and, once again, integrity) probably would be consigned to the dustbin of history as worthless idealistic pablum. The same goes for everyone's all-time favorite, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Story," which Dickens conceived as a broadside against greed and inhumanity and sacrilege.

DIGG featured another angle on "It's A Wonderful Life." In 1947, the FBI filed a memo castigating the movie as Communist propaganda! Its portrayal of the banker as a greedy skinflint was typical of a "common trick" used by Communists to discredit capitalistic virtues, the memo observed.

The point here is that Digital Rights Management in tandem with copyright in perpetuity would have consigned "It's A Wonderful Life" to obscurity forever, and still may if the trends continue. That's why projects like Brewster Kahle's Internet Archive and the efforts of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons are so important. There are manifold reasons for creative work to eventually enter public domain, and many of them intertwine with the themes of "It's A Wonderful Life!"

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