Some commercially distributed films are preserved. Studios that see no potential for profit in doing this work will (and have) let films disappear, rot never to be seen again. Copyright law protects their efforts—as long as the movie is under copyright, nobody may duplicate the movie without the permission of the copyright holder.
Interest in some movie stars is rejuvenated due to long-lasting movies. The revival of Louise Brooks’ professional movie career came from viewing and screening movies that had not been screened for 30 years. Some of her earlier movies were lost before preservation work could help save them.
How many more Louise Brooks movies might be enjoyed today if people had been free to make copies and preserve the work?
Much of what Hollywood studios argue for in copyright law is done in the name of supporting the actors. The Screen Actors Guild 90+% unemployment rate tells another story. And from a copyright perspective, how many other actors’ work would be saved if we had a more permissive copyright regime, one which allowed verbatim non-commercial copying and distribution of all published works?
Is it possible to assess how much damage is being done to our culture people by the heads of the MPAA?
The MPAA will soon make another round of lectures at colleges and film festivals as the upcoming “P2P” US Supreme Court case goes on and they’re sure to bring on the publicity as the time for another copyright term extension comes around. I encourage you to be there so that you can challenge copyright terms that conflict with what copyright is there to do and how long the term of copyright ought to be.