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Posts Tagged ‘Copyrights and CopyWrongs’

A look at Participatory Culture

November 6th, 2009 No comments

With advances in the internet and the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, individuals can better utilize digital recourses.   The features of this evolution according to Tim O’Reilly include; “Services… with cost-effective scalability, control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them, trusting users as co-developers, harnessing collective intelligence, leveraging the long tail through customer self-service, software above the level of a single device, and lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models.” Users of Web 2.0 have greater ability to interact with content.  Thus, they have moved from a consumer driven culture to a participatory one where users actually produce content and inform others.

A participatory culture according to Henry Jenkins and the other contributors of Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture is “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices… [a culture] in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection” (p. 3).  In this text Jenkins, provides an in depth look at how technology is impacting our culture. I was particularly interested in the idea that individuals that have moved from consumers of information to producers of information may have done so primarily because of popular culture and to some degree societal pressures not as much because of their education.

Jill Walker Rettberg also pointed to these changes in Blogging; Digital Media and Society Series. From the title of the text we can guess that Rettberg is talking mostly about blogs and their functions as a means of self exploration, citizen journalism, creating a dialog between the author of the post and those who wish to comment, etc.  However, these same ideas are relevant to other aspects of digital literacy.

Such is the case with Jenkins discussion of video games and their possibility to communicate valuable information to players. Jenkins states that “contemporary video games allow youth to play with sophisticated simulations and, in the process, to develop an intuitive understanding of how we might use simulations to test our assumptions about the way the world works” (p. 23).  Jenkins continues on to highlight a conversation between a boy and his father that shows that the game provided valuable historical and political information.  We can see this sort of participation in an ever growing number of spaces including but certainly not limited to music such as with youtube and sampling as is described in Copyrights and Copywrongs; The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity by Siva Vaidhyanathan.

History of copyright

October 25th, 2009 No comments

I noted that more than a few of us were fascinated by the historical aspect of copyright presented in Siva Vaidhyanathan’s  Copyrights and Copywrongs.

Vaidhyanathan says in his introduction, “The chief goal of this work is to explain how essential the original foundations of American copyright law are our educational, political, artistic, and literary culture.” (p. 5) Vaidhyanathan, proceeds to not only explain the history of copyright, but also proceeds to give us concrete examples through the entire text. This enhances our understanding of copyright as well as helping us to question our understanding of what fair use is and how long a copyright should be in place.

In never knew, or even thought about, what the roots of copyright are. According to Vaidhyanathan, “American copyright emanates from the U.S. Constitution, which directs Congress to create a federal law that provides an incentive to create and distribute new works.” (p. 20) Motivation to create was brought up by me during the discussion in class regarding copyright. While some in class discussed abolishing copyright or shortening, drastically, the term of copyright, I brought up the fact that creative people may have no desire to create if they are unable to protect their creations from pirating. The framers of the Constitution, according to Vaidhyanathan, saw mass production of existing works that were pirated from works by British authors. There was little incentive to create something new in the United States as pirating works was so common. The following should be noted: “Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution … power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries.” (Vaidhyanathan, 2001, p. 44-45) Copyright does give authors the incentive to create without fear of pirating. Note also, in this post, I use quotes and credit the author for his work. This is done, not only because Vaidhyanathan holds the copyright to his words, but also out of respect for the author and his creation.

It is also important to remember that the United States was not necessarily the originator of copyright. Copyright law was changed multiple times over the course of history. According to Vaidhyanathan, “…the U.S. Congress in 1998 extended U.S. copyright to match the European term [life plus 70 years]…” (p. 25) Earlier in history, the U.S. made the effort to join the international community with regard to copyright protection. Vaidhyanathan states, “… the United States agreed in 1891 to share copyright protection with the British Empire…” (p. 160) and “European countries in general have afforded broader and deeper protection to authors and publishers than the United States has.” (p. 160-161)

Vaidhyanathan has opened our eyes to how copyright came to be as well as to considerations and debate regarding length and protection. I would not consider for a moment that Vaidhyanathan should not be protected for his creation of any written work, including Copyrights and Copywrongs. Though Vaidhyanathan seems to advocate shorter copyright protection as created by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, I would consider it unfare for Vaidhyanathan to have to continuously reapply for copyright of his works. Though some of my classmates may disagree with me, respect for this author, and any other who creates an original work, should give us some foundation for understanding of the need for copyright.

The Ethics of Influence

October 25th, 2009 1 comment

I have often wondered where the line between being influenced or inspired by someone and stealing from them is drawn.  Obviously copying someone’s work, passing if off as your own, and receiving some sort of credit for it be it momentary, prestige, course credit, or otherwise is wrong and unethical.  But what if the influence is less obvious.  If I write in the style of another author is that plagiarism.  As an aspiring writer I tend to read a great deal and it is natural to try to emulate far better writer’s work, particularly if you are prone to reading most of an author’s collection in a short time.  But when does that influence become plagiarism.  I think of the different movements in art.  I am most familiar with the impressionists so I will use them for this example.  In 1881 Claude Monet painted “Sunflowers”. This painting used many of the traditional impressionistic techniques; large and visible brushstrokes, calm subjects, open composition, attention to lighting, movement, and angle, etc.  In 1888  Vincent Van Gogh, a post impressionist, painted “Sunflowers”.  The paintings, both having a vase of sunflowers as their subject, look somewhat similar.  Of course there are many distinctions in style but it is known that Van Gogh was inspired by the impressionists and he probably saw the earlier painting. Obviously you cannot copy right an image of an object or a title but I wonder how something like that would be viewed in today’s copyright climate?  Whether it would be frowned upon.  If I admire greatly and attempt to write in the style of award winning author, Cormac McCarthy is that plagiarism?  What if I write a story about a man and his son going south in a post apocalyptic United States in that same style, which is a far too brief description of McCarthy’s The Road?  I think that Siva Vaidhyanathan in Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity might advocate that those things are not plagiarism. Vaidhyanathan supports a loose and balanced copyright system.  A system that “does not prevent artists from taking from the ‘commons’, supports the idea that new artists build upon the works of others, and rewards improvisation within a tradition” (p. 125).   To reach this the author suggests that the protection should “expire on definite dates, thus constantly enriching the public domain with new material” (p. 125).   Vaidhyanathan has given me a great deal to think about and I am anxious to continue looking at this controversial debate.

Some thoughts on Copyrights and Copywrongs

October 24th, 2009 No comments

Copyrights and Copywrongs by Siva Vaidhyanathan offers an in depth look at the history of copyright law and how it has morphed from its original intent.  Vaidhyanathan proposes three goals for the book.  The first of which is to “trace the development of American copyright law through the twentieth century…it will proceed to a series of accounts of how copyright law affected American literature, film, television, and music” (p. 15).  He walks us through key figures such as Mark Twain, Learned Hand, and D.W. Griffith.   Twain’s role as an advocate against piracy but in favor of artists building on other artist’s work is extensively discussed. The author also provides us with a description of the various copyright laws and acts.  This discussion starts with the Statute of Anne which as enacted in 1710 in Britain and is considered by some to be the first copyright legislation.   The Statue of Anne had copyright lasting for only 14 years and could be renewed for another 14.  This was done to encourage “learning and create an incentive to produce more books” (p.40).  From there we are taken though the various acts and court cases that have morphed our system into one that promotes the established over the emerging and dampens creativity.  The history ends at about the year 2000 (the book was published in 2001) with the last act being the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.  This act “grants complete power to allow or deny access to a work with the producer or publisher of that work.  The producer may prohibit access for those users who might have hostile intentions toward the work” (p. 248).  This may include critiques and scholars. The second goal set forth for this book is to “succinctly and clearly outline the principles of copyright while describing the alarming erosion of the notion that copyright should protect specific expression but not the ideas that lie beneath the expressions” (p. 15). The author argues for copyright law as it was originally intended; to encourage creativity, cultural expression, the spread of ideas, and the sharing of information.  The rights of the creator are almost a by-product of the more important goal of creating a well of information in the public domain.  However, copyright has shifted into a form of property law which stalls creativity.  The third goal of the book is to “argue that American culture and politics would function better under a system that guarantees “thin” copyright protection” (p. 15).  The author continually advocates for “Thin” copyright protection that is “just strong enough to encourage and reward aspiring artists, writers, musicians, and entrepreneurs, yet porous enough to allow full and rich democratic speech and the free flow of information” (p. 5). Rather than “’Thick’ copyright protection [which] has a chilling effect on creativity” (p.16).  The book left me reevaluating my stance on copyright protection and reweighing the benefits of these laws.

Should copyright cover chord progressions?

October 22nd, 2009 4 comments

I was intrigued by a lawsuit filed against the hit band Coldplay last December. Guitarist Joe Satriani claimed that the Coldplay’s hit “Viva La Vida” infringed on his rights to his song “If I Could Fly.”Satriani claimed that Coldplay had copied “substantial and original portions” of his song. According to an MSNBC article, the case was dismissed in court last month.

After the lawsuit was filed, I listened to this comparison, Coldplay Vs. Joe Satriani on YouTube, to see if I could pin-point the “stolen” material. The chord progression did seem similar, if not the same. Siva Vaidhyanathan talks about the limited number of keys and chords musicians have to work with in his Copyrights and Copywrongs several times. After exhausting every possible combination of keys to make both single chords and progressions, are all of the following works considered unoriginal?

Coldplay claimed the similar sounds were completely coincidental. I believe them. In discussing why “thinner” copyright laws should replace our current ones, I have to argue that claiming ownership of a particular chord progression, played by different string instruments, to produce a different song, is a little ridiculous. However, under the current laws and language, should Satriani have won his case?