Bite Marks and Trademarks

Without Night of the Living Dead, there would be no Zombicide. The film is one of the best-known and most influential horror movies ever: the seminal work that crystalized zombies as unintelligent, but determined, undead flesh-eating creatures. It’s spawned countless sequals – official and decidedly not official – and ignighted an entire sub-genre of pop culture; the zombie genre itself has become an evergreen mainstay in film, TV, gaming, and merchandising.

However, the film is also well-known for its confusing copyright history, which has plagued the movie since its debut. In order to clear things up, we talked to brothers Russ and Gary Streiner of Image Ten, who were members of the team that produced the movie.

What is Image Ten, and how are you involved with Night of the Living Dead?

Russ Streiner: George Romero, Gary Streiner, John Russo, Vince Survinski and myself, all worked at the production company The Latent Image, that George [Romero] and I formed to produce TV commercials and industrial films. Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman worked at Hardman Associates, Inc. doing primarily audio and radio work. The two groups, in addition to three other close friends, Richard Ricci, Rudy Ricci and David Clipper; decided to join forces to create Night of the Living Dead – hence, Image Ten Inc. was formed in 1967.

Gary Streiner: The name Image Ten came to be because there were ten original investors that each invested $600. That $6000 was all we needed to purchase the film stock to shoot Night of the Living Dead. Because we were already a production company, we owned all the equipment needed to make a movie, so off we went and did it. We had free range to make the film we wanted with no clients to interfere. We had a lot going for us, but George was our quarterback and the person that tied every ounce of everyone’s energy into what is Night of the Living Dead. He made us laugh a lot while shooting, but when we sat in the screening room to see his rough-cut assemblies it was wow. We didn’t know what people were going to think, but then again, we really didn’t care. We loved it, and it was ours.

We know there’s a lot of confusion out there about Night of the Living Dead being in the public domain. How did that happen?

Gary Streiner: What turned out to be a simple error, something that fell through the cracks, put a black mark on Night until this very day. At that time, a physical copyright notice needed to be placed directly on the film prints. When the film’s name was changed from Night of Anubis to Night of the Living Dead, that notice was not put on the film.

Russ Streiner: Continental’s film lab, a division of The Walter Reade Organization, was charged with the task of changing the title. However, in the rush to get the release prints made, they failed to include the copyright notice along with the new title change. This all happened without Image Ten’s knowledge.

The day after our premier the film went into immediate release to the public. There was no opportunity to retrieve the prints and to correct the copyright issue. We disputed that status and argued that Image Ten was the only rightful owner of the work. That dispute continued for almost 50 years.

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