On Film: A Discussion

Bertolt Brecht
Translated from the German by E. J. Campfield

The Three Penny Opera case shows how far the melting pot principle of intellectual property can get you in the world of products.

In order to retain the artistic and socio-critical characteristics of The Three Penny Opera in the sound film version, we wrote the story treatment ourselves. To protect this treatment against foreseeable neutralization by the film industry, we negotiated a contract. In order to make this contract effective, we eventually had to enter into a lawsuit. And what came about as a result of all this?

For the treatment, we were offered money not to develop it. It was a product.

For the contract, which was never honored at all, we were offered in court 25,000 marks if we would sell it. The contract too was a product.

The lawsuit, which we lost in part because our evidence was not even considered, was necessary to protect our interests, but cost us an unreasonably high price. The lawsuit -- also a product. The legal proceedings cost [their film company] Cicero either ownership of the rights or else money. And at that, the rights lay behind many doors which could be opened only with money.

So what can one learn from the Three Penny Opera case?

When you buy a ticket to see a motion picture, understand that what you are about to see is nothing more than a product in a product-oriented world. And in the same sense, if you think your admission money is buying art, then you don’t understand that any art the motion picture industry buys, they must first perceive as sellable to the masses before they will buy it.

--Bertolt Brecht
December 1930

“Zur Tonfilmdiskussion”
from Schriften zum Theater, Volume II

Translation copyright ©1980, 2008 by E. J. Campfield. All rights reserved.