Where does it all end?

I’m not sure if my allergies or reading about copyrights has given me a migraine this morning. Copyrights, based on the charts posted for this week (and others explored in Clio 1), are in some ways pretty straightforward. Then a comic book arrived to clarify things, and I think wound up muddying the view. Page 30 of the comic book, particularly Munch’s Scream, pretty much summed up my feelings reading it. Now mind you, I grew up on comic books, so I appreciated the forum. But the authors presented the pros and cons of copyright in a manner that left me with more questions, and not less. At one point I felt fine about using a 30 second clip in the DST assignment, the next minute I’m worried that some French TV company will want to sue me for 4 1/2 seconds of their footage, and on a graduate salary I can’t face a $10,000 litigation cost and pray I get a judge who will make the French pay the court costs.

The problem, it seems, is that copyright laws are in constant flux. And there’s a good chance that 10 or 15 years from now, what holds true today will not look very similar. But, at the cost of sounding like some pessimist, I do believe that creators should be protected and allowed to produce ground-breaking work and copyright laws protect them. Even if the cost of such freedom is an evil Bart Simpson, Mickey Mouse, or Big Bird ready to pounce on it. I am reminded of such freedoms in our modern political discourse. Yes, I can hardly stomach some of the vitriol that you see at tea party rallies, talk radio, and on either side of the political spectrum. But, the protection of free speech is worth it.

In the end, Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig really put forth some practical reminders and a sage advice:

“…copyright law, like history, is subject to conflicting interpretations as well as sharp contention between advocates of the rights of the owners of intellectual property and those seeking to enlarge the public domain…In large and small ways, the web has reconfigured the legal landscape for historians.”

So what should I do? Here is their advice:

“We believe that a more aggressive assertion of the rights and claims of that commons, when followed sensibly, does not entail excessive risk…Even if the rights holder later shows up, most reasonable people won’t sue you if you offer at that point to remove the material or pay them a fee.”

So, it may just best be served to be aware of copyright laws, use discretion, and be willing to remove material on the off-chance some French TV company comes knocking on your door.

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3 Responses
  1. Chris King says:

    [Removed choice comments about French manliness based on 20th century military track record of France vis a vis coming to your house to serve a "cease and desist" letter]

    Good to see Cohen and Rosenzweig were thinking about these issues, thanks for sharing that! Not surprisingly, I think they are on the right track by advocating the return of some sensibility to the system and their encouragement of digital media users to stand up for their rights. We could be paralyzed by the circular dilemmas on page 30 of “Bound by Law?” or we could choose to “use it or lose it” like on page 59 and get a more sensible environment like on page 63.

    I plan on following their advice and roaming free in the open spaces still left by the law. I intend to actively assert my fair use rights by including some expensive special effects sequences from big budget Hollywood movies in my digital story. And I won’t feel guilty about it one bit!

  2. tgoodwin says:

    This is such a great post, and I had forgotten about that quote from Cohen and Rosenzweig- though I think their work has seeped so deep into my consciousness that I just take it for granted that perhaps my position on this issue was first developed through reading this work.

    Since when did Law and Sensibility ever go together? The exercise has long been to pass laws, then to have those laws challenged and then struck down. Copyrights’ long history of maintaining tough protections against illegal use makes it sensible in that way. As others have stated copyrights law and protections get in he way of artistic freedom, but I also think, thanks to Cohen and Rosenzweig, that it is about “interpretation” and my way of exercising my interpretation as a digital storyteller and a student/scholar is through Fair Use and parody and any other means by which I’m allowed to present my ideas. It is all about intent, and academia, I think gets a free pass with intent- and passes “Go” and goes straight to Fair Use.

  3. mplumb says:

    Definitely agree with a lot of things raised in your post. It also made me think about the end of the Tales from the Public Domain comic book and the comment it made about fair use. In essence, use fair use or lose it. We stifle creativity over fears of cease and desists. If that happens, so be it and I would certainly desist. Yet to whittle these digital stories, which are being used for educational purposes, down to nothing based on fear of something that is in constant state of flux seems seems laughable.