26. February 2016 12:20
I think most people are aware that the recent Silver Screen Edition of Star Wars created by Team Negative One is technically a breech of copyright. Nobody is disputing that 20th Century Fox holds the legal copyright to the original film. But consider this. That same copyright law which prohibits the public from preserving the original version of the film is designed to last not only beyond the lifetime of people who were around when the work was published, our lifetimes, but also beyond the life expectancy of the film stock it was created on. In other words, by the time the copyright finally expires and the film enters the public domain, there may be no film stock left with which a preservation like this one can be done.
Almost exactly 28 years ago, George Lucas gave this impassioned speech to congress:
My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm Ltd., a multi-faceted entertainment corporation.
I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I’ve come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage. It is not being protected.
The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.
A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.
People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.
These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.
In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.
I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.
I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.
The public’s interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.
There are those who say American law is sufficient. That’s an outrage! It’s not sufficient! If it were sufficient, why would I be here? Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of “The Maltese Falcon?” Why are films cut up and butchered?
Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures. Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.
I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art–as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.
-- George Lucas March 3, 1988
Now, as I understand it, Lucas's real point here was about the rights of the creator to be able to claim their own work and have the final say in how it is presented to the world. What he was really saying was that if Fox was to decide to update the effects in Star Wars for the 20th Anniversary Edition without his knowledge or consent just because they hold the copyright, that would be wrong. However it could be argued that the opposite is also true - in this case the copyright holders allowed the creator to destroy the original version of the work. Personally, I agree that Lucas certainly had every right to tinker with his films as much as he wanted, and that some of the changes for the Special Editions were actually improvements, but by denying the world access to the original versions which fans had already enjoyed for 20 years, he is guilty of the same "destruction of our film heritage" that he so eloquently spoke out against.
It is my sincere hope Disney can finally make an official release of the Original Trilogy a reality. An official release is better than any fan based restoration, not only because the picture and sound quality will be unmatched, but also because it can actually give Star Wars back to the people in a way that an illegal, underground release simply cannot. Every day I see requests from people wanting to know how to download the Silver Screen Edition - you know normal people like your Dad who just want to watch it, not geeks who already know how to use torrents and the usenet. They don’t know how to get it, and nobody can give them a simple “click here” to get it solution. There are an awful lot of hoops to jump through before you can find what you are looking for and actually watch it.
Putting the original version of The Star Wars Trilogy back on store shelves preserves the film for everyone. Future generations need to see this, not because it’s better then the Special Editions (even though it is) but because it is a piece of film history that Lucas himself has so short-sightedly tried to re-write. The people who worked so hard on the film, who won Academy awards for truly groundbreaking Visual Effects should be recognized for their achievements in the original versions of the films - not for a poorly rendered CGI version of Jabba that they had absolutely nothing to do with. Future generations of film students should be studying the original version of the film, and they should have something better than laserdisc era media to watch it on.