BIG MEDIA COMPANIES ARE PIRATING YOUR COPYRIGHTS -- AND FREE SPEECH
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor.
[August 21, 2005]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Even as they complain about students downloading music and movies from the internet, fat cat record companies and film studios
are hard at work -- pirating YOUR copyrights!
And Uncle Sam is using YOUR
hard-earned tax dollars to help big media steal YOUR copyrights, using
the FBI and courts to enforce big media's wish list of anti-consumer copyright
YOUR representatives in Washington
are selling you out for "campaign contributions" -- a fancy name for legalized
bribes! -- from well-heeled big media lobbyists such as the MPAA and RIAA!
Here are three of the ways
hypocritical big media lobbyists are working overtime to pirate YOUR copyrights:
* Extension of Copyright Terms
Constitution says copyrights must expire after a limited time (Article
1, Section 8), whereupon the work becomes public domain. Then YOU,
the public, are free to copy or download Moby
Dick, write new Sherlock
Holmes stories, or perform Shakespeare or Mozart.
Public domain is YOUR copyright.
However, copyright's "limited
time" has been repeatedly extended -- often due to big media lobbying! The 1790
Copyright Act set copyright protection at 14 years, renewable for another
14 years. By 1909, copyrights lasted 28 years, renewable for another
28. In 1976 copyright was set for "the life of the author plus 50
years," or 75 years for corporate owners. In 1998 copyright was extended
to "life of the author plus 70 years," or 95 years for corporate owners.
MPAA shill Jack Valenti claimed
extension was necessary to bring U.S. law into conformity with the
longer terms set by the international Berne
Convention. However, many Berne signatories also recognize Moral
Rights, a doctrine that forbids buyers -- such as record companies
and studios -- from altering an artist's work. Valenti had long lobbied
against U.S. adoption of Moral Rights, as it might prevent his studio bosses
from changing directors' films and possibly even writers' scripts.
Apparently, while world relations
made it vital that the U.S. adopt Berne's longer copyright terms, the same
world has no problem with the U.S. rejecting its Moral Rights doctrine. At least, that's the loopy, kooky contradiction that Valenti expects YOU
Steve Forbes -- of Forbes
magazine! -- said
of the 1998 extension:
"It is fitting and proper that your
creations be protected by law for your lifetime and a reasonable period
afterward. But there is no justification for what Congress has been
doing: transforming a limited monopoly into an unlimited one. Creativity
and culture are enhanced by having works ultimately become public domain,
particularly with the advent of the Internet."
professor -- and
Constitutional expert! -- Lawrence
Lessig joined others in a lawsuit against the 1998 copyright windfall
giveaway to big media. But in 2003, the Supreme Court rubber-stamped
President Clinton and the Republican Congress's sweetheart gift to big
media -- which they stole from YOU!
Artists and authors should
profit from their creations -- but not 70 years into the grave! "Life
plus 25," or 50 years for corporate owners, is more reasonable, even generous. Anything longer doesn't benefit the original creators -- one of the intents
of Constitutional copyright protection. Excessively long copyright
terms actually harm artists, delaying the day when they may write sequels
to old classics. Excessively long copyright terms only benefit authors'
distant heirs and big media companies owning vast libraries.
And excessively long copyright
terms pirate YOUR public domain rights!
* Perversion of Trademark Law
Traditionally, trademarks were used to identify the maker of a product. If there was no product,
trademark was void. But in recent years, trademarks have become the
product -- providing a potential loophole around copyright's limitations!
Copyrights and patents expire,
but trademarks can last forever. Thus, big studios have trademarked Mickey
Trek, and other characters and titles, preparing for when Steamboat
Willie and Casino
Royale enter public domain. They may lose those films and books
and TV shows, but they'll be damned if they lose the characters. Had Bram
Stoker tried it, it's possible that today anyone might publish.Dracula,
but only Stoker's distant heirs could create new novels, comics, or films
Time will tell if fat cat
politicos and courts will allow trademark law to subvert the Constitution's
requirement for limited copyright terms. If so, score a big one for
big media's pirating of YOUR public domain rights!
* Erosion of Fair Use
Use doctrine, rooted in the First Amendment, lets YOU, the public,
copy excerpts from protected works for purposes of news, education,
research, criticism, and commentary. It also permits parodies. It's a complex doctrine because the law only gives guidelines -- you don't
know if it's Fair Use until you're in court! Which means Fair Use
is often decided by who can afford an expensive lawsuit!
In 1940, a New York federal
district court ruled that it was Fair Use for authors to freely excerpt
song lyrics in fiction (Broadway Music Corp. v. F-R Publishing Crop,
31 F.Supp. 817 (D.C.N.Y. 1940, now SDNY)). Excerpting a few lines
of lyrics is a way for authors to comment on pop culture.
But shockingly, despite the
favorable ruling, today it is industry practice to pay a license fee for
even one line of poetry or lyric! Says one editor, "Copying poetry
or lyrics is never Fair Use." Rather than fight big publishers' lawyers,
authors instead surrendered their Fair Use rights.
Fair Use protects the taking
of excerpts for scholarship, news, or commentary. That includes film
scholars and authors taking images from a movie or TV show in order to
illustrate their comments (as opposed to taking still photographs, which
would not be an excerpt). However, fear of studio lawsuits mean that
"unofficial" books about TV shows, such as The
Unofficial X-Files Companion and X-Files
Confidential: The Unauthorized X-Philes Compendium are bereft of images
from the shows; images are reserved for "official" studio sanctioned books
such as The
Truth is Out There (The Official Guide to The X-Files, Vol. 1). Studios claim that such books are not scholarship or commentary (however
much scholarship and commentary they may contain), but "merchandising,"
and hence beyond the reach of Fair Use. Again, rather than fight
big studio lawyers, authors have surrendered their Fair Use rights.
Erosion of Fair Use is erosion
of free speech. When Alice Randell wrote The
Wind Done Gone, she was sued by the Mitchell estate. Had Randell
been unable to afford a legal defense, her parody of Gone
With the Wind told from the slaves' point of view would have been suppressed.
Frontier Foundation documents many other ways in which Fair Use is
threatened by big media.
More importantly, curtailing
Fair Use pirates YOUR copyrights!
Pirating movies and music
is wrong (though not as harmful to many artists as industry accounting
practices). Apart from brief excerpts used for news, criticism, commentary,
etc., copyrighted works should not be taken without permission while the
artist is alive and for some reasonable period thereafter.
But it's hard sympathizing
with big media companies who've suffered piracy while
they -- and their
lobbyists and lawyers -- are pirating YOUR copyrights.
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