Regarding the DRAH/MGM copyright status, I first found a thread on another internet forum where people were having a discussion about the release and somebody commented that they must just be putting it out without proper rights. Someone else replied, stating they were friends with the WE guy and that they were able to release the DVD because MGM let their copyright expire some years ago. I did a search on the US Govt copyright site, and appears this may be valid (for MGM US)
Date of Recordation: 2011-01-06
Entire Copyright Document: V3604 D907-912 P1-149
Date of Execution: as of 20Dec10; date of cert.: 5Jan11
Title: 1,000 convicts and a woman & 5493 other titles (part 002 of 006)
Notes: Termination and release of security interest in copyrights.
Party 1: JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA.
Party 2: MGM Holdings II, Inc.
The above referenced copyright document lists Death Rides a Horse, among many other films. Its not 100% clear that this list of films is no longer copyrighted by MGM as there is no explanation other than the notes which state "Termination and release of security interest in copyrights." - I have tried searching the internet for the documents and cannot find anything else about it. I did look up DRAH on the MGM licensing site (linked above) and they do still list the film on their licensing site, so I am not sure what to make of that.
Additionally this list includes several titles that I really cannot believe MGM would let expire, such as the entire Leone catalouge of SWs. However, it is an official list of titles on the government copyright website which does state "Termination and release of security interest in copyrights."
This, combined with the statement on the mentioned internet thread lead me to believe it is possibly correct.
I tend to agree with you Sundance about WE's practices. I don't want to make any baseless accusations, but I did read through some other threads where people were complaining about some budget DVD company copying WE's transfers of films, which WE was upset about but never took any action on - a sign that either they can't afford legal action or they didn't actually have any legal rights to the film. However WE did state directly that they pay for releasing rights and this is why titles go OOP because their license expires.
I'm not sure what to make of it all and would love to hear any input from anyone who does.
But like Sundance has pointed out, the WE releases seem to clearly be copies of past foreign releases, some with the extremely obvious PAL to NTSC transfer artifacts. Whereas a companies like Blue Underground or Grindhouse Releasing are doing actual transfers from master.
I really get the feeling that very few companies are actually obtaining rights or doing real transfers for their releases, and that most are just copying transfers from various sources and releasing under the radar on a small enough scale where they do not attract legal problems from the big guys, and the small guys can't afford to do anything.
I begin to wonder why there is so much value on retail releases versus fan versions/bootlegs when they are basically the same thing, unless its a company like Blue Underground. And to be honest, I really gotta wonder how a lot of these newer English releases seem to consistently appear right after a fandub pops up...