Quotulatiousness

December 15, 2014

Sony games the copyright laws

Filed under: Business, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick explains why Sony released only a tiny number of pressed CDs of 1964 musical tracks:

Two years ago we wrote about the very odd release, by Sony, of just 100 copies of a set of previously unreleased Bob Dylan tracks. Why so few? Well, Sony sort of revealed the secret in the name of the title. See if you can spot it:

Bob Dylan - Copyright Extension

Yup. The release had absolutely nothing to do with actually getting the works out to fans, and absolutely everything to do with copyright. You see, back in 2011, despite having absolutely no economic rationale for doing so, the EU retroactively extended copyright on music from 50 years to 70 years. However, there was a tiny catch: there was a “use it or lose it” provision in the law, saying that the music had to have been “released” to qualify for that 20 year extension. Thus, Sony realized with Dylan that it had to “release” (and I use the term loosely) some of its old recordings that had never been officially released, or it would lose the copyright on them.

The other major labels have been doing the same. Last year, there was a series of releases of 1963 music, including more from Dylan, along with some previously unreleased Beatles tunes (at least those were somewhat more widely available). This year, we’re getting a new crop of barely released 1964 songs including (yet again) more from Dylan, along with some from the Beach Boys as well (and some expect more Beatles tunes as well).

October 30, 2014

Copyright’s friends and enemies

Filed under: Business, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:46

Mike Masnick linked to an article in The New Yorker by Louis Menand which tries to explain the concept of copyrights, the problems of ever-extending copyright terms, and who stands on each side of the ongoing debate:

The point of Peter Baldwin’s fascinating and learned (and also repetitive and disorganized) The Copyright Wars (Princeton) is that the dispute between analog-era and digital-era notions of copyright is simply the latest installment of an argument that goes all the way back to the Statute of Anne. The argument is not really about technology, although major technological changes tend to bring it back to life. It’s about the reason for creating a right to make copies in the first place.

In the United States, the reason is stated in the Constitution. Article I gives Congress power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Copyright Act of 1790 set the length of copyright at fourteen years, renewable for another fourteen, after which the work falls into the public domain.

A right is just the flip side of a prohibition. The thinking behind Article I is that prohibiting people from copying and selling someone else’s original work is a way of encouraging the writing of useful or entertaining books, just as awarding a patent is a way of encouraging the invention of useful or enjoyable things. The prohibition operates as an incentive for the protected party. For a limited period — fourteen or twenty-eight years — authors get to enjoy the profits from sales of their books, and this prospect of reward induces people to write.

But Article I makes it clear that the ultimate beneficiary of books and inventions is the public. Copyrights are granted and patents are issued in order “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This is why the Constitution dictates a limit on the right to make copies. After the term of protection expires, a work cannot be copyrighted again. It becomes a public good. It is thrown into the open market, which allows it to be cheaply reproduced, and this speeds the distribution of knowledge. “Intellectual property is a frail gondola that ferries innovation from the private to the public sphere, from the genius to the commons,” as Paul K. Saint-Amour, one of the leading literary scholars of copyright, elegantly describes it.

September 4, 2014

A deluge of public domain images

Filed under: Business, Cancon, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick alerted me to a new source of old images:

Here’s some nice news. Kalev Leetaru has been liberating a ton of public domain images from books and putting them all on Flickr. He’s been going through Internet Archive scans of old, public domain books, isolating the images, and turning them into individual images. Because, while the books and images are all public domain, very few of the images have been separated from the books and released in a digital format.

There are all sorts of images in this stream, so you never know what you’ll find when you dive in. Here, for example is an image used in Canadian grocer January-June 1908:

Crown illustration from Canadian Grocer 1908

Which, if you follow the link to the original publication, was isolated from this page of ads:

Full page from Canadian Grocer 1908

Or the rather impressive works of George White & Sons in London, Ontario:

George White and Sons, London Ontario 1913

This image appeared in Canadian Machinery and Manufacturing News (January-June 1913), illustrating a “Staff article” about the company:

A description of the works of an old established firm building threshing machinery, traction engines, etc. The plant has been gradually built up to its present size, the foundry being the latest addition. The company maintain two branches in the West and have agencies in all the principal cities and towns in the grain growing districts of Canada.

July 7, 2014

What is the Canadian government hiding over TPP negotiations? Everything.

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:47

Michael Geist on the federal government’s secret dealings on the TPP docket:

The next major agreement on the government’s docket is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive proposed trade deal that includes the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Peru, and Chile. While other trade talks occupy a prominent place in the government’s promotional plans, the TPP remains largely hidden from view. Indeed, most Canadians would be surprised to learn that Canada is hosting the latest round of TPP negotiations this week in Ottawa.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the secrecy associated with the TPP – the draft text of the treaty has still not been formally released, the precise location of the Ottawa negotiations has not been disclosed, and even the existence of talks was only confirmed after media leaks – suggests that the Canadian government has something to hide when it comes to the TPP.

