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It’s Copyright, not the Boogeyman.

I’ve spent some time with this topic in various forms or another.  I liked the comic book handling of copyright, a well developed piece that explains a complex topic.

Most of my experience with copyright comes from the film business.  Television and Film companies have a process by which they must create a name of a film or use any product.  Most people in the industry use Dennis Angel, layer/copyright expert. For ten bucks he can run a full copyright report for you.  Pretty cheap considering if you do not get proper clearance it can cost a ton down the road. Not to mention the pain of having to perhaps rename your title.  So the industry does it’s due diligence to ensure that they have all rights and clearances for their piece This includes proper release forms and contracts all signed before the performer, director, camera operator lift one finger. The studios have this down to a science and it’s bang bang done.  Independent filmmakers  and floundering digital storytellers, such as myself, have it harder, much much harder.  Though it does help to know that if I need to I can drop ten bucks and get Dennis Angel, lawyer, to help me out.

Finding your way through the law is one thing, finding out who own rights is a whole other battle that can be maddening. You REALLY want your piece to get made when you start digging up copyright and trademark information on every image, musical note or prop used in your piece.

In my Administration of Archives class we talked a great deal about Copyright issues, at the time. There was a case regarding Blackboard software and fair fuse of materials. Yes, it is a grey area, one that professors have been fortunate to use through their careers- anyone remember picking up the bound printout packets from the school printer that contained copies of materials for the course? Perhaps,  I am dating myself with that, but my point is as frustrating as the law is, I do not find the law intimidating just a tangled web to negotiate on my way to crafting my Princess Lea/ Star Wars parody.

For my project I had to sing a release about the materials I copied from the West Virginia State Archives.  The first part of the form stated that I was using the material for educational purposes and will not distribute said DST without permission, the second was the proper credit I need to include at the end of my piece, I will gladly happily do that.  For my part, i have music being  donated to my piece and I’ve gotten a release form signed and ready to go. Copyright, for me is not so much the Boogeyman something on but rather on my to-do list to be aware of and dilligent in handling.

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In the Open Access Now article, Lawrence Lessig is quoted as saying, “My view is that the law has, for unintended and intended reasons, radically changed the burden on creators and producers of knowledge who wish to share and make their work available to a larger public.”  After reading all about copyright, I can’t help but agree with Lessig’s choice of the word “burden.”  Copyright appears to be so unnecessarily complex, and my current understanding is that copyright laws seem to be enforced very sporadically.  While I understand that it is close to impossible to go after all violations, this lack of uniform enforcement seems to make the copyright laws even more difficult.  And it just seems flat out unfair that, with the increased ability for all sorts of people to be able to be “creators and producers of knowledge,” everyone be expected to know all of the convoluted ins and outs of copyright.

I found the videos from the Moving Image Contest to be particularly interesting.  These short films really demonstrated the challenges of working with, and around, the copyright laws.  The most compelling one to me was “An Army, One by One,” which not only helped to explain some of the challenges that copyright poses for documentarians, but also how today’s culture has drastically changed in terms of corporate goods and logos present in our everyday lives.  I also liked the short film “Intellectual Property Law and Supersize Me,” which in turn demonstrated how these laws can be manipulated, and how the documentarian can avoid trouble.

Up until this point, I had felt fairly silly asking each one of my interviewees to sign multiple release forms for my project.  Now I feel as though you just can’t be too careful in getting permission…and very grateful that I interviewed them in places that provided very basic backgrounds with no need to edit out the corporate logos.

Copyright “Basics”

Part of me wishes that the topic of this week’s class had been addressed earlier in the semester.  I learned some copyright basics in an undergraduate course on music and film.  With this very elementary understanding of copyright, I knew that I wanted to make my own soundtrack with Garage Band to avoid any issues that might prevent me from eventually placing my DST on the Buckland Preservation Society’s website.  Yet knowing a small bit about copyright didn’t stop me from being shocked by the intricacies of copyright protection, and I became grateful that we did not delve into these intricacies until late in the semester so that I was not consumed with fears of litigation.

I had a great laugh reading through the article entitled “Copyright Basics,” because twelve pages highlighting the major points could not get any less basic!  The same went for the comic Tales from the Public Domain.  I took some video of traffic near Buckland a few days ago, and, when I first started reading the comic, all I could think about was how happy I was that I was not using the audio for fear of someone’s car stereo blaring a top-40 hit.  As I read further, I thought the authors did a great job of underlining the relative, albeit confusing, fluidity of copyright and fair use.

I also began to appreciate some of the copyright restrictions a bit more.  It would have been easier to drag and drop some music from iTunes into iMovie for a soundtrack and hope for the best, but restricting myself to what was in the public domain led me to create my own tracks in Garage Band.  I don’t claim to be the next Ennio Morricone, but the creative process was still fun and I don’t have to worry about cease and desist orders if my DST gets to the point where I’d like it to be on the society’s website.  All in all, I thought there were some very interesting readings this week that raise fascinating questions about creativity in this medium.

