Colorized motion pictures will be granted copyright protection if those tinted versions reveal a certain amount of "creative human authorship," the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress announced yesterday.
The ruling comes after months of controversy surrounding the colorization process, which has been decried by actors and directors as a desecration of art but defended by its practitioners as a moneymaking means to bring black-and-white classics to color-conditioned TV audiences.
"We aren't addressing the good taste question here," said Dorothy Schrader, a general counsel for the Copyright Office, who was directly involved in the decision. "It's strictly a matter of copyright legalities."
Copyright will be granted if, in the opinion of the Copyright Office, the work is composed from a creative standpoint and produced by existing computer-coloring technology. Furthermore, registration will be denied to works when claimed authorship consists of the addition of only a few hues to an existing black-and-white motion picture or multiple color versions of the same basic work. When registration is warranted, the new copyright will cover only the fresh material -- the additional selections of color. The copyright status of the black-and-white print is unaffected.
According to film colorists, more than 16 million tints and tones are at their disposal, 4,000 of which are used regularly for the sake of artistry. Schrader said that information became a most persuasive argument for granting copyright immunity. "Certainly, that was a consideration," she said. "But it was not the only argument. We looked at many factors, and only after three months of public inquiry."
The Directors Guild of America, Schrader said, was one of few public organizations that offered formal comment. True to past politics, their members politely suggested that computer colorists not be given copyright status.
Representatives of Ted Turner's Broadcast System -- which has brought ratings and publicity to its door with the broadcast of colorized film classics such as "Yankee Doodle Dandy" -- had a different view.
"The initial reaction from our legal department is that we're very excited about it," said Eric McLamb, spokesperson for the network. "For us, then, it's a victory, but it will just be business as usual. We have a contract to broadcast 100 colorized film classics and we've only run eight so far, so it's full steam ahead."
McLamb said that "White Heat," "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "A Christmas Carol" are the classics earmarked for colorization by year's end.
Applicants for copyright registration of colorized films included Walt Disney Productions and 20th Century Fox Studios. The Copyright Office will publish its proposed regulation in the Federal Register on June 22 subject to 30 days of public comments.