The criminalization of non-authorized ownership of films and TV shows began long before the era of bootleg VHS tapes and internet piracy. As Franklin explained to the Observer, the former employees who fished these episodes out of trash are now in their 80s, which means they’re old enough to remember when beloved British comedian and TV presenter Bob Monkhouse was arrested in 1978 and charged with conspiracy to defraud film companies by illegally importing copies of movies. Though he was later acquitted of the charges, his library of 1,800 films had been seized by the police and most of it was never returned.
Monkhouse’s confiscated collection included the sole copy of the 1931 British comedy thriller “Ghost Train” and missing scenes from Buster Keaton’s “The Cameraman.” Both were destroyed. It’s the kind of loss that comes as a gut-punch to those with a passion for film preservation: tragic, senseless, and — worst of all — carried out under the authority of the law.
“These collectors were seen as criminals, but now we can see they are really saviours,” film restorer Mark Stuckey told the Observer. “An amnesty would stop them being frightened of prosecution.”