Who owns the copyright to the 1927 Cecil B DeMille film 'King of kings'?
May 9, 2013 2:07 AM   Subscribe

An organisation I do some work for is hoping to show Cecil B DeMille’s 1927 (it may be the 1928 version, but I'm not sure, and for the purposes of this question it almost certainly doesn’t matter) film ‘King of Kings’ at an event later this year. All attempts to identify and contact the copyright owner (and we’ve made several) have failed. Does anyone know who owns the copyright, or have a good source for this information that we may have overlooked?
posted by monkey closet to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no exact knowledge of this movie's status, but my guess is the copyright is long-since expired.
posted by easily confused at 2:46 AM on May 9, 2013

Are you sure it's not public domain?
posted by empath at 2:46 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: The 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act states the duration of copyright as;


70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last principal director, author or composer dies.
If the work is of unknown authorship: 70 years from end of the calendar year of creation, or if made available to the public in that time, 70 years from the end of the year the film was first made available.

DeMille died in 1959, so it doesn't go out of copyright (in the UK) until at least 2029
posted by monkey closet at 2:49 AM on May 9, 2013

Not necessarily. Copyrights had to be renewed by the holder prior to 1964
posted by empath at 2:51 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: Ah - interesting! Is that true in the UK too?
posted by monkey closet at 2:58 AM on May 9, 2013

www.oscars.org is the web address of The Academy of Motion Picture Sciences. A curator there will most certainly be able to answer your question. They also have an extensive library of original scripts and movie notes that may be of interest to you. I think it's called the Douglas Fairbanks library. Good luck.
posted by effluvia at 5:58 AM on May 9, 2013

I want to warn you, first, that this is definitely going to be a long shot, because I am going to be referring you indirectly to someone who was Cecil's brother's family. But.

Cecil B. DeMille's niece was Agnes DeMille, the dancer. One of the things she did with her money was found an association paying tribute to one of her grandfathers, the economist Henry George. One web site about him is here.

This is relevant because: I was in a similar situation about 10 years ago, where I had to track down the copyright holder for someone in the De Mille family - in my case, it was a script by Cecil's brother William (Agnes' father). The only extant copy of the script was on microfilm in the New York Public Library, and even though it was by then in the public domain, the library insisted we needed permission from the copyright holder to make us a copy. I came across that Agnes DeMille/Henry George connection by exhaustive Googling, and reached out to someone there - they were able to connect me with Agnes' son (William's grandson, Cecil's grand-nephew) so I could ask him for permission, which was happily - albeit confusedly - granted, and we got a hit of press out of that "we went crazy trying to revive this play" story.

That grand-nephew may not be with us any more, but try looking for a contact at that assocation - at the very least they may be able to give you a clue where to look or who to contact, as Agnes' family seems to be in contact with this association, at least. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:07 AM on May 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try asking the Association of Moving Image Archivists, it's read by many in the profession in the UK and abroad. (On phone, sorry for awkward link) http://www.amianet.org/participate/listserv.php
posted by dumdidumdum at 6:10 AM on May 9, 2013

It's a Criterion film. If you're showing their edition, here's the relevant FAQ.
posted by loriginedumonde at 6:46 AM on May 9, 2013

The DVD is Criterion's, not the original work. The Academy reference librarians do not do copyright searches, and will direct you to various specialists who do this sort of search. AMIA list-serv is your best bet. MeMail me if you need more info on how to post your question.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:07 AM on May 9, 2013

AMIA, referenced above by dumdidumdum, is definitely the go-to organization for this.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:25 AM on May 9, 2013

Are you running the actual print or showing the DVD? If it's a private event, with no admission fee, you might not need any permission.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:51 AM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: No need to go to AMIA.

Copyrighted works first published in the U.S. from 1923 to 1963 were required to renew their copyright registration in their 28th year. As a work first published in the U.S. in 1927, if renewal did not occur, King of Kings would be in the public domain. If it did occur, the copyright would expire 95 years after the publication date, in this case on January 1, 2023.

Since a copyright renewal has to be sometime in the 28th year, you'd look for renewals in the copyright records for the original copyright date plus 27 years or 28 years (also 29 years since there are a few periods in the past where the Copyright Office was slow in processing renewals).

Since King of Kings was first published in 1927, I did a manual search of the renewal records for 1954, 1955, and 1956. I found a renewal for King of Kings in the list of renewals in Catalog of copyright entries. Series 3. Parts 12-13: Motion Pictures and Filmstrips, July-December 1954. It's renewal entry is as follows:
THE KING OF KINGS, a photoplay in eighteen
reels by Pathe Exchange. © 14Sep27;
L24454. Cinema Corp. of America (PWH);
6Oct54; R137135.
PWH is an abbreviation for "proprietor of copyright in a work made for hire." The copyright was renewed by Cinema Corporation of America, a holding company organized by Cecil B. DeMille.

Cinema Corporation of America sold all of its assets, including its copyright to The King of Kings to Modern Sound Pictures. I've linked to their contact information. Contact them, I'm sure they'll be able to help you.
posted by RichardP at 7:53 AM on May 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

And their website says:
"As of 2012, we will no longer be licensing or renting movies
Evolution of the market has allowed the company to move in a different direction. We will continue to sell 16mm films on our eBay store."

My guess is that they don't actually own the copyrights.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:06 AM on May 9, 2013

RichardP's analysis is sound for US rights, but OP seems interested in the UK, not US.
posted by benbenson at 10:03 AM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: benbenson, you've misunderstood the point of the analysis. The point was to identify the The King of Kings' copyright holder in order that they can be contacted and asked who they've authorized to issue licenses for The King of Kings' UK performance rights.

If the UK were a country that did not apply the rule of the shorter term to the duration of copyright they grant to foreign works, and The King of Kings were in the public domain in the U.S., then examining the copyright laws of the UK might be necessary, as it could, theoretically, fall into the public domain in the U.S. but still be copyrighted in a foreign country. However, as neither is the case, only a U.S. analysis is necessary.
posted by RichardP at 11:08 AM on May 9, 2013

Response by poster: A long time after the question, but thanks - this place is amazing! We've finally had confirmation of permission to show the film, thanks to RichardP's hard work.
posted by monkey closet at 2:12 AM on July 23, 2013

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