More on Copyright

A couple of days ago, the Dean of Arts & Sciences at my school forwarded this piece from the Chronicle of Higher Ed to me & several other people with an interest in such matters:
Washington — So a professor wants to show Monty Python and the Holy Grail to her class on British humor, and she wants to check with the film studio to get permission. How would she do that? As it stands, the semester could be over by the time the professor even finds the right person to ask. A nonprofit group called the Copyright Alliance, whose members include associations for the motion-picture and recording industries, announced today that it would like to help broker such requests. The idea, described briefly at an academic symposium held by the group on Monday in Washington, is to create a Web site where professors could post questions like the the one above and get answers from an industry official. The online resource would take the form of a wiki, a communal Web site that allows visitors to easily post new comments and track the changes that have been made. Patrick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, said in an interview after the symposium that he had been talking with alliance members from the content industry who were ready to proceed, assuming that colleges want such a system. “We wanted to know what the temperature would be like in the academic community and felt that this event would be a way to take that temperature,” he said. “I think based on the conversations I’ve had and what I’ve heard on the panels, there’s cautious optimism.” He said entertainment-industry officials favored setting up such a wiki in hopes that it would answer complaints from professors that industry representatives did not respond quickly enough to requests for educational use of their films and songs. “They don’t mean to be uncooperative, it’s just that their businesses are not set up to be performing this service,” said Mr. Ross. He said that if another professor looked at the wiki and saw that a particular movie studio generally granted permission for classroom use, he could be assured that he could also use a film from that studio without getting specific permission. “They could go to their general counsel and say this is pretty comparable,” said Mr. Ross. Patricia Aufderheide, a professor at American University, said in an interview after the event that such a wiki could do more harm than good. “I’m worried about further copyright misinformation,” she said, noting that many times presentation of movie clips in classrooms falls under fair use, so that no permission is required. She also disagreed with Mr. Ross over how useful the wiki would be as a source of guidance. “Having NBC saying I won’t sue you if you do this really won’t help the next guy because the situation will be different,” she said. Mr. Ross said he planned to meet with key university officials working on copyright issues to see whether such concerns could be overcome. “There’s going to have to be trust won on both sides, I think, for this to succeed,” he said. [Jeffrey R. Young]
As far as I know, the professor already has the right to show the movie & she doesn't need any stinking wiki to tell her so. It's called fair use. Presumably, she is not charging admission to the class session in which she shows the movie. I wonder if Bruce Springsteen is aware that the Copyright Alliance, pretty obviously a front organization for "the content industry," is using his image on their website. I contacted Patrick Ross, the executive director of Copyright Alliance, asking whether they had permission to use the picture. This was his response:
All of our photographs were authorized before being placed on the web site. It’s odd that you’re not the first to ask this, it’s not clear why anyone would feel a group that supports artists’ rights would disrespect artists by not seeking permission to use a photo.
I should have asked, of course, whether they had Springsteen's permission. It is entirely possible that Springsteen himself is unaware of the use, or that he does not control the photograph. (To what extent does someone like Springsteen have control over the use of his image for political or commercial purposes? I don't know.) In any case, the question occurred to me -- as well as to others, apparently -- because the kind of music Springsteen is devoted to -- blues, ballads -- would have been impossible had their creators been restricted by current copyright laws & policies. And in particular, had the view of the public domain been as these members of the Copyright Alliance would have it, the "content industry" would have served Woody Guthrie, Ledbelly, Howlin' Wolf & the rest with legal notices. One can imagine what Guthrie would have done with such papers. Ultimately, art cannot be owned. Or it can be owned only in an alienated sense of ownership. Those who bring particular works into existence -- in a just society -- ought to get credit for them & be able to earn money from them; once that "creator" is gone, though, they ought to pass into the public domain. As for Mr. Ross, he did not respond to my follow-up email, in which I wrote:
The “content industry” works tirelessly and expends large financial resources in order to subvert the original intention of the copyright provisions of the US Constitution. Rather than facilitating the distribution and use of intellectual property, the “content industry” relentlessly seeks to lock down ownership and limit distribution. As far as I can tell, your organization assists in this effort.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

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