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Copyright depresses me

Not even reading a comic book that deftly and efficiently explained copyright law (that was a brilliant piece of work, no?) can cheer me up. After all of the reading this week on the increasing restrictions of copyright law and the obvious corporate influences on the changes to said law, I’m ready for something completely different.  I mean, I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! Our chief weapon is fear. Fear and surprise are our two main weapons… what? We’re copyrighted? So we can’t appear in this blog post without securing clearance? Aw, bugger.

Seriously, 70 years after the death of the author??? The entire 20th century since 1923 wrapped up in a nice little bundle accessible only to those with the cash to pay for it? As historians, we should be aghast at this over-reach of the law that seems clearly (to me anyway) skewed towards corporate interests in direct opposition to the public good. But then, that seems to be the theme of our society over the last decade or two, doesn’t it?

At least I can take cold comfort in the idea that I can parody the music industry’s RIAA as a blood-thirsty pack of ravenous lawyers eager to take down hardened law breaking music lovers like the single mother of five or the 12 year old file sharer and be on the right side of the law because it’s parody. But I’ll have to be careful, since I’m still not sure irony is covered.

On the positive side, I conducted a search of the Copyright Office’s Online Records and could not find the songs I wanted to use in my digital story. I did find one song by the artist, but it was not from even the same album (did I just date myself by calling it an “album”??). But according to our readings this week, since it was published after 1989 (1997), and outside of the U.S., the copyright protection is automatically applied. Did I read that right, or does this seem to be a gray area – the artist is Japanese, the music is an ancient art form (taiko drumming), and it’s unclear to me whether the songs are traditional or original.  Any thoughts?

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After reading the articles on copyright law, copyright appears to be very complex and easy to violate. It seems very daunting for a layman to understand. I thought the article, “Copyright Basics” did a nice job at helping to explain copyright in an easy to understand manner. It may not be enough to defend myself in a legal battle, but at least it was a good starting point. Even though I’ve heard the term Fair Use before, I didn’t fully understand it and thought it allowed for more leniency, especially in the area of educational usage.  There seems to be a lot of gray areas, and areas of ‘case by case basis’, which again, sounds like a lawsuit. Not encouraging when making a digital story.

As for the duration of copyright protection, this too seems to be a complicated matter due to the different categories of which material falls under. I imagine copyright will continue to evolve and grow even more complicated with the quickly changing mediums being introduced. With the introduction of the internet, growing copyright infringement is also an issue that will most likely not go away anytime soon. Overall, reading about copyright made the idea of being creative seem a lot less exciting, and a lot more risky. Unless you are only working with original material, it seems like a lot of effort will need to go into researching and understanding copyright issues before you can publish your efforts.

From the point of view of the originator of the work, I found it interesting that copyright is automatically secured from the moment of creation. Now I understand why there are court cases about different parties (such as members of a band) arguing over who was the originator of a work. I can imagine how fuzzy this can get when dealing with mediums such as music and dance.

Finally, I found the article, “Tell Me a Digital Story” very interesting. I never would have thought about DST being used by marketing and advertising firms so heavily. It somehow seems unfair that large corporations are making money off of everyday people by exploiting their stories without compensating them. I’m sure the advertising firms must love DST. They’re getting paid good money with little to no creative effort needed up front. This article did make me think about who is the original owner of the work. Depending on whether the company sends a recording device to the home of the storyteller, or goes to the home of the storyteller to record themselves, or pays the storyteller to record the narrative, will all effect the outcome of copyright authorship. I think…

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Go Duke (Sort Of)!

I loved the comic from Duke Law School.  It was readable, engaging, visually stimulating, and cleverly referential.  As a die-hard Terps fan, I consider Duke an arch-rival (I must mention this on the night of the Final Four… Go Mountaineers!) but I can temper my passions for the purposes of this post.

In any case, how does copyright apply to digital storytelling?  Actually, I think that our readings tackled that rather well.  Instead, I’d like to ask how digital storytelling affects copyright.

So there are all of these lo-fi, amateur videos floating out there on the web.  Are they published?  Are they copyrighted?  I think that the answer is probably yes on both counts, but it’s stunning that this massive volume of content has been published in a way that is completely different than the ways described in the Library of Congress document and the Duke comic.  Instead of applying for protection at LoC or letting a production company or distributor handle this task, digital stories seem, more often than not, to be uploaded without any assertion of ownership on behalf of the creator.  This new way of self-publishing challenges our older understanding of what publishing even is.

Not to mention that there could be sites out there that might assert ownership over any content that a user might submit through the fine print of a Terms of Agreement during a username registration stage.

The question isn’t just a matter of categorization (whether something is published/copyrighted or not) but a matter of culture.  Are content creators going to assert their rights?  Will they mind if a corporation like Oxygen (NBC Universal) or Coca-Cola uses their content (in excess of fair use standards) to sell their products?  Or if someone sells (‘pirates’) their content commercially?  I think that remains to be seen, although I’d like to be enlightened if there’s anything I’m missing.

Corrected link for US Copyright Office “basics”

Here is the link for the document “Copyright Basics” from the U.S. Copyright office. The link in the syllabus didn’t work for me.

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