Maybe it is just the jaded journalist in me but I do have e tendency to look past what any public organization claims to be cuz, well, I don’t trust ’em.
When the music and audio world were busy getting screwed on the wireless front there was some “public interest” group whose name i can’t remember running ads to influence the FCC and Congress. And their motives were totally above board. They just wanted to make sure that rural Americans had Internet access. Again, that jaded thing but when I looked behind the curtain and saw that the people running and funding the group were the same ones–Surprise!–who stood to gain the most by wired urbanites being online all the time. You know, big Web companies, ISPs and consumer electronics manufacturers.
So when i saw the news release about something called the Copyright Alliance that made noises like they were just interested in protecting the rights of artists in a digital age I got a little suspicious.
Let’s get it straight, I support artists getting paid for their work. And piracy sucks. I personally subscribe to the Creative Commons philosophy and allow my stuff to be shared freely. But that’s not what this is about. It is about corporate stupidity.
We live in a time of transparency. Anyone can find out pretty much anything with a few mouse clicks if they know what they are doing. So I started clicking.
Now i am not saying that corporate types can’t have decent motives but this whole copyright war that has been going on for a couple of decades it seems has been pretty murky from the beginning. First, remember that just because your fave artist wrote a song or a poem or whatever does not mean they own the rights to it. The list of artists who have been screwed out of their rights or have sold them for far less than they are worth is too long to even think about.
Up until fairly recently, copyright was fairly short–14 years plus a second 14 year term if the creator was still alive at the end of the first term. It later was extended to cover a period of time after the death of the creator in order to protect his or her family which may have depended on the revenue from the licensing of those works.
Until 1998 when Sonny Bono and Disney got that extended to the life of the creator plus 70 years. And I’m sure it is a coincidence but that flurry of activity came about right before the time that the protections on a certain rodent cartoon character were about to expire.
Side note (also known as “Look, there’s a chicken.”). When copyright expires or if it is never filed, the work passes into what is known as the public domain. A great example of this is the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” THis “classic” was actually not a huge success upon release. But someone forgot to renew the copyright and it passed into the public domain. And in a time when there were still such things as local TV stations, owners of those stations saw something they could put on the air during the holidays that would not cost them anything. Which is how it came to pass that pretty much everyone i know has seen that movie a billion times. (Actually, i have never seen it all the way through…)
Copyright has always been about money and as the world becomes more digital and intellectual property becomes more valuable than physical “things.” Those who control and own copyrights (and the corporations that represent them) have a lot to lose if something iconic passes into the public domain.
So, back on track, why am I leery of this latest “Alliance”? go to their Web site and do a little clicking. While they list lots of individual artists and other creators as supporters, you will see a lot of familiar acronyms–MPAA, RIAA etc. Now look at the staff. There is an academic and an office assistant. And all of the admin staff are actually employees of big D.C. lobbying groups. And the head of the thing is a former VP and counsel for Time-Warner.
Look, i have no issues with people or corporations trying to get laws passed that are in their interest. What i do have a problem with is spin. With hiding the real agenda behind a facade of “public interest” or protecting the “little guy.” The Record Industry Assoc., Time-Warner, Disney and the Motion Picture Association care not a rat’s ass (or should that be cute mouse’s ass?) about you or me or anything we create. Unless, of course, they are making boatloads of money off of it.
Wanna protect the rights of corporate copyright owners. Great. Fine. No problem. But don’t hide who you are and what you are about. That’s sleazier than any bootlegging, copyright-infringing pirate could ever be. At least you know the pirate is a thief.
Here is a fun History of Copyright that is likely not mouse-friendly