I took a vow around the beginning of the year, which I may have mentioned but probably haven’t: No more copyright infringement. I’ve decided information may want to be free, as the nitwit saying goes, but the people who gather, package, contextualize and otherwise prepare information for public use need to be paid, because otherwise? No more information. So I thought about it a while, and made myself a personal fair-use policy, which is:
I will quote no more than three or four paragraphs of someone else’s writing, and will always provide a link back to the original source. Sometimes I might stretch it to five (I did yesterday, on the Aeroflot story), but that’s rare. Some writers may make that difficult — hello, Mr. Albom, with your stupid one-sentence paragraphs — but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
No more copyrighted music in video pieces, except in short, incomplete pieces. I’ve decided that “short” = “less than 30 seconds,” although I think the legal standard might be less than that — 15 or 20. I’ll ask a lawyer the next time I see one (which may be for lunch today, if Michael’s not tied up). I used a piece of “Optimistic Voices,” from the “Wizard of Oz” soundtrack, in one of my auto-show videos, and cut it off at 29 seconds, which is probably too much, given that the song is only 1:11, but bear with me, because I’m groping toward a solution.
Photos are more problematic. Hot-linking — that is, providing a photo on one site by embedding a link that slurps it from another — is generally considered bad ‘net manners, on the grounds it’s bandwidth theft. I’ve done it in the past, but I’ve decided not to anymore. Wikipedia is very helpful in providing creative-commons pictures, as is Flickr, but honestly, I’m flummoxed more often than not. Presumably Yahoo news photos, which are out there with credit lines, are free to use; certainly everybody does so. But I try to avoid them, because it seems wrong somehow. (Violation of self-imposed rule coming in: One paragraph.)
All of these rules are imperfect and fluid, but I want it on the record that I’m trying. If the new-media economy is going to be based on theft, I want no part of it. I also freely acknowledge I’ve been a sinner in the past, but in the future I’m going to walk the path of righteousness. I’m also paying more attention to the discussion of these issues in the culture, because I’m hoping we see some resolution soon, either through peaceful negotiation (unlikely) or a blood-on-the-floor lawsuit (more likely). Which brings us to today’s news, that the Associated Press has filed suit against Shepard Fairey, described as an “L.A. street artist,” for his use of one of their photos as the basis for a poster you might recognize:
Fairey found Manny Garcia’s picture, he has acknowledged, through Google Images. Then he “remixed” it, as the fashionable term has it, and rode it all the way to the Smithsonian. Now AP is saying, um, no, and wants to be compensated for its source material.
I hope they win. I don’t want to see Fairey sued back to the Stone Age, but I’m growing weary of remixing. The remixers — Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University is the most prominent — pop up on every third talk show these days defending this sort of thing. Remixing is the doorway to the next generation of creativity, they say; free the content and let today’s Photoshop artists, video editors and other nimble manipulators of technology show us the bright, bright future.
In other news at this hour, the original Fairey Obama portrait was purchased for the distinctly old-media price of $75,000, payable to? Shepard Fairey.
Here’s what I want to hear from the remixing crowd: An argument that doesn’t include the phrase “increased exposure.” Because that, they say, is what should be keeping Manny Garcia warm at night, the fact that so many more people have seen his picture than would have before. I guess Garcia is supposed to pay his mortgage with exposure, too, but I’m not sure that’s quite legal tender yet. Some people may live for exposure, but I require regular cash injections. Lawrence Lessig can give his book away because he has a nice secure job at Stanford paying his bills. The AP can distribute its content because it has clients who pay for it. Fairey didn’t pay a dime. He needs to, now.
I’m not a total philistine on this; I mean, I get it. I understand sampling, and collage, and all the rest of it. But when those rappers in the ’80s sampled Van Halen and James Brown, they quickly met the law firms representing these earlier artists, and had to put some cash down in payment for those catchy hooks. I fully acknowledge that use of one piece of art in another can be beneficial to the original artist; I hear most of my new music these days in car commercials and the like. But as an amateur filmmaker I know that if we tried to put a Stevie Wonder song in one of our movies, we’d hear from Berry Gordy. (Someone did that for Zombie Night — used a Beck song in his movie. I asked him about it in the Q-and-A, and he said, “Well, I sent him a letter asking for it, and I haven’t heard back, so I guess I can use it until he says no.” Everyone snickered. That was about the time I started formulating my new policies.)
Copyright violation is theft. We may well need to revisit the old rules that no longer make sense in today’s digital world, but until the rules change, it’s still theft. For a harsher take on what happens when information wants to be free, see this NYT story, about the losing battle against digital piracy in Hollywood:
The files are surprisingly easy to find, partly because of efforts by people like Mohy Mir, the 23-year-old founder of the Toronto based video streaming site SuperNova Tube. The site, run by Mr. Mir and one other employee, allows anyone to post a video clip of any length. As the site has grown more popular, SuperNova Tube has become a repository for copyrighted content. On a recent day, the new movies “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Taken” could easily be found on the site by following links from other sites, called “link farms,” which guide users to secret stashes of copyrighted content spread around the Web.
…The piracy problem, however, does seem to weigh on him. He removed a copy of the movie “Twilight” from his site after a reporter pointed it out to him recently. “I think about getting sued every day. If that happens it will definitely take us out of business,” he said.
Good. Take him out of business. When professional filmmakers are driven out of business by piracy, we can all watch YouTube videos of laughing babies. Can’t wait.
Anyway, that’s my policy and I’m sticking to it. Any thoughts?