• Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope and the campaign to control the film industry

      Egbe, Amanda; Op den Kamp, C. (2016-07-22)
      This paper is concerned with the cultural implications of legal decisions around the invention and patenting of projection technologies. In the early 1900s Thomas Edison won a patent suit against his main competitor Biograph, a decision that stunned the industry, because Biograph seemed to be in the best position to oppose Edison’s dominance. The technical innovator behind Biograph’s technology, W.K.L. Dickson, had originally developed Edison’s own motion picture technology, the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope. If anyone understood how to avoid infringing Edison’s patents, it was Dickson. With a focus on Edison v Biograph and Edison v Lubin, this paper will highlight the surprising shift in intellectual property regimes from patent to copyright that followed. As a counterfactual exercise, this paper will play with the idea of what cinema today would have looked like if Edison’s campaign to control the film industry by controlling the technology would have succeeded. What difference would it have made if films would have been protected under the patent regime as part of the hardware (based on the assumption that projection was an integral element of the film), as opposed to under copyright as part of the software, as they did? And how does that help us understand the role of projection within the history of cinema?