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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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