CIU111.3 The Motion Picture Patent Wars

Copyright is something at least barely familiar to everyone. We know that intellectual work is protected by copyright, we know we should not break these rules because in fact it is considered stealing, plus if we want our intellectual property to be protected then we should respect others’. In fact, it doesn’t always work like that, but what interested me more during our Copyright & Contracts lecture was if all these copyright laws are actually made just right to manage all the challenges of intellectual property.

So I started digging deeper into the issue. I won’t be able to cover the topic properly considering the word limit, however, I’ll try to at least briefly cover the issue. So, first, I’ll talk about the effect of patent and copyright on the early development of filmmaking industry in Hollywood. After inventing a working camera and the projector by Lumber in 1895, the patent holders for making and distributing movies including but not limited by Jenkins and Edison formed the Motion Pictures Patent Company, a cartel known as the Film Trust (Khairy, 2010).


Members of the Motion Pictures Patent Company 


After that, the organization considered themselves the only ones who were allowed to make and distribute films, suing everyone who tried to produce something on their own. “Illegal” movies were distributed in nickelodeons — and the confrontation between the Film Trust and their opposition (who would later become Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros. and others) led to an actual war which was fortunately won by those who fought for freedom of filmmaking (Wu, 2010).


Nickelodeon — a place where the films used to be distributed

Copyright laws might be very important, but even nomads some of them stop the progress and the development of creative media industries. No doubt, we should obey the copyright laws. However, we all should be aware that sometimes they might be changed for the industry to move on.


Khairy, W. (2010). Film History: The Motion Picture Patent Wars. The Cinephile Fix. Retrieved 21 April 2018, from

Members of Motion Picture Patents Company [Online image]. (2018). Retrieved from

Nickel-Ext [Online image]. Retrieved from

Wu, T. (2013). The master switch. New York: Vintage Books.


  1. alexisdechampris · April 22, 2018

    I agree with your idea that things have to change for the industry to move on, which thus includes copyright laws. However I’d be curious to know if TODAY the copyright laws should be in need of change or staying as they are, at least what you think about it. I wonder how things would have turned out if the Film Trust had won the “patent war”?


    • liza zhokhova · April 25, 2018

      As Yana mentioned under this post, there are issues in the modern filmmaking industry regarding copyright laws. These laws should be constantly developed in order to fit in the current situation. And about the film trust – personally, I don’t think there was any possibility of them winning this patent war as art is free and it wants to move further and cannot be put in such situation that it is someone’s property. However, if it had happened, there would have been a monopoly on making films which definetely would have stopped the indistry​ from development.


  2. Yana Kalashnikova · April 25, 2018

    This is a really good case study about the film industry that I personally never heard about before. I think that sometimes copyright stops progress from happening. I mean, even looking at the modern again of cinema and the copyright issues that 20-Century Fox and Marvel Studies have to face. Marvel is legally not allowed to use the word mutants in any of their films because 20-Century Fox owns the rights to the X men franchise. I think that this kind of copyright is a little bit excessive and does stop people creating great films/content.


  3. faizaanraheel · April 26, 2018

    This is sort of a sensitive topic, the whole copyright laws, it can be good, or it can be a bad thing, let me start with the good by sharing a VERY interesting story about how zombies are portrayed in all the films since George A. Romeros ‘night of the living dead’ which was made way back in 1968. so back then audeinces had no idea as to what zombies looked like. romero drew up an undead human like figure, with the rotten flesh, brains sticking out, which acted like it’d broken a rib or two, and he named these creatures ‘ghouls’, soon after people were mesmerized by this fact and just as how he did not patent the way his ghouls looked, almost every major studio, who made a horror film with ghouls, made it like how george romero did, and named them zombies. thats how we get to see movies like shaun of the dead, resident evil, and maybe the other night of the living dead, so in this case, agreed it was a loss for romero in terms of monetary reasons, but he helped spark an era in cinema for horror.

    now coming to the bad section or part of copyrighting, is the stealing, as the years have passed from the early 2000’s, cyber criminals have become even more creative in terms of how content is being stolen, and this is saddening especially to those amazing content creators that have less exposure to the outside world, and will never get the opportunity to.

    so this debate is also two sided, lots of gray areas to be seen and heard.


  4. ryanbakerthefilmmaker · April 26, 2018

    Copyright and patent laws are incredibly important to all creative industries however not at the cost of stifling creativity itself. This is a very interesting blog and I wasn’t aware of the ‘patent wars’ that you discussed. So thank you for bringing this to my attention. On the whole I feel that, given your limited word count, you did a fantastic job of shedding some light on the issue as well as adding in you own point of view.


  5. ShehzorTK · April 26, 2018

    Copyright laws do impose a lot of limitations in certain situations but I believe that they are an integral and with the inception of digital media a very fragile wall against work getting stolen. This is all a very complex issue but regardless I believe that as creative individuals we should have a very strong grasp of copyright to avoid unintentionally breaking any laws and to know exactly what precautions must be taken to prevent work from getting stolen.


  6. shahbanojawad · April 26, 2018

    As someone who did not have any prior knowledge about the patent wars, I think you did a splendid job at explaining in a such a brief space what all that happened. Copyright is a very important part of life, especially in the creative industry but I do think some laws surrounding copyright are a little too harsh for example, Facebook not allowing you to upload even a ten second long video because you have used music in it that does not belong to you. I would like to say though, had it not been for the patent wars, we would be void of Universal, Paramount and the other big film studios that have given us some of the best films we have watched.


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