Most of the films featured in the American Memory presentations are from the Paper Print Collection of the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division. Because the copyright law did not cover motion pictures until 1912, early film producers who desired protection for their work sent paper contact prints of their motion pictures to the U.S. Copyright Office at the Library of Congress. These paper prints were made using light-sensitive paper the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph. Some motion picture companies, such as the Edison Company and the Biograph Company, submitted entire motion pictures--frame by frame--as paper prints. Other producers submitted only illustrative sequences.
The Paper Print Collection contains more than 3,000 motion pictures. Most are American but many are from England, France, and Denmark. The extreme scarcity of early motion pictures makes these paper prints particularly valuable. In most instances they remain the only record of early films, providing a rare insight into America at the start of the twentieth century and the beginnings of the motion picture industry in America.