Written by Lloyd Kaufman with Sara Antill. Lloyd Kaufman is founder of Troma Films. His most recent book, “Sell Your Own Damn Movie!” is now available in paperback. This article is cross-posted from IndieWIRE. --NP
The cover of Lloyd Kaufman's recent book, "Sell Your Own Damn Movie!"
I met a Troma fan in Florida a few years ago who told me how he used to get eight Netflix DVDs at a time, keep them for a day or two while he downloaded them to his computer and then return them for eight more. Once he had the digital files, he would make copies for his friends, asking about $2 for the cost of the blank DVD and the effort.
One night, while extremely high, he had figured out that, based on the number of movies he had copied and the penalty for each one, if caught, he would owe the government about $2.5 million in fines and face the rest of his life in prison.
Now, for someone who had already sold himself to the government in the form of federal student loans for film school, the prospect of an extra $2.5 million was pretty frightening. He gave up the pirate DVD business and started selling weed instead, as there were fewer risks involved. That was how we met. Last I heard, he was in jail for selling drugs, but he’ll be out sooner than if he had been caught selling $2 DVDs of “I Know Who Killed Me” to his friends.
Thomas Jefferson would have been appalled at this story. And not just because I think he would have liked trashy Lindsay Lohan movies. But because Thomas Jefferson believed that all art should belong to the public. For him, public domain was a large, thriving democracy, while copyright was a fat king thousands of miles away eating puddings and meat pies.
Unfortunately, we have reversed this with current law. Now copyright is king, while public domain has been relegated to obscurity. Thomas Jefferson, who was against copyright and said himself, “Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property,” finally agreed to compromise and include the issue of patents (and, by interpretation, copyright law) in the Constitution: