Art is long; copyrights can even be longer

Patricia Cohen, The New York Times, 4/24/12

It is there in the new 3-D version of "Titanic," as it was in James Cameron's original film: a modified version of Picasso's painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" aboard the ship as it sinks. Of course that 1907 masterpiece was never lost to the North Atlantic -- which is precisely the reason the Picasso estate, which owns the copyright to the image, refused Mr. Cameron's request to include it in his 1997 movie. But Mr. Cameron used it anyway. After Artists Rights Society, a company that guards intellectual property rights for more than 50,000 visual artists or their estates, including Picasso's, complained, however, Mr. Cameron agreed to pay to use the image. Filmmakers are not the only ones who sometimes run afoul of artists' copyright law. In recent weeks Google Art Project, which just expanded its online collection of images to more than 30,000 works from 151 museums, agreed, because of copyright challenges, to remove 21 images it had posted. Artists' copyright is frequently misunderstood. Even if a painting has been sold to a collector or a museum, in general, the artist or his heirs retain control of the original image for 70 years after the artist's death. So while MoMA owns the actual canvas of "Les Demoiselles," the family of Picasso, who died in 1973, still owns the image. And under existing law, the estate will continue to own the copyright until 2043. That is why Google Art Project still does not contain a single Picasso. Raymond Dowd, a lawyer who has represented both sides on copyright questions, said of the Google Art Project: "Every artist is going to have a different view of it. Some will think it's the greatest thing in the world and others will be horrified, just as the writers were, and just as musicians have been." [As for] "Titanic 3-D": A fleeting shot of "Les Demoiselles" going underwater has been replaced by Edgar Degas's work "L'Étoile" -- also never on the ship but a painting already in the public domain.


Commentary: Hot new social network Pinterest is a haven for copyright violations

Ellen Brundige, Greek Geek blog, 2/12

Pinterest is the new social media darling. On Pinterest, you "pin" images you find online and share them with fellow Pinterest members. They in turn can "repin" those images and share them. Pinterest is fun! Most members are conscientious about giving a credit and a link back to the source. That gives it a little free PR. So everything's hunky dory, right? Wrong. Thousands of Pinterest members are breaking copyright and causing headaches for artists. But even this is not the biggest problem with Pinterest. Its terms of use state that if you upload content to Pinterest, then you're giving Pinterest permission to distribute, sublicense, and sell that content. THAT is why many artists are worried about Pinterest. Right now, Pinterest is not selling images posted on it; it's just making money off them with advertising. But we all know from Facebook, Google, and numerous other examples that websites grow and turn a profit by exploiting more fully the content that users share on them. And even if Pinterest bucks the trend, by providing images via embed codes, it's enabled thousands of people to make money off pinned images they don't own. I'm sure most Pinterest members don't mean to violate copyright, and they wouldn't dream of pirating and posting a commercial movie online. The chief difference is the victim: a small-time artist trying to eke out a living, instead of a big-budget movie studio raking in the bucks. Solution? Ask permission! Many [artists] will be happy for the PR, while others may have good reasons for saying no. If you want to share an image with friends, but don't want to go to the trouble of asking permission, share a link to the source page through Twitter instead? Facebook also works: it only shows a thumbnail, which is legal.


YouTube loses music clip copyright battle in court

Charles Arthur and agencies, The Guardian, 4/20/12

YouTube must take down copyrighted clips of music, a German court has ruled, in a move that could be a step towards forcing it to pay large sums in royalties. The move is a fresh setback for Google's video site after a US appeals court this month reopened a $1 billion case brought by Viacom as well as other media companies against YouTube in the US over copyrighted videos on the site. YouTube argued it merely provided the technical framework to publish content. The court ruled that YouTube was responsible for the content users post online. It also said YouTube did not have to proactively trawl through its site in search of possible copyright violations, but must remove clips at the request of the rights holder. Recent lawsuits have centred on a crucial issue for media companies: how to win internet viewers without ceding control of TV shows, movies and music. A push for better legal protection of artists' and media companies' rights has met opposition from those who fear tighter regulation will curb their freedom to download movies and music for free and encourage internet surveillance. Earlier this year, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Europe to protest against an international anti-piracy agreement. One vocal group opposing the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement is Germany's upstart Pirate party, which came out of nowhere last year and according to a recent poll has overtaken the Greens to become the third strongest political grouping in the country. The arrest of Kim Dotcom, the German national who founded the online file-sharing site, earlier this year is the most prominent recent case of authorities cracking down on copyright infringement. Prosecutors say he was the ringleader of a group that netted $175 million since 2005 by copying and distributing music, movies and other copyrighted content without authorisation.


Commentary: It's time for theater artists to re-think current copyright system

Playwright/director Isaac Butler for, 3/14/12

There is a general sense -- both within creative communities and the public at large -- that efforts by large corporations to control their intellectual property have gotten out of hand. DRM technology and other anti-piracy tactics treat users as criminals before they've done anything wrong. The advent of The Cloud also ushered in a novel time where users own a license to access a work rather than a copy of the work itself. With the rise of remix and mashup culture, we also daily see the benefit of violating existing copyright law and expanding the idea of fair use. At the same time, we in the theatrical industry have largely either turned a blind eye to or actively encouraged an ever-expanding concept of individual intellectual property. I hope that, with the provisional defeat of SOPA and PIPA, we are in a moment where we as an industry can finally question the current copyright and intellectual property regimes under which we labor. We must dream together new systems that encourage creativity and move away from our current privatized, exclusivity-based system. Almost every playwright I know has a script that's an adaptation of something in the public domain -- generally a story from The Bible, or the Greeks, or Shakespeare or Chekov -- while almost every single person reading this has worked on a production of a show that used copyrighted music in its sound design without asking permission or paying royalties. Intellectual property is not where playwrights are actually making their money; the average playwright earns under $40,000 a year, with only 3% of that coming from licensing fees and only 9% coming from production royalties. I don't think there's much we theater artists can do about the legal realities that shape our industry, but it is time to reexamine and reinvent the way we think about the art we make. We must move away from the inaccurate and debilitating image of the writer as sui generis visionary and recognize that our work draws heavily on influence, that the true meaning of originality is in how we approach, arrange, reconfigure, and create out of the materials the world has given us. That our work exists in dialogue with other work, and with the people in our lives. That our work has parents and, hopefully, children.

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