We’ve all seen the F.B.I. notices at the beginning of DVDs and the dire warnings by the record labels: their works are “private property” and any unauthorized uses amount to “theft” or “piracy” punishable by law. It’s a big lie. There is a whole class of “unauthorized uses” that are entirely legal, not to mention necessary for education, democracy and ordinary social life. It’s called “fair use,” which is a legal doctrine of copyright law that allows anyone to excerpt and re-use film, music, books and other copyrighted works without getting advance authorization or paying any money.
A sweeping international treaty to regulate how knowledge and creativity may flow on the Internet is now being negotiated. Haven’t heard of it? Funny thing, that’s exactly what the backers of the treaty want. The film, music, publishing and information industries don’t want a public debate about the issues or an open debate in Congress. So they have been working hand-in-glove with the U.S. Trade Representative to move U.S. policymaking offshore and throw a dark cloak of secrecy around everything. The next stop: draconian penalties for anyone who is accused of violating copyright law.
A huge international coalition has come together to campaign for respect for the civil rights of citizens and artists in the digital era. Yesterday, the Charter of the Culture Forum of Barcelona for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge was released by more than 100 representatives from 20 different countries who had met in Barcelona from October 30 to November 1. The Charter is a landmark statement about rights of commoners to freedom of expression, access to culture and knowledge, privacy, cyber-security and Net Neutrality, among other concerns.
William Patry has written the kind of book on copyright law that we have sorely needed for a long time. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars (Oxford University Press) is a trenchant yet highly readable political history of copyright and the deceptive language tricks that gives it so much power today.
Joi Ito, the globe-trotting investor, democratic activist and CEO of Creative Commons, got frustrated that no one seemed to have a good photo of themselves that they could share. "People who are invited to conferences get asked all the time, 'By the way, do you have a photo that we can use?’ But they don’t." Or if people do have photos of themselves, they generally aren’t legally usable. The photographer owns the copyright, and so anyone wishing to use the photo must obtain permission first, and perhaps even pay for usage rights.
As Hollywood studios and record labels watch a whole new online "sharing economy" arise -- in which ordinary people create and share things online without having to buy "product" -- Big Media is coming to a dismaying realization: the people formerly known as the audience are morphing into a participatory network. And this new social form is beating the hell out of an already-tattered business model.
Kevin Ryan, a Houston music producer, came up with a brilliantly creative idea: What if you set the words of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Green Eggs and Ham to the music and singing of Bob Dylan? Fantastic idea! So he went into his home studio and put together a clever mashup that mimics Dylan’s nasal singing style and electric band. Check out the mp3 of the song (if it remains online) and you’ll wonder if this is a long-lost cut that Dylan never released.