Tuesday 22 June 2010

MED104 - 2.2 Don’t touch that! Copyright, ownership and institutionalcontrol

This week's main reading was Recovering Fair Use by Steve Collins (2008), about the impact of the Internet on copyright law. We covered some of this during Web101 last SP, which I discussed here. We also viewed A Fair(y) Use Tale, and a talk by Lawrence Lessig about the impact of technologies and regulation on creative experimentation and expression, which I really enjoyed.

Copyright was originally introduced in England in the 18th century in an attempt to ensure that "culturally important creative works were not the victims of monopolies and were free", which is ironic because nowadays it seems to be the exact opposite - large corporate media organisations such as Disney Corporation making huge amounts of money from their creative works, often based on older legends that they didn't create, while preventing others from doing exactly what they did. Talk about monopolies!
"Fair use" (or fair dealing in Australia) is supposed to be a process that allows an author to use a portion of somebody else's work, which they can then expand upon. However, nowadays the focus seems to be less about the expansion of creativity and almost all about money, and who owns what, and preventing others from using anything, and how much they are entitled to if somebody else does it. Fair Use is often not taken into consideration, and has taken a very distinctive backseat to ownership and corporate dollars.

The example that immediately sprang to mind while reading this article is the recent case brought by Larrikin Music Publishing against the Australian rock band Men at Work, alleging that the flute riffs from the song Down Under were illegally reproduced from the Australian folk tune Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree. Anybody who knows me will verify that I'm somewhat tone-deaf but I've listened to the comparisons several times and I just can't hear it. Apparently neither did Larrikin, until the ABC program Spicks and Specks brought it up as a quiz question during a 2007 episode, at which point Larrikin decided to act. Now seriously... Kookaburra was written in 1934 and the copyright registered in 1975. "Down Under" was written in 1979. And nobody noticed the so-called similarities until a quiz show in 2007?! I don't know what anybody else thinks but to me this is complete madness, and a great demonstration of everything that is wrong with the way copyright is enforced today.

During Lessig's talk he showed a couple of remix videos, as an example of young people using digital technology to produce content "for the love of what they're doing, not for the money". One of them was a video showing a modern-day Jesus Christ, set to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive", which I thought was very clever and found quite hilarious. Another student asked on our discussion forum about what should happen if this video had resulted in sales of "I Will Survive" taking off again - should Gloria get the money, or the reworker who created the video, or both? Would it be courtesy to offer the re-mixer a share considering Gloria wouldn't be getting any if the reworking had never taken place? My belief is that Gloria wouldn't be getting anything without the reworking being done - but without Gloria, there would be nothing to rework. :> I think it's slightly different in the US but according to Australia's "Fair Dealing" exceptions to current copyright law, material can be used for the purposes of parody or satire. My view is that if Gloria happens to benefit financially from something she originally created for a financial purpose, good luck to her. If the reworker did the work for love then he should be happy if his material goes viral and lots of people see it. If he did it for financial gain then he should've written his own material. I think that was pretty much Lessig's point, that it should be OK to rework other people's material provided it's being done for artistic, creative & cultural purposes and not just financial. The story within Collins' Fair Use article, about a mother who put up a home video on YouTube of her child dancing to a Prince song and got hit with a takedown notice, was just ridiculous, in my opinion - she had no financial motives and probably wasn't even aware of what the song in the background even was, her video was all about her young child dancing.

My husband watched the Lessig video with me last night and reminded me of the Hugh Grant movie "About A Boy", where Hugh plays a rich guy who lives off the royalties of a Christmas song his father wrote. He's telling someone how he gets paid everytime somebody sings the song and he gets asked "Do carol singers have to pay you 10 percent?" and Hugh says "They should, but you can't always catch the little bastards." I thought this was funny and quite topical. :> As Lessig says in his talk - common sense is not apparent in this copyright issue at the current time.

This week we were also supposed to develop an outline for Assignment 2, and identify any problems about copyright that we are likely to encounter in Assignment 3. I am working on this now but as this Portfolio is online I've chosen to keep it in a separate document offline for now.



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