Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thank God for Disney, The Wire Services, and the Record Labels!

Fortunately, for we lone photographers, awash in a sea of a litigious society, our rights stand equal to that of the mighty behemoths - Disney, Sony Music, and all of the news photography wire services. Now, don't get me wrong here, but there's an old adage - the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I greatly dislike what the record labels have done to independent musicians, and the contracts that the wire services dictate to the freelance community is crushing self-employed photographers like Steinbeck's Joads were. While I want to tag them as Steinbeck did when he wrote "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this", in reference to the Great Depression, there'll be enough time to sort out things and finger point later. Right now, these folks, with their deep pockets, and unreasonable demands for our intellectual property will be the defenders of intellectual property in general, and thus, in a strange twist of fate, the IP of yours and mine as well.

How so?

(Continued after the Jump)

We need only look a few years back, when the hooligans that ran Napster were, quite literally, running amok with the creative talents of musicians everywhere. More than one professional photographer I knew had streams of Napster-sourced music running in their studio, and they seemed to see nothing wrong with it, until I pointed out the hypocrisy, but then I was the killjoy. Too bad. Call me Kilroy, or Killjoy, stealing music was stealing from artists. Period. Then, someone (ahem - Apple) invented a way to properly manage music, and Napster was lobotomized into a lifeless parody of itself, all legal, of course. All, thanks to the music industry's deep pockets and lawyers on retainer.

Now, we have the imbecile Lawrence Lessig, who, from the ivory tower of Harvard University (by way of a video festival awards ceremony), attempted to decree that the thieves of the world "can teach this culture how this form of expression is essential." By "this form" he meant, the mash-ups and repurposing of others intellectual property, and he goes on to say "When we've taught the culture, the law catches up..." Really? Is that what they're teaching at Harvard these days? Teaching the general public to break the law, and eventually it will be ok? Gosh, that sounds a lot like the early arguments for the 12,000,000 illegal aliens undocumented immigrants, and they're close to getting just that. Lessig posits "We need to stand up and acknowledge what we're doing, give people credit, and thank them, but not ask permission". Fortunately, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

With we as the goose, enter the gander. While I didn't like that Disney mickey-moused with the copyright laws to protect their aging-into-public-domain mouse, it did demonstrate their might, when they wanted it to be exercised. Photographers will likely be among the beneficiaries of the platoons of lawyers the intellectual property industry entertainment industry brings to bear against ill-concieved pronouncements like Lessig's. When the wire services, music, or movie industries leverage their might against the mash-up madness, the laws (and yes, the constitution) will rear up its ugly head and lop off Lessig's Medusa-like head. Lessig can pander to the masses, who no doubt cheered his cute little idea, but if he has any sense at all, he knows it'll never happen, but he gets points and street cred from the mash-up artist for these ideas. How's that working out for you so far, Mr. Fairey?

Lessig, according to the PDN article on this, is quoted as saying "Respect in the 21st century is acknowledgment. When you use someone else’s work, you give them credit." Ok, and I can pay my mortgage Mr Lessig, are you saying "let's screw the creative community now, and you'll respect them in the morning?" If so, who's wearing the beer goggles now?

While the concept of Creative Commons was a good one, Lessig has essentially named himself Creative Evisceration Officer, and anyone who now supports CC is aligning themselves with his as-yet-unstated-until-now position. ASMP, who has previously associated themselves with Lessig (here) should immediately disassociate themselves from Lessig in no uncertain terms. Plagarism Today, asked in a piece - Is Creative Commons a Rights Grab? - and it seems that that was the smoke, and Lessig's latest comments reveal the fire. Who will he burn next?

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

I really wish that each and every organization that has Lessing speak with hold payment under the banner of re-purposing for respect

me said...

Damnit, John! You are nothing short of ballsy and a huge statesman for the photographic community. Always the stalwart in our war against the enemies. Kudos to you and your well written, constant blogging efforts. Thank you for all your efforts. More of us need to be watching over the farm like you. Seriously. Keep it up.
With gratitude,

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's as simple as you paint. You seem to gloss over the fact that the big copyright aggregators (Disney, et al) have nearly always had a business plan that takes your copyright away from you. They will happily take your stuff and sell it to others and not pay you. At the same time they will sue anyone who takes from them. I don't think you can undersell that.

And it's also important to realize that a big part of the bad reaction to copyright has to do with the new perpetual copyright that Disney has created. Napster came into being largely because record companies refused to make electronic versions available. iTunes succeeded, in large part, because Napster forced the record companies to the table.

The reporting on Lessig's speech does look terrible. If truly in context, it totally undermines the value of CC, which is too bad, because it is a really useful concept. I would really like to see the whole thing in context however.

In the end, the "enemy of my enemy" reasoning is likely to be about as successful as it was with Osama Bin Laden against the Soviets, or Saddam against the Iranians.
Peter Krogh

Michael Gowin said...

I suppose the Creative Commons model is fine if content creators want to willingly put their work in the public domain. It is not OK if someone takes my work without my permission to repurpose it.

Is it possible, though, to make copyrighted IP more easily licensable while still paying content creators a fair amount? I'm thinking of the millions of home movies out there that use some sort of copyrighted music track in the background. I don't think Mr. Lessig's approach--if you can get to it, it's fair game--is fair to artists. That said, the hoops and costs associated with licensing a song make it near impossible for people who'd like to use the song to comply with copyright law. It's far easier to steal it.

Don said...

It isn't what someone says they are about. It is what they actually DO that I watch.

I am not that pissed off about a voluntary CC if someone is wanting to do that for them selves. I refuse to legislate against stupid. I firmly believe that stupid is a right, and we have a ton of people who love to claim that right on a daily basis.

But I do have a problem when someone says one thing and does another.

If anyone can show me in the actions of Lessig, and the CC minions where their recent exclamations are within the confines of CC, I would be grateful.

Saying it is an Opt-In and encouraging the violation of those who didn't CHOOSE to opt-in isn't really an "opt-in" is it?

My post yesterday at Lighting Essentials even got a tweet from Lessig himself - now posted. Take a look at and see a related post I have linked there as well.

Unknown said...

Everyone here should read Lessig's well-reasoned response: Perhaps the post could be updated to reflect this response. Context and elaboration are important for complex issues.

As this discussion continues, please keep in mind that the Terms of Service for commenting on this site indicate that "if you disagree with me, just don't make it personal on me, or anyone else." I assume that means that calling someone an "imbecile" will not be tolerated, but I could be wrong.

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