Copyright is one of the most hotly debated topics in entertainment law today. Anyone in Florida who has ever looked at the Internet knows that it’s now easier than ever to copy material and share it, and copyright law has had trouble figuring out how to deal with this changing reality and how the system is going to work in the future. However, looking into the relatively remote past can raise some difficult issues for copyright law as well.

Recently, a company that holds the copyright to the 1923 Harold Lloyd film “Safety Last” filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against a company that has allegedly been selling a clock that copies the film’s famous image of Lloyd hanging by his hands from the face of a clock tower.

“Safety Last,” one of the most famous films of the silent-film era, was released in 1923 and its copyright is not scheduled to expire until 2018. As a result of the convoluted system that has developed to determine the duration of copyrights, “Safety Last” sits in an unusual position. Had it been released in 1922, the film would already be in the public domain.

Harold Lloyd Entertainment, the company that controls the copyrights of the late entertainer has made money by licensing uses of the image of Lloyd on the clock face. Martin Scorsese reportedly paid a licensing fee to use a visual homage to “Safety Last” in his 2011 film “Hugo.”

Sometimes working in the entertainment industry seems to require looking into history and predicting the future at the same time. Attorneys with experience and deep knowledge of entertainment law and intellectual property law can help artists, performers and others in the entertainment industry to avoid the potential legal traps so that they can keep the show on the road.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Famous 1923 Silent Film Sparks Copyright Lawsuit Over a Clock,” Eriq Gardner, March 12, 2014