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Are silent films © and does anyone care?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by 48thStreetCustom, Nov 17, 2016.

  1. 48thStreetCustom


    Nov 30, 2005
    Me and my keyboard buddy we're drinking and spitballing ideas about doing some gigs as a soundtrack to Nosfuratu, Metroplis, Modern Times, etc.

    I did a google search but all I got was hazy. Can anyone point me in the right direction? And even if it's illegal, does anyone care if a couple dudes do a gig in cafe? I remember watching silent films in the 70s in the ground round.
  2. AaronVonRock


    Feb 22, 2013
    I would just go for it.

    Melvins did something similar with a few indie movies not too long ago, but I think the director was actually present during the performances so they had his blessing.

    Melvins w/ Cameron Jamie films in The Netherlands
    48thStreetCustom likes this.
  3. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    I think you'll be okay if it's legal or not.
    All the people involved in the making of Nosferatu, Metropolis and the like are long dead.
    Worst they could do is to haunt you.
    On second thought....
  4. CatSquare


    Mar 7, 2014
    Go for it. I promise Cesare the Somnambulist won't come get you in the night.
    1960jbass and tangentmusic like this.
  5. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    You'd better hope not

    Flooflox likes this.
  6. farace

    farace Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2016
    Connecticut USA
    It's my understanding that for some of these films, it will depend on the version. For instance, there is a reconstruction of Metropolis from just a few years ago after they found nearly a half-hour that had been thought lost forever.* My arts group had a showing of this version, and we paid the licensing fee to do so.

    Strangely enough, Night of the Living Dead is out of copyright, though a restored version may not be.

    *If you've seen older versions of Metropolis, but not this one, you owe it to yourself to see it. An entire character had been cut out before, as was much of Rotwang's motivation to be a mad scientist among other things. These have been restored, and the plot is much clearer and understandable.
    Maureen M, okcrum and Spectrum like this.
  7. I went and saw it in an old independent movie theater when it was re-released, really cool to see this awesome classic film the way it was meant to be seen on a big screen, with a full house of cheering fans, too.
    Maureen M likes this.
  8. OP is this the kind of stuff you are thinking of? A new wave kind of sound? Because this video and song are awesome.

    Flooflox and 48thStreetCustom like this.
  9. Jon Moody

    Jon Moody Commercial User

    Sep 9, 2007
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Manager of Brand Identity & Development, GHS Strings, Innovation Double Bass Strings, Rocktron
    I used to play in a band that did this; original soundtracks to silent films (one of which was Nosferatu). There were a couple of them that were NOT public domain, and I believe we had the performance royalties built into our fee to play. If I recall, just prior to me joining, one of the movies that they did, even with them paying royalties, asked us to stop performing it AND selling the CDs of the soundtrack (because it referenced the movie).

    We even went so far as to BUY THE RIGHTS to one of the more popular ones we did, and were going to release a DVD, but the band folded prior to that materializing.
    48thStreetCustom likes this.
  10. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I played in a band that performed an original score to a silent film:

    Unfortunately, rehearsals for this project started immediately after my second son was born, so I wasn't involved in the performance, but I attended the screening and there were like, 150 people there. It was nuts.
  11. Google "Public Domain Silent Films". I'm also certain there's a website out there that has a whole museum of that stuff.
  12. 48thStreetCustom


    Nov 30, 2005
    Dude, those guys sound like the Mothers of Invention! Love it!
    bolophonic likes this.
  13. PWRL


    Sep 15, 2006
    I'd just go for it, too.
  14. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    I did this with a band called BL Lacerta several years ago. IIRC, the movie was Buster Keaton's The General, which was in the public domain. It was projected onto the stage at a club and we played behind the screen.

    I'd be careful about doing this with a copyrighted movie.

    Even if the showing is not-for-profit, you'd still need permission from the rights holder and possibly a "non-theatrical" public performance license to make sure you won't be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2016
  15. Indeed it is hazy. Generally works published before 1927 are in public domain, but individual works can have that extended for certain reasons. Harold Lloyd's estate can protect his image while the film itself expired.
  16. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2005
    san antonio, texas
    that would be 1921. and yes, the public domain is your friend...anything in the public domain can be used by the public in any way they choose. (screw you, disney!) also, many works from the 40s and 50s did not get their copyrights renewed and also fell into the public domain. anything not in the public domain is subject to copyright protection...if you do not own it, you ain't got the right to use it (unless you pay). whether anyone cares if you steal their stuff is another matter best left to attorneys...ask dweezil about the ZPT

    edit: this advice is for u.s. only, i do not know about other countries
  17. BassFishingInAmerica


    Jul 24, 2014
    All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
  18. Steven Ayres

    Steven Ayres Supporting Member

    Mar 11, 2007
    Northern Arizona
    I've mentioned this elsewhere, but when my trio was deep into free playing, I came up with the idea of using silent films to provide a point of connection between the audience and us, and it worked pretty well. We did John Barrymore's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari mentioned above, and An Andalusian Dog by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí. We didn't inquire, but I expect most silents are PD now.
  19. I've played gigs with the baseball game playing on screens all around and behind the stage. Sports bars that book bands... pick one!

    I wonder what type of license a venue has to pay to show live sports, or other shows, and if that would relate in any way? (if the silent film were being broadcast on TV, could it be on while you played?)

    In all reality (NOT A LAWYER), unless you are playing a popular venue or your band is super popular, I don't think anyone would really say anything. At worst maybe "hey, quit it!" from whoever holds the rights to the film? You're not making money directly from showing the film, but you are using it as a prop in your gig.
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    Primary TB Assistant

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