See the moving picture

Figure 7.13

The First Motion-Picture Copyright

In January 1894, an Edison mechanic named Fred Ott performed a sneeze in front of a camera operated by W.K.L. Dickson, the director of Edison’s newly established motion-picture project. The official title of this document, which was intended for magazine publicity, is Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze. In the same month, it was copyrighted as a photograph under U.S. copyright law which, dating from 1870, merely extended to movies the protection afforded photographs and their negatives. We know now, of course, that it can be “performed” as a motion picture only when the series of pictures that constitutes it are projected in such a way that they appear “indistinguishable” to the viewer. In 1903, the court ruled in Edison v. Lubin that this unique “notational system” made a movie a movie and not a photograph. Unfortunately, the court also decided that current U.S. copyright law made no provision for such a notational system, ruling that until it did, motion pictures could not be copyrighted. The ruling was overturned on appeal four months later.

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