>From my perspective, I have been, from time to time, offered
such dubious items and without proper copyright, screening, etc.
clearance have declined. I can _only_ speak in terms of dealings I have
personally been involved with. _ANY_ unauthorized use opens up the
screening/exhibiting institution for serious complications, not just
legally, but ethically as well.
On the other hand, if we are in fact offered films/videos unknown to
exist anywhere else in the world, we typically perform extensive
background research, before donating the works to an appropriate
repository, including a clause that (a) we have investigated current
status as best we can in (year), and that (b) it will be the new owner's
(or, more precisely, the "owner" of the physical, not intellectual
material) to accept any and all possible legal/ethical conditions.
Here, we feel confident generally pursuing this possibility when we reach
complete dead ends with rights holders, heirs, corporate ownership, etc.
At that point, we act as go-betweens between a donor (etc) and an
interested recipient. Also, we charge no fee for this service. And,
again, it is up to the receiving archive to "do the right thing."
In other instances, especially with older "classic" films/videos that
have literally been rescued by studio/production personnel from
dumpsters, trash bins, etc., the same rules "theoretically" apply. It's the
difference between the _physical_ element a given studio or production
house has chosen to discard [often done w/o studio knowledge and an
all-too-depressing period in early cinema, though it continues today], and
the _intellectual_/_creative_ rights which are altogether different. And,
exceedingly complex with today's mega-conglomerates, etc.
However, any number of archives and other respsitories have taken what they
can get (typically offered; often for free or for shipping
costs, etc.), keep their fingers crossed, and, in plain truth, if in many
instances this had not been done, these works would not exist today. And,
in no way am I "justifying" this practice, except to point out that
without this, many, many of these works would be lost. Just stating facts.
But here again, this is treading on very thin ice, esp with the
re-release of works on video by studios & studios are finally [!]
realizing these older works as worthy of a second-life/re-release/video
The other point I don't believe has been mentioned in all this is the
"non-published" or non-publicly exhibited works (eg, works in progress,
home movies, amateur film/video, etc., etc.). This opens up a whole
'nother area where not only are studios, directors, artists, etc.
involved, but also the rights of donors. In that last case, obviously
screening or any other use should be clearly stiplulated in
legally-binding donor agreements (and again, the muddy waters if you are
in fact dealing with the correct rights holders).
Simply, my best advice when quiestions arise like this is to hire a
moving image copyright, etc. expert -- not only would such a reputable
person do a thorough research, but in many contracts it can be stipulated
that the expert hired would be financially & legally responsible should any
disputes arise. And, as always, check out these people carefully.
But, put simply, I'd say when in the slightest doubt, refuse the item.
Otherwise, as some film character said, "It can open a whole world of hurt."
Henry K. Mattoon
National Moving Image Database
The American Film Institute
Los Angeles, CA