Mechanical Reproducibility: Theoretical and Archival Status of Dupe Prints

19Jan2018 14:30 - 17:00


Guest seminar/workshop, led by Professor Jane Gaines (Columbia University) organized by the ASCA research group Moving Images: Preservation, Curation, Exhibition at EYE Collection Centre (Asterweg 26, Amsterdam-Noord)

This workshop returns to questions that arose in a pair of articles I published in recent years based on archival research that uncovered multiples of titles long considered canonical, beginning with the Lumière title L’Arroseur Arrosé. This research only confirmed what I had long suspected—that copying largely defined the earliest years of motion picture production and that all of the major companies in the U.S. and Europe copied as a business model. We will want to discuss how studying copying (as both duping and the attendant remaking) challenges strongly held assumptions about the culture of the original and how to make the question of “the copy” integral to film and media studies. To this end, I’ll want feedback on a long term project Film Pirates: Rampant Copying Before Regulation, 1897 – 1907 which returns to some of the earliest legal cases taken up by the Edison Company against the “Pirate King” Sigmund Lubin.

The issues around “the copy” lead in multiple directions—empirical as well as theoretical. The empirical leads back to the discovery of film prints suppressed because of their dubious origins and thus to counting and classifying and even to documented industrial espionage. Ultimately, the question of the status of the copy is a question of the technological miracle of reproducibility, a miracle that was never anticipated in the shift to the computational mode of production. In the larger project, this problem is magnified in the contemporary cases of what the Motion Picture Producers of America call “internet piracy,” made possible by the ease of reproducibility by anyone and everyone. The current panic on the part of film and tv producers, especially in the U.S., leads inevitably to the juicy case of Megauploads, the online streaming site that has been the target of the U.S. government since around 2010. As the controversial founder Kevin Dotcom continues to fight extradition to the U.S. from New Zealand, we witness the unravelling of “property rights” played out as conflicts between users and owners and “mega” middlemen.

Stepping back from these cases of two “pirate” kings, a century apart, however, is an even more pressing question—that of how to compare two turns of two centuries relative to the technological phenomena that mark them. For this, I think technological history through Reinhart Koselleck’s reconceptualization of “historical time,” tantalizingly set up in his preface to Futures Past and useful to us as the relocation of the historical past relative to an anticipated future.

Preparatory reading

  • Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Trans. Keith Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Keith Tribe, “Translator’s Introduction,” vii – xx.
  • Reinhart Koselleck, “Author’s Preface,” 1 – 5.
  • Jane M. Gaines, “Early Cinema’s Heyday of Copying: The Too Many Copies of L’Arroseur Arrosé,” Cultural Studies. vol. 20, nos. 2 – 3 (May 2006): 227 – 244.
  • Jane M. Gaines, “Twins, Triplets and Quadruplets: Copying Early Film Pillow Fights 1897 – 1905,” in Whose Right?  Authorship, Media and Intellectual Property in the Digital Era, eds. Alberto Beltrame, Ludovica Fales,
  • Guiseppe Fidotta (Proceedings of International Film Studies Conference XX, Udine, Italy, 2014), 141 – 152.

The last two pieces can be downloaded via this GoogleDrive link.

In light of limited seating, please confirm your attendance at

Screening on 20 January

Please note that Prof. Gaines will also be introducing the film SHOES (Lois Weber, 1916) on the next day, Saturday 20 January, at 16:45 at the EYE Filmmuseum.


Published by  ASCA