Commonsizing and the Eyes

In the blink of an eye, J.B. Zimmerman continues the dialogue about the fate of Eyes on the Prize. He makes a lot of excellent, thoughtful points, and I agree with a great deal of what he writes. There really are at least two views at work about the significance of Eyes on the Prize, one that treats the film itself as something special and worth continued legal protection, and one that treats the film as a vehicle for a critical examination of a key era of American history. Here’s the sentence from his post that I think captures his view of that discussion:

[C]laiming that the importance of the history should grant rights to the people to appropriate Eyes on the Prize strikes me as a bit of an overreach. The history is there. It’s available in all manner of places.

Is that really true? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I wonder about it, especially to the extent that history — and contemporary and recent history in particular — is aural and visual. Suppose I were a historian of the civil rights era, and I wanted to be sure that in my research I evaluated all of the central primary sources of that era. I would need access to film, television, radio, and photographic archives, wouldn’t I? Is that material available in public libraries and archives? If it isn’t, and if we want to make that material widely available because we think that it’s good that people should know about it, then what should we do?

My students occasionally stop by this blog; in class the other day we read Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel, which presents a similar question. What the court did in that case might not be quite what I mean by “commonsizing,” but it’s very similar.

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