In an effort to reduce the number of illegal sell-through and rental copies of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Republic Pictures Corp. is offering retailers upgraded versions of the 1946 classic for $ 5.

The new 45th-anniversary edition features a digitally remastered film from a rejuvenated negative, a half-hour documentary on the making of the film, the original theatrical trailer and a booklet of production notes.

The $ 5 fee covers the cost of duplication, shipping and handling.

The gesture is part of the company’s recent attempt to enforce ownership of the story rights.

“Regardless of when a copy was originally purchased by a retailer, it is now deemed unauthorized,” said Steven Beeks, executive vice president of Republic Pictures and president of its Home Entertainment Group. “We are going to enforce our copyright in the picture, but obviously we intend to work with the retailers and distributors.”

Storyline rights

Although Republic cannot renew its copyright of the film, it owns the original negative, rights to the storyline and, as of last spring, the music licensing.

Republic execs realized they could enforce ownership based on a 1990 ruling on the rights to “Rear Window,” which established that a film is still protected from exploitation if the film rights have fallen into public domain, but its story rights have not.

The same applies to TV. “We’re notifying all the stations that versions they got from anyone else can’t been shown,” said Beeks. “We don’t know what we’ll be doing this Christmas season, but whatever happens, it will not show up at all, or in exclusive licenses.”

Meanwhile, the anniversary edition will be in stores Sept. 29 for $ 19.98, while tapes containing just the film will sell for $ 14.98.

Blockbuster Video, which owns 35% of Republic, will receive the same deal.

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