copyright law

A sweeping international treaty to regulate how knowledge and creativity may flow on the Internet is now being negotiated. Haven’t heard of it? Funny thing, that’s exactly what the backers of the treaty want. The film, music, publishing and information industries don’t want a public debate about the issues or an open debate in Congress. So they have been working hand-in-glove with the U.S. Trade Representative to move U.S. policymaking offshore and throw a dark cloak of secrecy around everything. The next stop: draconian penalties for anyone who is accused of violating copyright law.

Details about the treaty are murky. But the latest draft, according to a leak summarized on the Boing Boing website, would require:

A huge international coalition has come together to campaign for respect for the civil rights of citizens and artists in the digital era. Yesterday, the Charter of the Culture Forum of Barcelona for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge was released by more than 100 representatives from 20 different countries who had met in Barcelona from October 30 to November 1. The Charter is a landmark statement about rights of commoners to freedom of expression, access to culture and knowledge, privacy, cyber-security and Net Neutrality, among other concerns.

The Charter was spurred by the growing ambitions of the culture industries and the European Parliament and national parliaments to assert greater control over the Internet, expand copyright and patent rights, criminalize copying and sharing (often mis-characterized as "piracy") and in other ways stifle the expansion of free culture.

The Politics of Copyright Law Explained

William Patry has written the kind of book on copyright law that we have sorely needed for a long time. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars (Oxford University Press) is a trenchant yet highly readable political history of copyright and the deceptive language tricks that gives it so much power today.

Thankfully, the book is not another lawyerly disquisition on the labyrinthine complexities of copyright. Rather, it is a no-nonsense lesson on how copyright law has been used over the centuries to defend archaic business models, stymie technological innovation, screw over authors and in our time, to delay the emergence of the Internet-based sharing economy.

Patry is best-known as the Senior Copyright Councsel of Google and a popular blogger  on copyright issues, but he cantankerously insists, "Google does not endorse this book, does not share the views expressed in this book, so please don’t preface any discussion of this book with "Google’s Senior Copyright Counsel said," or any other variant. It’s my book alone."

Got it, Bill.

Freesouls: Captured and Released

Joi Ito, the globe-trotting investor, democratic activist and CEO of Creative Commons, got frustrated that no one seemed to have a good photo of themselves that they could share. "People who are invited to conferences get asked all the time, 'By the way, do you have a photo that we can use?’ But they don’t."  Or if people do have photos of themselves, they generally aren’t legally usable. The photographer owns the copyright, and so anyone wishing to use the photo must obtain permission first, and perhaps even pay for usage rights.

So in 2007, Joi, an accomplished amateur photographer, set about assembling his own collection of 296 "freesouls" -- photos of friends and associates of the free culture movement who were willing to share images of themselves with the world. He has now released a book of those photos, Freesouls.

The Lazy Smear of "Piracy"

As Hollywood studios and record labels watch a whole new online "sharing economy" arise -- in which ordinary people create and share things online without having to buy "product" -- Big Media is coming to a dismaying realization: the people formerly known as the audience are morphing into a participatory network. And this new social form is beating the hell out of an already-tattered business model.

So what’s the best response? In classic W. fashion, Big Media is doubling-down. They’re betting that even more proprietary technology and locked-up content will do the trick — but this time, with bigger locks and more aggressive surveillance of customers’ private lives. The copyright lobbies convinced Congress to give it a number of new enforcement tools last month, including free enforcement of civil cases by the U.S. Justice Department.

Kevin Ryan, a Houston music producer, came up with a brilliantly creative idea: What if you set the words of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Green Eggs and Ham to the music and singing of Bob Dylan? Fantastic idea! So he went into his home studio and put together a clever mashup that mimics Dylan’s nasal singing style and electric band. Check out the mp3 of the song (if it remains online) and you’ll wonder if this is a long-lost cut that Dylan never released.

Would you eat them in a box?

Ryan posted several Dylan/Seuss mashups on his website, Dylan Hears a Who. Instant acclaim and hundreds of thousands of downloads ensued followed by a cease-and-desist letter from the estate of Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) demanding that he remove the songs because they violate the copyrights now owned by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. (For more read Dan Brekke's account, “ Tangled Up in Seuss,” at Salon.com.)

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