Copyright confuses me

Copyright affects digital storytelling in two ways. First it affects the content of the stories themselves, and second it affects how the stories might be used after they are produced and ‘published’. As far as content goes, it seems like a good guideline is that if you are going to have copyrighted material in your story, you should be using it for something. Apparently, if have the Simpsons playing in the background, that’s dangerous, but if you are discussing the impact of prime-time network cartoons on commercial television, then you are in the realm of Fair Use. At Central Virginia’s Public Television they used to say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission.” This is probably not very good advice, but it is much easier for a copyright holder to know that you want to use something if you point it out to them. There seem to be more pre-release copyright stories than post.

For anyone interested in using film or television works, I can tell you it’s a lot easier to just study government films (but not as exciting). I have been spending a lot of time at the Film and Television sections of the Library of Congress (whose collections is primarily copyrighted or previously copyrighted works) and the National Archives (whose collection is primarily public-domanin government documents and donated materials). At the Library of Congress, it takes about a week, sometimes two, to get the films. You are not allowed to have recording devices in the viewing area. You have to have copies made by the LOC which takes a minimum of three weeks, (that’s ‘rushed’) and it costs around a two hundred dollars for a feature film length copy, not rushed. That’s if you can get copyright approval (luckily the office is down the hall), or permission from the copyright holder (correspondence can take a while).

On the other hand, at the National Archives, almost everything is already copied. You take tapes off the shelf yourself and they have DVD recorders attached to the tape machines. Outside recording devices are also allowed. For the donated materials, there is a little sticker on the box that says ‘materials may be copyrighted.’ I prefer the ‘use at your own risk’ approach. Anyway, copyright restricts access to historical materials. I’m not sure this impacts scholarship or documentary making to much of a degree, but it might? I will probably never profit off anything that I make, but guess I wouldn’t like it much if someone else did. Actually, if someone had the means to distribute my work and make money off of it, I’m not sure that I would mind. I would never be able to figure out how to use my digital story to sell Clorox.

The publishing part is a little confusing for me, but it seems clear that copyright law has little interest in protecting works that are published and not copyrighted, or not renewed. Thus, all the awesome B movies available online, which distracted me from the readings a bit. Creative Commons seems like a good solution. I walk by the copyright office all of the time, but I don’t think I will ever be depositing. What a hassle.

Category: W13: Copyright
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2 Responses
  1. cwarburton says:

    This is an interesting description of the dichotomy between access of records and payment for them. As they say, nothing in life is for free.

  2. jjanes says:

    I like how you mentioned a “use at your own risk” approach. It seems in many of these situations, people tend to do them until they get caught (or someone else does!). As our blog postings seem to point out, copyright is confusing, and until we have concrete examples of what not to do, most people seem to move forward with a little bit of caution, but mostly with the hope that they won’t get in trouble.