Monday, July 17, 2006

Copywhich?

(I was originally just going to append this to my previous post, but I think it may wind up being longer than the original, so I'm giving it its own blog post.)

David left a comment below which makes some good points. I'm going to respond here rather than in the comments because I have better control over the formatting.

1. Unskippable ads

I'm only going on what I've read elsewhere here. The EFF has a legal response they presented to the Copyright Office that lists nineteen movies. The text says consumers were unable to "fast-forward" through the ads, but the title of the document is on "unskippable" material. So it's not clear if they mean the chapter skip function also doesn't work. Sixteen Candles apparently has such ads. This article at MyMac.com says the author purchased a DVD and was unable to fast-forward, chapter skip, or main-menu-jump past the four ads on it, but doesn't say what the title was. Finding Neverland apparently has an unskippable Pontiac commercial on it.

I've often wondered if the versions of all the DVDs out there are the same. Whether, say, the editions of a movie sold to Blockbuster for rental have more or different promotional material on them than the ones consumers can buy. That wouldn't be difficult; there are so many collector's editions, special editions, widescreen vs. 4:3 editions, that making another one for commercial applications would be trivially easy.

2. Ownership

I disagree that it's about ownership. Once I buy a DVD it's mine, for me to do with as I see fit. The studio retains no ownership over my DVD. What they do continue to hold is the copyright over it. But I think that if I want to burn the DVD to my hard drive, edit it, and watch an edited version, I should be allowed to do so. Similarly, if I want to tear annoying commercials out of a magazine I buy, cut recipes out of the newspaper, or even read a book backwards, I should be able to do so.

3. Our viewing of Showgirls

David says that our viewing of Showgirls was different than the CleanFlicks case because we wanted a "lighthearted" evening of entertainment. But then, I ask, why shouldn't a Mormon family be able to do the same (though I am loathe to agree with their decisions of what is acceptable)? We were only able to skip the rape scene because people had seen the movie before and knew it was coming up. What if we wouldn't want to have seen it in the first place? Or what if a parent has no problem with his kid seeing the boobs and splasheriffic sex, but thought that the violence of the rape scene was inappropriate for a 17-year-old? (Aside: considering our society's screwed up attitudes towards sex and violence, this seems to me to be a more sensible way of approaching these matters, rather than taking out the sex and leaving the violence.)

What bothers me about this ruling is not that it means fundamentalists will be making decisions for me about what I can and can not see, but that it actually reduces choice. There was no deception involved in the CleanFlicks case. Everyone renting one of these movies (if "renting" is even the right word) knew that they were getting edited movies with bits cut out. They chose to accept the judgment of CleanFlicks of what was and was not appropriate to cut out. But they went into the relationship with eyes wide open.

4. Copyright

The quote of copyright law is a good one. I always forget that part of the derivative works aspect of copyright law is to protect the reputation of the copyright holder. On that basis, the CleanFlicks decision is probably a good one. If anyone is going to edit a movie to take the naughty bits out, the studio should be the one allowed to do so. Which relates to the next point David brought up:

5. Artistic merit

I daresay that just about every movie CleanFlicks edited had already been edited by the studio to bring it down to standards so that it can be shown on TV. So the argument that editing these movies devalues the artistic integrity of the artist doesn't really hold. I don't even know how much input the director even has in such decisions. Two commenters in the second Slashdot article I think put it best:

I understand where the movie companies are coming from in terms of copyright... they don't want people taking a DVD, adding additional clips/features/menus/etc, and selling that for a profit. Then again, I don't really understand why they have an issue with that. They're getting just as much money from each DVD sale, so it's not like they're losing any business. In fact, they're probably gaining business from those people who wouldn't normally buy a certain movie due to violent/sexual/etc content, but will if they get an edited version of the movie.

As for the directors and producers that claim their artistic vision was impeded upon, they sure don't have an issue with those movies being modified in the exact same way for broadcast on network TV. One of the Slashdot posters says:

-- TheFlyingGoat

And another reminds us about this argument ultimately boils down to:

So if we are to argue that, if you bought something you have the legal right to do whatever you want to it (Fast Forward through commercials, play on a Linux box, rip to a hard drive), then you cannot allow Hollywood to start acquiring new rights for their so-called "artistic vision". Otherwise, you will find yourself unable to fast forward through scenes (or commercials) because that would violate the "artistic vision" of Hollywood.

