Debates and Discussions

Reader: It's a Wonderful Life became a holiday hit because of copyright flub

'Tis the season for endless reruns of It's a Wonderful Life. But how wonderful did early critics consider this movie? J. Edgar Hoover thought it was Communist propaganda, reports Josiah Hesse. But 65 years later, "the film's take on social welfare, real estate loans and class warfare remain poignantly relevant in the age of Occupy Wall Street and Mitt Romney's failed presidential bid," he writes.

And there are more morals to this movie: See also: - Hoover's FBI thought It's A Wonderful Life was communist propaganda; Mitt Romney should have watched - It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play at Sherman Events Center

Says WTFK:

This is the first of at least two completely unrelated takes about this film.

It's often left out that what made It's a Wonderful Life a holiday hit was the failure of the copyright owner to renew its copyright, after which virtually ever television station made it holiday filler. The result, also overlooked by supporters of copyright, was how prolific it became. This is counter to the doctrine of copyright, which is supposed to CAUSE the creation of so-called intellectual property by encouraging supposed property (aka monopoly) holders to create more (monopolies to be licensed.)

A similar story can be told about Microsoft Basic, and Bill Gates' famous letter decrying the illicit copying by hobbyists of a paper tape--an early case of "software piracy" gone wild. MS Basic also became prolific, even the market leader, not despite of piracy, but because of it. A "free" component of every version of the Microsoft operating system provided a useful tool for paying customers. Thus we see an embarrassing fact to those who support intellectual property: that "piracy" helped make Microsoft into a software empire, along with a $50,000 purchase of DOS, which was parlayed into a licensing scheme on which Windows was financed (and that also benefitted from a "sharing" of intellectual property developed by Xerox.

Want to know more about It's a Wonderful Life? Read the rest of WTFK's comments here.


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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
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