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Copyright and Culture: Newly Enemies

From a post by Joe Katzmann on WindsOfChange.net:

The problem faced by this documentary film is common to all such works – which, unlike newspapers etc., must secure permission to quote when it uses news film clips, etc.

“[The series Eyes on the Prize] is no longer available for purchase. It is virtually the only audiovisual purveyor of the history of the civil rights movement in America. What happened was the series was done cheaply and had a terrible fundraising problem. There was barely enough to purchase a minimum five-year rights on the archive-heavy footage. Each episode in the series is fifty percent archival. And most of the archive shots are derived from commercial sources. The five-year licenses expired and the company that made the film also expired. And now we have a situation where we have this series for which there are no rights licenses. Eyes on the Prize cannot be broadcast on any TV venue anywhere, nor can it be sold. Whatever threadbare copies are available in universities around the country are the only ones that will ever exist. It will cost five hundred thousand dollars to re-up all the rights for this film.”

Larry Lessig sees this as a larger problem, and I think he’s right…

As our sources become more digital, and more multimedia, we’re going to encounter this problem more and more often. And right now, the law is a serious hindrance to transmitting history and culture to new generations:

“Whatever your view of it, notice first just how different this future promises to be. In real libraries, in real space, access is not metered at the level of the page (or the image on the page). Access is metered at the level of books (or magazines, or CDs, or DVDs). You get to browse through the whole of the library…. This freedom gave us something real. It gave us the freedom to research, regardless of our wealth; the freedom to read, widely and technically, beyond our means. It was a way to assure that all of our culture was available and reachable – not just that part that happens to be profitable to stock. It is a guarantee that we have the opportunity to learn about our past, even if we lack the will to do so. The architecture of access that we have in real space created an important and valuable balance between the part of culture that is effectively and meaningfully regulated by copyright and the part of culture that is not…. We are about to change that past, radically…. And what this means, or so I fear, is that we are about to transform books into documentary films…. Or more simply still: we are about to make every access to our culture a legally regulated event, rich in its demand for lawyers and licenses, certain to burden even relatively popular work. Or again: we are about to make a catastrophic cultural mistake.

…we cannot rely upon special favors granted by private companies (and quasi-monopoly collecting societies) to define our access to culture, even if the favors are generous, at least at the start. Instead our focus should be on the underlying quandary that gives rise to the need for this elaborate scheme to regulate access to culture…. The solution is a re-crafting of that law to achieve its estimable objective–incentives to authors–without becoming a wholly destructive burden to culture.”

Which has enough transmission problems already…

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To the extent possible under law, Stephan Kinsella has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to C4SIF. This work is published from: United States. In the event the CC0 license is unenforceable a  Creative Commons License Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License is hereby granted.