This week, I planned to look at type designs in the movie “Citizen Kane.” But when I got up to more than 25 screenshots, I realized I was pushing the limits of what could be considered “fair use” of the copyrighted film. Since CreativePro.com strongly affirms artists’ rights and frowns on copyright violations, I decided instead to share a variety of my favorite film titles and use the opportunity to talk about the fair use doctrine of the United States copyright law.
Fair use is a concept that allows the limited use of copyrighted material for purposes of criticism, commentary, news reporting, research, teaching, scholarship, or parody. It’s a very tricky concept to define, however, so, I’ll try to explain it as best I can as I comment on the film titles below.
Here, from two of my favorite films, are the opening titles to “Citizen Kane” and John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” (which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1941). Both are terrific movies and pretty good titles. Click on any image for a larger version.
A number of today’s images are used with permission from the excellent website Steven Hill’s Movie Title Screens Page, which has more than 6,600 different title shots. The rest are from my personal DVD collection.
Fair use is measured against four factors by a judge, who tries to weigh the public’s rights to free expression against those of the copyright holder. There are no clear-cut rules for deciding what constitutes fair use and no automatic categories that are sure to pass muster.
Here are several great three-dimensional titles from the 1950 version of “D.O.A.,” the 1949 King Vidor adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead (a must see if only for the architectural drawings), and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 spy thriller “The 39 Steps.”
The first factor in determining fair use is “the purpose and character” of the use: Is it for educational purposes, is it commercial or non-commercial, and is it generally for stimulating creativity or does it exploit the copyrighted work? A judge may require the user to demonstrate how the use advances knowledge or the progress of arts through the addition of something new (like commentary, context, or parody).
My favorite newspaper movie is Billy Wilder’s 1951 classic “Ace in the Hole,” which came out the year after one of Wilder’s more famous efforts, “Sunset Blvd.” “Ace in the Hole” is now available for the first time on DVD from The Criterion Collection.
The second factor in determining fair use is the “nature of the copyrighted work.” A fictional or creative work is more likely to be protected than a factual one — facts and ideas are separate from copyright. But the artistic quality of a work or even whether it was published is not necessarily a determining factor. More important is if there is an obvious public interest in the work being reproduced.
I love the movie “All About Eve,” from 1950, and particularly the credits’ typestyle, which was widely used by Twentieth Century Fox on a number of its films from that era, including another Joseph Mankiewicz comedy, the 1951 “People Will Talk”
Go to page 2 for more movies and more fair-use information.