Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Battling the Copyright Monster

Wired is running an interview with law professors Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, who co-wrote and produced the comic book Bound By Law? Tales From the Public Domain.

Professors Aoki, Boyle and Jenkins see themselves as defenders of copyright, and hope to show how the system is supposed to work, finding balance between protection and freedom for artists. Aimed at documentary film-makers, Bound By Law? describes the trials and tribulations of a film-maker as she tries to make a documentary, only to fall victim of many copyright pitfalls.

Jenkins says:

First of all, documentaries are incredibly important records of our history and culture. They're visual histories, and they're increasingly based on copyrighted culture. Our book describes several instances in which the telling of that history has been thwarted by permissions issues. An example is Jon Else having to pay $10,000 for a four-and-a-half-second clip of The Simpsons playing in the background of his film (Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle). The makers of Mad Hot Ballroom had to pay that same amount to EMI because a cell phone rings in the background of one of the scenes, and the ringtone is the theme from Rocky. These examples really resonate with people. They understand that these are instances where copyright is not working the way it's supposed to.

Boyle says:

One of the questions we're going to be asking is, "Would we have genres like jazz, blues or soul if those musicians had to work in the current climate of copyright protection?" Imagine if, in the history of jazz, anyone who played a sample of any bar of someone else's music had to clear each and every sample and pay permissions, or else just go underground and play at backstreet bars and never make a record. Would we have a better culture? Would this lead to advancement in the arts? I don't think so.

See also the gallery.

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