[LINK] Digital copyright: it's all wrong

Frank O'Connor foconnor at ozemail.com.au
Tue Jun 10 22:10:53 AEST 2008

The US copyright system makes no real distinction between the 
original work and the subsequent movie depiction.

Bottom line: If I wanted to remake Wuthering Heights as a movie, and 
stuck to the novel, I would be expected to pay the US copyright 
holder for the privilege ... which was something the Brit producers 
of a couple of recent renditions of Wuthering Heights found a tad 
disconcerting. (Particularly since the original Brit creator of the 
work in question had been dead nearly 200 years.) Hey, I'd probably 
be up for big bucks if I just used the name Wuthering Heights and 
didn't breach any other copyright.

I love these arguments about the poor scriptwriter or composer. 
Surprising as it may seem I'm not an academic. I have written scripts 
... scripts which were optioned to local and overseas producers for 
real money. I also made my living for a while as a journalist - 
independently selling my own copyright. I also retire in a few months 
and intend to make my living writing again ... books this time.

Like many writers I do it because I love it.  I do it for fun. I do 
it to keep my hand in. I do it because I enjoy the research, and the 
plotting and creating stories, characters and situations which I hope 
readers will enjoy as much as I do. The money thing is nice, but I 
don't think I deserve an income stream ad infinitum for my remote 
descendants ... I'm happy just making a buck while I'm alive.

I'm reasonably certain that most composers and artists probably feel 
the same way.

Where it's all gotten skewed, and I'd argue screwed, is when third 
party venture capitalists, major corporations, financiers and the 
like suddenly got in on the game ... and realised copyright 
restrictions were inherently valuable. Note I said 'restrictions'. 
Because value is created by restricting access to literature, music, 
art, film and the like. (And with the current patents regime we are 
doing the same damn thing.)

In the 80's and 90's these bozos therefore systematically went about 
further restricting copyright, rendering contracts with writers, 
artists, musicians and the like that were totally unreasonable and 
all embracing, increasing the time copyright pertains, trying to 
widen the applicability of their copyright, and promoting themselves 
and their cause as acting for the poor 'artist'. ('Artist' in this 
context means the poor sod who's copyright they bought for peanuts, 
or the descendant of said poor sod who needed the pittance they 

The bottom line is that entrepreneurs and major corporates now hold 
most of the major copyright on this planet - not the original artist, 
musician or writer.

The along comes the computer, and the internet and the Web and the 
digital technology. It's all embracing. Everybody uses it.. Suddenly 
on-demand really means on-demand. Suddenly you can read it, listen to 
it, watch it when it pleases you rather than when it pleases the 
programmer or editor or studio or music company or whatever.

Suddenly artists can engage with their audiences, musicians with 
their listeners, writer with their readers ... on a one to one basis 
if they like. Suddenly distribution channels are that much more 
efficient and effective. Suddenly the whole business model on which 
the old industries rely is in the pits.

So ... do they adapt. No they don't. They do what they do when every 
new technology medium (the tape, the video tape, the CD, the DVD etc) 
appear. They go all draconian. They try to protect their ground. They 
see themselves rather than their product as the issue ... and they 
don't adapt. They reduce the value of their product .... but tell 
their consumers that they're doing it for their own good, they 
institute painful DRM, they lobby to get governments to do their own 
dirty work, they are downright dishonets - no matter how their Spin 
Doctors try to spin it.

I like a lot of the companies and enterprises that are trying to 
adapt. I like Baen Books. I don't like Sony. I like iTunes (even 
though they have a DRM in place - it doesn't affect me), I don't like 

Are you getting where I'm coming from here?

If the copyright lobby doesn't come to this argument with clean 
hands, if they didn't nail legitimate consumers in so many ways to 
establish new markets every time a new medium appears, if they didn't 
act to restrict copyright even further through legsilation, if they 
accepted a wide definition of 'fair use' ... I'd respect them.

Trouble is, they are morally and ethically bereft, they act only in 
their own interests, and they have all the relevance of dinosaurs in 
the modern world.


At 4:16 PM +1000 10/6/08, Antony Barry wrote:
>Begin forwarded message:
>>  From: info at caslon.com.au
>>  Date: 10 June 2008 3:48:09 PM
>>  To: link at mailman1.anu.edu.au
>>  Subject: Re: [LINK] Digital copyright: it's all wrong
>>>  Mmm,
>>>  I started having problems with copyright when:
>>>  a) Hollywood copyrighted classic English works of fiction (Bronte
>>>  Sisters et alia) simply because they had done a film based on them.
>>  Except that of course Hollywood (or Bollywood) has not copyrighted 
>>  those works. It hasn't copyrighted the plots or the words in the 
>>  Bronte novels (or in Shakespeare, Milton, Plato, The Bible, Das 
>>  Kapital etc).
>>  The copyright instead relates to musical scores (original or 
>>  licensed), the performance of the score, the script, the succession 
>>  of images we call a cinematograph film etc
>>  That bundle of copyrights relates to the very considerable 
>>  investment required to make a succession of feature films.
>>  It also - and heaven forbid we should actually respect creativity - 
>>  relates to recognition of the creators ... the scriptwriter, 
>>  composer etc, not all of whom can/want to make a living busking or 
>>  as an academic
>>  If we're going to denounce copyright, let's do so on an informed 
>>  basis rather than resorting to digital jingoism such as "it's all 
>>  wrong"
>>  --
>phone : 02 6241 7659  | mailto:tony at Tony-Barry.emu.id.au
>mobile: 04 3365 2400  | mailto:tony.barry at alianet.alia.org.au
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