Peer-to-Peer, Pirates, Public Domain… and chic Porn. aka: Debbie Does Dallas? It’s in the Public Domain.



Copyright and the Porn Industry: a match made in hell.
It seems the adult-oriented industry (whether it was Playboy Magazine vs. Italian 1970s not-exactly-a-clone Playmen, which had a second match about online sites in 1996, or adult majors vs. pirating internet websites) has always had great interest in the copyright debate.
In the past decades, an XXX movie studio or adult mag publisher has often had a better vision of things evolving in the copyright field, than their counterparts in “legitimate” and more “respectable” businesses like the music industry or mainstream moviemaking and book publishing. Or so it seemed.

One of the new p2p lawsuits hitting “John Does” (unknown users) allegedly sharing unauthorized material on peer-to-peer networks is about a classic porn movie. And a particularly important one: “Debbie Does Dallas”, distributed by VCX, which is responsible for the lawsuit.
“Debbie” is not only a porn classic; the movie, and things that surround it – including the myth of “disappeared” actress Bambi Woods – seems to be a piece of pop culture, which even resulted in an Off-Broadway musical, in recent years.
So, what apparently is happening is that VCX is finally enforcing their copyright on one of the most important adult movies ever made.
Nothing new or exciting, in that.

But this recent event (the news about the lawsuit are dated September 1, 2010) brings to memory another lawsuit from last year.
Between two adult “majors”: Arrow and VCX.

Basically, VCX was distributing DVD copies of another porn classic: “Deep Throat”. Arrow stated they owned the trademark and other trademarks connected (note: the lawsuit is about trademark, not copyrights…).
Arrow, on the other side, distributes “Debbie” and “The Devil in Miss Jones”. VCX seems to have claims on both.
Before anyone says, “ok, but this is crap that was produced more than 30 years ago, who has still interest in these?” it has to be said that all of these titles still generate nice profits for their distributors.

Now the horrible, horrible truth.
Speaking about the Arrow/VCX case, the Las Vegas Sun, in 2009, also quoting trademark attorney Ryan Gile, suggested that maybe these movies are in the public domain, and that the above mentioned companies despite the fight aren’t willing to have a judge rule that any of these is entirely non-copyrighted.

We did a quick check.
Debbie Does Dallas”? Seems to have been released without proper copyright notice. Pre-1989. It’s Public Domain. It has shortly appeared on Archive.org on September 6, 2010. Removed after a few hours because porn is not allowed there, not because of the copyright status, apparently. So much for the VCX/John Does case; a judge will have a lot of fun very soon.

“Deep Throat”?
1972 release. Like “The Devil in Miss Jones” (1973) it was never properly registered with the Copyright Office until 1978. A search in the records at Copyright.gov shows that both titles were registered June 27, 1978 together with a third – and more obscure – film from 1974, “Wet Rainbow”.
This should already be enough for it to fall in the Public Domain: before 1976, registration was mandatory, and you could not register the work at a later time.

It was only in 1976 that US law changed and did not consider anymore Copyright Office registration as a mandatory element for copyright to exist.
As for copyright notices for “Deep Throat”: at least for the copy we were able to see, the 1972 version – whether publicly screened or not (because some argue about this point, since initial screenings of the movie were controlled by the mob-linked family that financed it…) – apparently never had a proper copyright notice. One was added later for home video release (and seemed unreadable in a copy we watched, but it is probably “1981”) but the movie had already been out for ages at that point.

Funnily, VCX added a black screen with copyright information at the end of the DVD version; they must have a perculiar view of Roman numerals, because whatever they intended to type, that reads as “1907”.
Now, as we know, in 1907 Linda Lovelace (and full colour cinema) wasn’t even born, and the movie was made decades later.
But, if someone decided to use this 1907 date as a way to cover the copyright, that would be a very bad idea.
Anything pre-1923 is Public Domain anyway, according to the crazy, complicated, many times manipulated US Copyright Law.

This last bit should be enough to clear the Arrow/VCX case too. Am I wrong?

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