So the other night, I wanted to watch Tod Browning‘s controversial film, Freaks (1932).
Disappointed that it wasn’t on Netflix Instant Queue, I googled it. And behold, there it is in its entirety. Free to stream on Google video. Why? Because of the very thing we were learning about in #atec2322 this week.
Freaks is one of the few films that falls in the public domain. Currently only films produced prior to 1923 have expired copyrights that allow it to be in the public domain. Interestingly enough, in the 1980’s Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and former carnival worker, purchased the rights to Freaks and re-released it as public domain.
Lucky for me. But could you imagine if things fell in the public domain as copyright laws originally intended? If 14 years after music, movies, books, etc. were released for profit, they became available for free viewing?
Freaks is a controversial cult classic, so it makes sense that it should be in the public domain. It provides an interesting example of film, especially so considering the time period. I know movies are expensive and must make money. But there should at least be a compromise. Because the ~95 year copyright law we have is insane. How are we supposed to have an informed and inspired public when the creativity has been exploited for profit and made difficult for the masses to acquire?
The Internet has allowed for an unprecedented opportunity as a boundary-less space for information to travel freely. In the past, distribution was expensive and widespread viewings were only an option for large production companies. Now with the Internet, all those woes are gone. Distribution can be virtually free. So why not lower the copyright law times? Lets give our public what we are creating.
Freaks has been remixed in this YouTube video that has over a million hits:

And as RiP!: A Remix Manifesto displayed so well, musicians like Girl Talk, The Hood Internet and team9 who disregard these laws, are creating some of the most innovative and popular tracks being released.
Sure, capitalism is great. But come on people. This is art. We can’t be greedy. Art is beautiful and limitless and in my opinion, cannot be categorized by price or profitability. Let’s make a compromise and lower the copyright times.
But I did notice one potential issue: Netflix could not post Freaks for streaming because it is a profitable business. BUT Google Video could. So will public domain cause a shift to make website like Google even more powerful? And we should consider: Google does profit off of its content, no? So what must be considered when deciding what is considered profitable (especially since businesses are changing their profit models)?
When things are released to the public domain, will we just be shifting power? Or will it just be redispursed back into the public as it should?
I would love a world in which we could make more commentary of ourselves. I think this often starts with art and popular culture of the time–which the public domain could encompass so well.


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