The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presentation of "It's A Wonderful Life." Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
"It's a Wonderful Life"

Holding the rich accountable, and the power of copyright

The Econ Extra Credit Team Dec 23, 2022
Heard on:
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presentation of "It's A Wonderful Life." Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Thanks to everyone who sent us their thoughts about “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Here are a few observations that stood out to us.

Robert W. wrote to highlight one of the more glaring lessons he took away from the film: “The rich are free of accountability.”

“Mr. Potter gets away with the theft of $8,000 with no recriminations, no penalties,” he wrote. “I’ve always objected to the fact that while George and the citizens have to reach into the bottom of their pockets to make it all work, Potter could have returned that money, but as the credits roll, he still has the money that he has, in effect, stolen from Bailey [Building] and Loan.”

Another lesson “Econ Extra Credit” reader Jay S. pointed out is the power of copyright. The film lapsed into the public domain in 1974, when Republic Pictures neglected to file the paperwork.

The film was a television staple in the ensuing decades, cementing its status as a holiday classic. In 1993, Republic successfully argued that the film was a derivative work, since it was based on a short story for which the company still had a copyright. This allowed Republic to regain control over the film’s broadcast rights.  

How to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is available to watch with a subscription on Amazon Prime Video, fuboTV and FilmBox. It is also available to rent on several platforms, including YouTube, Apple TV and Vudu. Some library card holders can stream for free on Hoopla and your local library may also have the film to borrow on DVD or VHS. 

The best Econ Extra Credit stories from 2022

We’ve loved all the stories, interviews and economic lessons we’ve produced this year for Econ Extra Credit. Here are some of our favorites that we recommend revisiting.

Inside the kafala migrant labor system (“The Workers Cup”)
The system has come under scrutiny over alleged human rights and labor abuses during the construction preceding the World Cup.

Buying vinyl is a sign of true fandom and Taylor Swift knows it (“All Things Must Pass”)
Taylor Swift is the physical media queen. The singer-songwriter’s music accounted for one in every 50 albums sold in the U.S. in 2021.

How a dangerous water park became the subject of a law course (“Class Action Park”)
Action Park was a big hit in New Jersey, known for its thrills and the real danger it posed to visitors. The legacy of the park lives on in stories of wild rides, scars and even a law course.

More purpose, fewer silos: some keys to meaningful work (“Severance”)
Workplace satire is everywhere in the Apple TV+ series “Severance,” especially when it comes to employers’ hollow attempts to motivate workers.

Is there something you’d like “Econ Extra Credit” to explore? A question you want answered? A film we must cover? Let us know by emailing

Check out all the selected films on our website.

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