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Today, movie pirates sell cheap DVDs of films that are still in theaters and in some cases, hacking studio servers to get access to new releases. Federal authorities have prosecuted or shut down websites suspected of copyright infringement.

For Loughney, the priority is ensuring that films and other works housed at the Packard Campus remain available for future generations to enjoy. That is why the staff maintains copies _ and the equipment to play them _ of bygone film technologies such as tapes and reels.

Eventually many of the works may be digitized, but the facility houses the only known copies of many works. “Our mission is to keep it forever,” Loughney said. “When we say forever, we have to mean it.”

Only a fraction of the works produced between 1912 and 1930 survive, in part because they were produced on nitrate film, which is so flammable, the Library of Congress wouldn’t accept copies of the films until around 1940.

Instead, a copyright agent would review a reel of the film when it was brought to Washington, but it would not be kept.

The nitrate vaults at Packard are just one element of its preservation efforts. Today, copies of all registered films are filed with the Copyright Office and kept for posterity and in case a lawsuit is filed. Films of all kinds _ from blockbusters to B-movies to porn films _ flow into the facility in formats ranging from traditional film reels to special hard drives. It costs $35 to register a movie online and $65 on paper, no matter what the film’s budget.

Packard also preserves copyrighted music and other recordings, and newer creations such as video games.

“Copyright is more important than ever,” Loughney said. “It has a practical function. The physical depositing or registering of material creates a national archive that can live on for future generations,” he said.

Indeed, many of the early films registered under the movie designation offer a peek into audience preferences, with fewer superheroes but not that dissimilar from today. They included dramas focusing on nobility, adventure and war stories, and comedies.

“I think the average American never thinks of copyright,” he said. “It has served an important function in the past and should serve an important function in the future.”

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Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation: http://www.loc.gov/avconservation/packard/

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Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP