In the 1980s, a controversy swirled in Hollywood when there was a notion to colorize black and white films. The issue made it all the way in front of Congress due in large part to the passionate backing of several important filmmakers. Eventually, their efforts helped to establish the National Film Registry which, to this day, takes historically significant films and preserves them in their natural state forever.

On March 3, 1988, George Lucas was one of those filmmakers who spoke in front of Congress. The same George Lucas who, in the two decades since, has continually tinkered with his signature Star Wars films from the Special Editions through the prequels and right up to the Blu-rays, which caused massive mainstream controversy this week due to new changes including a digital Yoda and Darth Vader’s new dialogue. But on that day, 23 years ago, Lucas delivered a rousing speech that condemned exactly what he’d end up doing himself.

After the jump, read George Lucas’ passionate words against George Lucas.

Thanks to the website SaveStarWars.com for this speech. Ladies and gentleman, here’s George Lucas:

My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm Ltd., a multi-faceted entertainment corporation.

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I’ve come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage. It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.

I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public’s interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient. That’s an outrage! It’s not sufficient! If it were sufficient, why would I be here? Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of “The Maltese Falcon?” Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures. Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art–as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.

The important thing to note about this is that Lucas is talking largely about the rights of the author to claim their work which, of course, he has as Star Wars is his work.

So while there is hypocrisy in his words, the fact is his words still give him – the author – the right to do what he wants.

(Note: I changed a bit of the wording at the end as I wasn’t using the correct phrasing. I think the point remains intact.)

Thanks to Brandon Schaefer for the heads up.

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