- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

A home movie of Marilyn Monroe swinging a golf club, another of Michael Jordan playing basketball in junior high and an operetta score by march king John Philip Sousa are among the historical oddities found by college students this summer combing through old copyright records at the Library of Congress. Besides the 1954 movie of Monroe at a driving range and video of a 13-year-old Jordan shooting hoops, the curiosities include a pair of photos of the 1901 race between a Detroit mechanic named Henry Ford and successful auto builder and racer Alexander Winton. Ford’s surprise victory, in his only race, generated the financing to launch the Ford Motor Co. Another copyright photo shows a stained fragment of a program from Ford’s Theatre for April 14, 1865. Mary Brazelton, a Harvard University student from suburban Maryland, researched the document and found an audience member that night — T.D. Bancroft — saved the fragment and later wrote that the dark stains were blood that dripped from President Lincoln as he was carried out of the theater after being shot by John Wilkes Booth. Bancroft wrote about his treasure in a pamphlet issued to celebrate Lincoln’s 100th birthday, preserved among the library’s rare books. He donated the stained fragment to the Kansas Historical Society, and took the precaution of copyrighting a photo of it. Copyright is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, along with patents. While patents and the legal help required to get one can cost thousands of dollars, a copyright application costs only $30. “Patents protect how a thing works,” said Jule Sigall, an attorney who works on policy and international relations at the copyright office. “Copyright protects how things look.” And how they sound. The controversy in recent years about unauthorized downloading of music is based on violation of copyright protection. More than 31 million copyrights have been issued since 1790. Each of the records from before 1978 is recorded on a small card. Since then, copyrights have been recorded electronically. The cards are securely preserved in 25,675 drawers that occupy 9,354 square feet of office space in the library’s James Madison Building, near the Capitol. It is one of the world’s largest remaining card catalogs, and the office is studying how much it would cost to computerize. The library has already computerized its catalog of books and other materials. The Library of Congress, home to the country’s copyright office, has no immediate plans to show the findings publicly because some await clearance from the copyright holders. However, the students who conducted the treasure hunt recently organized a small private showing of the results. The library eventually hopes to put a selection on its Web site, but for now it is being cautious. The length of copyright protection has varied over the years. For recently copyrighted items, the period now lasts 70 years after the death of the writer or composer.

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