Fair Usage of Film Stills
Report of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Society For Cinema Studies,
"Fair Usage Publication of Film Stills"
by Kristin Thompson
Since the mid-1960s, the serious study of the cinema has expanded enormously. Scholarly
publishing on cinema has burgeoned and gained respectability. Several scholarly presses now
regularly bring out books on the subject, and there are refereed film journals.
One important facet of the rise of cinema as an academic discipline has been a new concern to
illustrate articles and books with frame enlargements rather than publicity photos. Such photos can be of use for certain purposes, as
when historians study lost footage from films like Greed or The Magnificent
Ambersons For purposes of analyzing finished films, however, many scholars believe that
photographs made from frames of the actual film strip are preferable, since they reproduce an
actual composition that appears in a shot.
The legal status of such reproductions of frames has remained problematic. Does the use of a
frame enlargement violate copyright? Should the scholar contact the copyright holder to
obtain permission to reproduce frames, and, if the firm demands a fee for such permission,
does it have to be paid? Similarly, for those scholars who use publicity photographs, there
arises the question of whether their reproduction requires permission from and payment to a
film company or archive.
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