About this Collection
The Motion Picture Copyright Descriptions Collection consists of forms, abstracts, plot summaries, dialogue and continuity scripts, press kits, publicity and other material, submitted for the purpose of enabling descriptive cataloging for motion pictures registered with the United States Copyright Office under classes L and M from 1912-1977, and under class PA thereafter.
Prior to 1912, no separate category existed for motion pictures under United States copyright law, and claimants wishing to register films could only do so as photographs. Motion pictures were required to be deposited as photographic prints with the Copyright Office. These prints have since been preserved as The Paper Print Film Collection at the Library of Congress.
The Act of August 24, 1912, allowed for the separate registration of motion pictures. Two classes were establish: Class L for photoplays, and Class M for all other motion pictures. Class L was used for live-action fictional works, and some animated films. Class M primarily included nonfiction works such as documentaries, newsreels, sports films, educational and training films, and musical performances. It also included most non-photoplay fictional works such as animated films and experimental artistic and technical films.
After 1912, registrants were required to submit both a physical copy and written descriptions of motion picture works to the United States Copyright Office. Because of the flammable nature of nitrate film stock, motion pictures were not permanently retained by the Library of Congress for many decades, but the descriptions were transferred to the Library and kept, forming the basis of this collection. And because so many films released during the nitrate era, which ended in 1951 with the introduction of safety film stock, are now considered “lost,” the copyright descriptions are sometimes the best or only surviving record of a particular title.
The descriptions vary widely in form and quality, from one-sentence summaries, to fuller treatments, publicity materials, and full scripts. As the decades progressed, continuity and dialogue scripts tended to proliferate as the preferred form. As a result, the collection contains a robust sampling of screenplays and teleplays from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the early years of television.
This online presentation contains select descriptions of works with copyright dates prior to January 1, 1926. Please consult this collection’s finding aids for Class L and Class M for information regarding additional descriptions, including digital material for works made after this date.