Commentary: Who owns the rights to a theatrical idea?

Alisa Solomon,, 4/24/13

Nothing illegal has happened here. Nonetheless, an artist has not been given his due. Perhaps that's business as usual. But for a play that decries a self-serving, individualistic urban ethos that has supplanted human decencies and connections of old...the ethical breach seems especially blunt. And it didn't occur in a vacuum, but in a commercial theater where African American directors find few opportunities --and in a culture with a long history of white appropriation of black creativity. Several years ago, the director Timothy Douglas hit upon the idea of staging The Trip to Bountiful with African American actors. The production premiered at the Cleveland Play House in 2011 [and] moved on to the Roundhouse in Maryland [and] the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park with great success. While Douglas was putting [the Cincinnati production] on its feet, he received an email from Michael Wilson, who had frequently collaborated with [the play's author,] Horton Foote, to tell Douglas, hours before a press release would announce the news, that Trip was on its way to Broadway starring Cicely Tyson and that Wilson would be directing. He thanked Douglas for giving birth to the idea of putting an African American family at the center of the play and for his contribution to bringing it to Broadway. Douglas was [shocked] the project was going forward based on his idea without anyone having spoken to him or having offered any recognition. But when Douglas sought some kind of acknowledgement, producers, he says, told his agent that others had done black productions of Bountiful before - [although] a search of Lexis-Nexis and Ethnic News Watch did not turn up any reviews or stories.


Commentary: Who owns the right to resell a concert ticket?

Todd Chance, [Michigan], 4/6/13

Who owns a concert ticket? After purchase, most concert-goers would argue they do. But restricted tickets are changing the rules... [requiring] a photo ID at the venue to gain admittance, meaning they cannot be gifted or resold by the buyer. The practice of restricted, or paperless, tickets is becoming more common nationwide as a means of controlling scalping and resale. But fans who have restricted tickets and run into scheduling conflicts could end up with tickets that they can't use, can't sell and can't even give away. Ticketmaster is leading the way, arguing restrictive tickets protect fans from scalpers. Restrictive tickets give fans "greater access to face-value tickets and enhanced protection against (fraud)," according to, which is primarily supported by Ticketmaster. However, Ticketmaster has a role in the secondary market as owner of, second only to for ticket resale, and Ticket Exchange. "There are better ways to solve the problem of scalping and secondary markets without taking away ticket ownership from fans," argues. "(Ticketmaster) hates that they have to watch money changing hands, without any of it going into their pockets. That's why they invented the 'convenience' of paperless tickets."

Commentary: Who owns the rights to a digital musical file?

Paul Ford, Business Week, 4/3/13

ReDigi is an online service that allows you to resell your (legally obtained) media files. You can imagine [why] music industry executives [filed] some lawsuits, one of which has just concluded in favor of Vivendi, the parent of Capitol Records. Much is yet to be determined, but it's a bad outcome for ReDigi [which] spends a lot of time in its FAQ to clarify legal issues, which is always an interesting indicator, but its main stance seems to be: We don't make copies but rather move a single digital file around, and thus we are in the clear. "The clear" in this case is the "first sale doctrine," which holds that when you buy a copy of a copyrighted work, you have the right to "sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner." Capitol Records didn't think this applied in a world of perfect duplication. Neither did a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan. The big question now is not "whose album gets made?" but more "who gets to listen?" Not just who, but when -- and who gets paid for the privilege?


Commentary:  Who owns the rights to an e-book?

Alison Flood, The Guardian, 4/24/13

The reaction to the news earlier this year that Amazon had a patent to sell secondhand ebooks was almost universally strong: it could ruin authors' livelihoods... The patent is for an "electronic marketplace for used digital objects", where "when the user no longer desires to retain the right to access the now-used digital content, the user may move the used digital content to another user's personalised data store when permissible and the used digital content is deleted from the originating user's personalised data store". Amazon has not commented publicly about it, and it's possible that the book retailer may not be planning to do anything at all with the patent -- that it was a defensive move. But add it to the news last year that a Kindle user had her entire library wiped by Amazon without warning and the fact that, a few years ago, readers woke up to find that their digital copies of various books by George Orwell had vanished from their Kindles, and the possibility that ebooks could be sold as secondhand goods becomes another reminder of the sheer slipperiness -- the intangibility -- of the mushrooming digital product. Robert Darnton, author and Harvard University librarian, adds that documents have always been slippery -- "there's no definitive text of King Lear" -- but the ease with which it is now possible to make changes to published ebooks means "you take a problem like that, multiply it by 1,000, and that is the world we are in.... It is a mess, this world of digital texts. We are living in a very fluid moment. Everything's changing. Nothing seems stable."

Commentary: Who owns the rights to "orphan" artworks in museum collections?

Anny Shaw, The Art Newspaper, 4/24/13 
[UK] museums will have to pay upfront for orphan images, or images whose copyright owners cannot be found, after an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to limit proposals was narrowly defeated in the House of Lords. Several members condemned the government's plans, which require holders of orphan works to pay for copyright licensing on use, rather than when a rights holder steps forward. "The great cultural institutions of our country hold tens of millions of orphan works in their collections," said Baron Howarth, a former Labour minister for the arts who proposed the amendment. Paying for each of them in advance "would be an impossible, as well as an inappropriate, burden." The Earl of Erroll described the measures as a "covert tax", while Baroness Blackstone, the chairman of the board of the British Library, said the plans were "extremely damaging".  The defeat is a blow to the museums and heritage sector, which is behind proposals to change copyright laws to allow them to access and digitise the orphan works in their collections.
  • FROM TC: Here is information from the United States Copyright Office on the same issue, as it applies to museums in the U.S.

Commentary: Who should own the rights to arts policy research?

Michael Rushton, blog "For What It's Worth," 4/23/13

In an earlier post I noted the high expense of "gated" academic journals. Why not use low-cost open-access platforms? A new working paper by Adam Mossoff of George Mason University Law School provides a contrasting view:

"Today, copyright policy is framed solely in terms of a trade off between the benefits of incentivizing authors to create new works and the losses from restricting access to those works. This is a mistake that has distorted the policy and legal debates concerning the fundamental role of copyright within scholarly publishing, as the incentive-to-create conventional wisdom asserts that copyright is unnecessary for researchers who are motivated for non-pecuniary reasons. As a result, commentators and legal decision-makers dismiss the substantial investments and productive labors of scholarly publishers as irrelevant to copyright policy. Furthermore, widespread misinformation about the allegedly 'zero cost' of digital publication exacerbates this policy distortion."

I don't doubt that publishers made substantial investments in developing online platforms for their journals. That's not surprising - if I owned the rights to decades of scholarly articles in prestigious publications, I would want to make sure I did not lose my market position as the technology of dissemination was changing. But in "our fast-changing digital world," is it the case that we need commercial firms to be at the lead in investments in new technologies in academic publishing?

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