Re: Silent films and public libraries
Mon, 17 Jun 2002 14:12:02 -0700 (PDT)

In a message dated 6/6/02 2:06:30 PM, writes:

<< To touch on another point which was raised: sometimes we end up with
NASTY, EVIL, BOOTLEG (to paraphrase Jessica) copies unknowingly. If we
see an interesting film listed as a new release from a reputable vendor,
we buy it assuming it is legal, or at least the rights holder has chosen
not to bother (that doesn't make it right, but how are we to know?). A
case in point: like Oksana, I will order any Lubitsch films I run
across, and when I saw a listing for a copy of "The Doll" I ordered it.
It is rather generically packaged with no easily identifiable company
name other than "Foreign Film Classics" on the photocopied sleeve, and
the quality of the print is pretty poor. If and when companies like Kino
or Milestone release silent films, I will always buy them and replace
any old, questionable copies, but the problem remains that we don't know
who the publisher is up front. It would seem to me that the burden falls
on the rights holder to do something about this rather than harangue us
for buying them openly from legit vendors in good faith. I suspect that
they won't do this unless the film in question offers them such huge
sales potential that it would be worth the legal battle, much as the
classical music labels never spent a lot of time and energy tracking
down the producers of bootleg opera recordings by their "exclusive"
singers. >>

Dear John and company,
It's taken a while to respond to this, but I've been working hard on a Winsor
McCay project. Sorry John, but I don't agree with much of your email. I don't
hold the libraries criminally liable for unknowingly buying bootleg tapes. It
is definitely the fault of the vendor.


1) It's morally criminal to provide your patrons with bad quality tapes. The
concept of silent films as flickering, faded, blotchy works of old-fashioned
crap was started by the inferior dupey prints of our youth and continues to
this day because of horrible video versions such as Video Yesteryear and
dupes of dupes of PAL to NTSC tapes illegally copied from European
television. Unknowing patrons will definitely turn their backs on taking
another chance with viewing another silent film if their first experiences
are that dreadful.

2) To knowingly keep such illegal tapes does provide an ethical concern. I
don't know why librarians treat books on a different ethical standard than
videos. Would most librarians buy smudged, dirty photocopies of books with
pages missing?

3) And you say that you'll buy the authorized or restored version when it
comes out? Well, sad to say, most libraries do not. There are many, many
films that Kino and Milestone have had to pass over because the bootleggers
have gotten there first.

If the films are legitimately public domain, I don't see why a library
wouldn't take advantage of a rare acquisition or a cheaper price if the
quality is the same. If you do buy a tape and find it to be an illegal
bootleg, I would suggest returning it to the seller and make a complaint. And
I have to say, if a "reputable vendor" is selling bootleg tapes, then it
ain't totally reputable. I won't name names, but I personally don't buy from
these companies.

And lastly, to say that it's the responsibility of the producer/distributor
to police their films is to deny one's personal choice in regard to ethics.
See "The Sorrow and the Pity" again and tell me otherwise.

How'd I do, Jessica?

Dennis Doros
Milestone Film & Video
PO Box 128
Harrington Park, NJ 07640
Phone: (201) 767-3117 or in the US (800) 603-1104
Fax: (201) 767-3035