Hollywood's Copyright Wars

From Edison to the Internet

Peter Decherney

Columbia University Press

Hollywood's Copyright Wars

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Pub Date: September 2013

ISBN: 9780231159470

304 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $30.00£25.00

Pub Date: April 2012

ISBN: 9780231159463

304 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $80.00£67.00

Pub Date: April 2012

ISBN: 9780231501460

304 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $31.99£27.00

Hollywood's Copyright Wars

From Edison to the Internet

Peter Decherney

Columbia University Press

Copyright law is important to every stage of media production and reception. It helps determine filmmakers' artistic decisions, Hollywood's corporate structure, and the varieties of media consumption. The rise of digital media and the internet has only expanded copyright's reach. Everyone from producers and sceenwriters to amateur video makers, file sharers, and internet entrepreneurs has a stake in the history and future of piracy, copy protection, and the public domain.

Beginning with Thomas Edison's aggressive copyright disputes and concluding with recent lawsuits against YouTube, Hollywood's Copyright Wars follows the struggle of the film, television, and digital media industries to influence and adapt to copyright law. Many of Hollywood's most valued treasures, from Modern Times (1936) to Star Wars (1977), cannot be fully understood without appreciating their legal controversies. Peter Decherney shows that the history of intellectual property in Hollywood has not always mirrored the evolution of the law. Many landmark decisions have barely changed the industry's behavior, while some quieter policies have had revolutionary effects. His most remarkable contributions uncover Hollywood's reliance on self-regulation. Rather than involve congress, judges, or juries in settling copyright disputes, studio heads and filmmakers have often kept such arguments "in house," turning to talent guilds and other groups for solutions. Whether the issue has been battling piracy in the 1900s, controlling the threat of home video, or managing modern amateur and noncommercial uses of protected content, much of Hollywood's engagement with the law has occurred offstage, in the larger theater of copyright. Decherney's unique history recounts these extralegal solutions and their impact on American media and culture.

I tell my students that one cannot understand how media work without understanding copyright. With deep research and lively writing, this book makes that point emphatically. Peter Decherney shows how the copyright system shaped the American film industry and how film in turn shaped copyright. This is cultural history at its best.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, University of Virginia, author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity

There was a time when mentioning copyright drew yawns across faculty lounges and barstools, but no longer. This crucial component of our cultural infrastructure is now the topic of the day. Peter Decherney's sure-handed, able history of Hollywood and copyright gives us a rich perspective on the industry's past, present, and possible future.

Toby Miller, University of California, Riverside, coauthor of Greening the Media

This carefully researched and evenhanded page-turner chronicles the century-long, give-and-take among powerful studios, content creators, and evolving technology. From cutthroat business practices to hard-fought legal decisions, Peter Decherney thoughtfully charts a history that can cast individuals and conglomerates in the varying roles of victim and victimizer with rapid speed. Hollywood's Copyright Wars is an invaluable chronicle and a compulsive read—just like an absorbing and complex movie thriller.

Warren Lieberfarb, former president, Warner Bros. Home Video

Peter Decherney's broad knowledge of cinema history, coupled with his well-informed grasp of a century of developments in U.S. copyright law, makes this a unique and compelling book.

Robert Spoo, University of Tulsa College of Law

Both scholarly and readable, this will be of interest to movie history buffs and those who deal with copyright issues.

Library Journal

A splendid new study of the legal, technological, and aesthetic wrangling over motion picture copyright wrongs and rights, particularly timely.

Thomas Doherty, Moving Image Source

Decherney's readable book provides a century of evidence about the complicated relationship between film, law, and power.

Rebecca Tushnet, Jotwell: Cyberlaw

A groundbreaking study on what has been an understudied aspect of American film history.

Jan-Christopher Horak, Archival Spaces: Memory, Images, History

Have you ever wondered if a book about copyright law could be as compelling as the Fifty Shades trilogy, but without BDSM scenes? Well, wonder no further. The answer, after reading Hollywood's Copyright Wars by Peter Decherney, is definitely yes.

Eleonora Rosati, Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice

...an informative, well-written history of developments that have profoundly shaped American culture from Edison to YouTube. Highly recommended.


Enjoyable and engrossing... insightful.... Recommended for academic lawlibraries, undergraduate libraries, and public libraries.

Jacquelyn McCloud, Law Library Journal

Any collection strong in Hollywood media issues needs this fine survey, which goes beyond the scenes to probe the decisions and actions that often take place outside the actual courtroom.

The Midwest Book Review

A richly detailed and compelling account that is a much-needed addition to the cultural and political history of copyright law. It is essential reading for media and communications scholars and students, but also highly recommended to anyone interested in copyright law.

Burcu Baykurt, Media Culture and Society


Film & History

An exemplary work.

Brian Real, Film Quarterly
List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Theater of Copyright
1. Piracy and the Birth of Film
2. Hollywood's Golden Age of Plagiarism
3. Auteurism on Trial: Moral Rights and Films on Television
4. Hollywood's Guerrilla War: Fair Use and Home Video
5. Digital Hollywood: Too Much Control and Too Much Freedom
Conclusion: The Copyright Reform Movement
Web Features:
Can the Supreme Court Save the Public Domain... and Hollywood?

About the Author

Peter Decherney is professor of cinema studies and English at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Hollywood and the Culture Elite: How the Movies Became American.