-- Brian_Ellenberger

6. My ultimate point

The point that I'm basically trying to make is that the digital age has fundamentally changed the way that we view and consume media. (Cue mental image of Godzilla eating a library.) It makes things possible that have never been possible before, and makes things feasible that were uneconomical before. Take for example, the recent Internet fads of Google Video and YouTube. Of the twenty YouTube "top rated" videos right now, eighteen are obvious, flat-out copyright violations, one is so avant-garde I can't tell if it's a video or a seizure, and two might be original works. Google Video is a bit better, of the twelve videos they currently have listed as "Popular," five don't seem to be copyright violations, four almost certainly are, and I can't tell about three.

The media world is changing. We need to have a discussion about how our laws and customs will change alongside it. I am of the opinion that copyright law has changed beyond anything the founders of our country ever intended, and that, in some aspects, it no longer serves the public interest. But, unfortunately, that is a discussion that we as a society are not having. And that's the problem.

In looking up some of the links for this post, I came across this blog entry over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, where Scott Lemieux basically says the same thing that I'm trying to, only more succinctly.

3 comments:

David said...

*Sigh.* Here we go again.

"So the argument that editing these movies devalues the artistic integrity of the artist doesn't really hold. I don't even know how much input the director even has in such decisions."

As more and more movies were sold to television — something which only started in the 1960s — directors began to demand more control over the editing of their works for TV. John Carpenter, knowing that much of the scary stuff would go and leave the running time too short, actually shot additional footage for Halloween that could be inserted for TV. Steven Spielberg retains final edit on all his films. That's why Saving Private Ryan ran on TV complete and uninterrupted; it was one of the stipulations in the sale. So, yes. You say that things have changed, and they have.

"But I think that if I want to burn the DVD to my hard drive, edit it, and watch an edited version, I should be allowed to do so."

And, of course, you can. Edit away, create a 30-second version of Apocalypse Now. But you can't rent it or sell it to the general public.

"Similarly, if I want to tear annoying commercials out of a magazine I buy, cut recipes out of the newspaper, or even read a book backwards, I should be able to do so."

Oh, come now. That's not remotely the same thing, and you know it.

I'll agree that the rapidly changing digital landscape really begs for these ownership/copyright issues to be re-evaluated. We both have Creative Commons licenses on our blogs, for example, something that didn't exist until 5 years ago.

But until these laws are brought up-to-speed, and that's going to be a good trick considering how quickly the technology and its uses change, no one has the right — no, they do not — to toss the law aside, do as they wish, and profit from it.

Jon said...

I must admit I have watched this debate with a very keen interest as it can be a difficult subject to dissect. Indeed, I can see both arguments, but must side with David.
Individual use of copyright material that was purchased is a different animal. If you edited a version, then asked people to come over and watch it, and pay a 2 dollar cover to view it, you'd violate the law.
Simply put, they didn't violate the law in editing a purchased copy. They broke it by distributing it.

Narc said...

And, of course, you can. Edit away, create a 30-second version of Apocalypse Now.

No, you can't. Your original post said, "I could go buy a DVD, copy it (legally) to my computer hard drive, edit it in iDVD, burn the edited version to DVD, and then rent it to you..."

Everything after "buy a DVD" is illegal. There is no copyright exeception for "personal use" or "non-commercial use."

The DMCA made things even worse. Even if you have the legal right to watch a DVD you've purchased, you don't have the right to break the access control mechanisms on the DVD so you can access the media you've bought. That's why it was actually illegal to play a DVD on Linux for a long time. (I assume that's changed by now.)

Making mix CDs and giving them to your friends is illegal.

Recording a TV program and giving it to a friend is illegal. Taking out the commercials is making a derivative work, and is twice illegal.

Sure, it's not cost-effective for studios to sue individuals that do these things, but we're going to start seeing a lot more media locked down to particular players, that requires authentication before it can be played, and that we can't do even reasonable, simple, everyday things with. That's what I'm worried about.