2022 Culpeper Conference

17th INTERNATIONAL DOMITOR CONFERENCE, Culpeper, Virginia, 9-12 June 2022

Hotel & Travel Info/Registration

Copy/Rights and Early Cinema

Call for Papers >>

The Library of Congress, National Audio-Visual Conservation Center – Packard Campus

Copyright, droits d’auteur (author’s rights), licensing: Who owns the right to copy film, and how do those copyrights shape access to other spheres of democracy and culture? Across a range of national contexts, the legal right to copy, distribute and exhibit motion pictures was as central to the early film business as patents. Piracy in the early period was also rampant, and arguably helped to power the rapid development of an international film industry. Bureaucratic processes of copyrighting produced records of works that are themselves no longer extant. Other rights were in play, too. There were questions of rights over a dramatic performance or a screen adaptation of a text. There was the matter of the right to be filmed, or not to be filmed, which entailed questions of privacy and unwanted publicity. And, of course, such rights were not available to all, marked as they were by differences in race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, and nationality that continue to restrict access today.

This conference takes up the question of rights in this diverse landscape of ownership, copying, piracy, and privacy in early cinema. We might think of the familiar challenges manufacturers faced in trying to apply “copyright” to the new commodity of “film”; trademarks and the patent wars; and the first recognition of “cinematographic works” at the 1908 Berlin Convention. But, what other national and local stories are there yet to be told? Who did legal rights to copy protect and legitimate in the first decades of cinema? Who has benefited from the legal vacuum, and what has the absence of copyright allowed for in terms of creation? Who was marginalized or disempowered by those protections? What did issues of copyright mean for African American filmmakers and performers or filmmakers beyond Europe and North America? And how can we open the topic up to new ways of thinking about film history in the context of other struggles, such as the relation between citizenship rights and the politics of social reproduction (housework, maternity, caring for children)?

As Domitor meets for its seventeenth international conference at the Library of Congress in 2022, we invite proposals that re-examine known cases of “rights at issue” and unearth hitherto unknown ones that shed light on the challenge of film’s novelty during its first twenty years. Possible topics include:

  • early legal cases
  • differing national definitions and precedents for legal rights to copy film or elements contained therein
  • attempts at international coordination of copyright practices
  • rights expressed in ways other than through copyright or droits d’auteur
  • copyright as preservation source today (paper prints at the Library of Congress and the legal deposit of scripts at the National Library of France)
  • questions of rights in relation to early “orphaned” and/or non-theatrical films
  • sales versus licensing
  • trademarks and logos
  • early censorship regimes
  • cartels and trusts
  • piracy and copying
  • authors’ rights
  • performers’ rights
  • implications of copyright practices in relation to social/political rights
  • copyright in the context of scholarship and teaching on early films
  • impacts of digital media and the internet on copyright issues for early films


Proposal Submission Process

Send proposals to domitor2022@gmail.com no later than October 22, 2021. Questions about the submission process should also be sent to that address. Proposals for individual presentations should be no longer than 300 words, plus a bibliography of three to five sources, and a brief biographical statement. Proposals may be written in either English or French. Only papers written in one of those two languages can be presented at the conference. Conference papers should be no longer than 3,000 words and must fit within a 20-minute presentation time (including audiovisual materials). Conference participants may be asked to submit final drafts by 6 May 2022 to allow for translation.

Proposals for pre-constituted panels of three participants will also be considered; such proposals should be submitted by the panel chair and consist of the collected individual paper proposals in addition to a brief rationale for the panel. While membership in Domitor is not required to submit a proposal, anyone presenting a paper at the conference must be a member: https://domitor.org/membership/. For more information on Domitor, the International Society for the Study of Early Cinema, visit https://domitor.org/.