Since this is the first major TPP negotiation round to be held in Canada, there was an opportunity to build public support for the agreement. Yet instead, the Canadian government approach stands as one of the most secretive in TPP history. Why the secrecy?

The answer may lie in the substance of the proposed agreement, which leaked documents indicate often stands in stark contrast to current Canadian policy. The agricultural provision may attract the lion share of TPP attention, but it is the digital issues that are particularly problematic from a Canadian perspective.

For example, late last month the government announced that new copyright rules associated with Internet providers would take effect starting in 2015. The Canadian system, referred to as a “notice-and-notice” approach, is widely viewed as among the most balanced in the world, providing rights holders with the ability to raise concerns about alleged infringements, while simultaneously safeguarding the privacy and free speech rights of users.

July 2, 2014

EU publishers want a totally different online model for content – where they can monetize everything

Filed under: Business, Europe, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:19

Glyn Moody reports on the passionate desire of EU publishing organizations to get rid of as much free content as possible and replace it with an explicit licensing regime (with them holding all the rights, of course):

For too many years, the copyright industries fought hard against the changes being wrought by the rise of the Internet and the epochal shift from analog to digital. Somewhat belatedly, most of those working in these sectors have finally accepted that this is not a passing phase, but a new world that requires new thinking in their businesses, as in many other spheres. A recent attempt to codify that thinking can be found in a publication from the European Publishers Council (EPC). “Copyright Enabled on the Network” (pdf) — subtitled “From vision to reality: Copyright, technology and practical solutions enabling the media & publishing ecosystem” — that is refreshingly honest about the group’s aims:

    Since 1991, Members [of the EPC] have worked to review the impact of proposed European legislation on the press, and then express an opinion to legislators, politicians and opinion-formers with a view to influencing the content of final regulations. The objective has always been to encourage good law-making for the media industry.

The new report is part of that, and is equally frank about what lies at the heart of the EPC’s vision — licensing:

    A thread which runs through this paper is the proliferation of ‘direct to user’ licensing by publishers and other rights owners. Powered by ubiquitous data standards, to identify works and those who have rights in those works, licensing will continue to innovate exponentially so that eventually the cost of serving a licence is close to zero. The role of technology is to make this process seamless and effective from the user’s perspective, whether that user is the end consumer or another party in the digital content supply chain.

[…] the EPS vision includes being able to pin down every single “granular” part of a mash-up, so that the rights can be checked and — of course — licensed. Call it the NSA approach to copyright: total control through total surveillance.

Last year, when the National Post started demanding a paid license to quote any part of their articles (including stories they picked up from other sources), I stopped linking to their site. I suspect most Canadian bloggers did the same, as I see very few links to the newspaper now compared to before the change in their policy. It worked from their point of view: I’m certainly not sending any traffic to their site now, and there was never a chance of me being able to afford their $150 per 100 word licensing rate. Win-win, I guess. The EPS is hoping to avoid that scenario playing out in Europe by mandating that all content use the same kind of licensing, backed up by the power of the courts (and the kind of pervasive surveillance tactics the NSA and its Anglosphere partners have honed to a very fine edge).

April 19, 2014

Transaction costs, takedown notices, and the DMCA

Filed under: Economics, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Mike Masnick reports on an inadvertent natural experiment that just came to light:

We’ve written a few times in the past about research done by Paul Heald on copyright and its impact on the availability of certain content. He’s recently published an interesting new study on how the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown regime facilitates making content available by decreasing transaction costs among parties. As we’ve discussed at length, the entertainment industry’s main focus in the next round of copyright reform is to wipe out the notice-and-takedown provisions of the DMCA. The legacy recording and movie industries want everyone else to act as copyright cops, and hate the idea that notice-and-takedown puts the initial burden on themselves as copyright holders.

However, Heald’s research looks at music on YouTube and concludes that the notice-and-takedown system has actually enabled much greater authorized availability of music, by reducing transaction costs. The idea is pretty straightforward. Without a notice-and-takedown provision, someone who wants to post music to YouTube needs to go out and seek a license. Of course, getting permission from all the various rightsholders is frequently impossible. The transaction costs of getting permission make it such that it’s way too high. Yet, with notice-and-takedown, the person can upload the content without permission, and then the copyright holder is given the option of what to do with it. On YouTube, that includes the option of monetizing it, thus “authorizing” the use. That creates a natural experiment for Heald to explore, in which he can see how much content is “authorized” thanks to such a setup. And the result, not surprisingly, is that this system has enabled much greater authorized (and monetized) access to music than an alternative, high transaction cost system, under which uploaders must first seek out permission to upload everything.

March 6, 2014

Getty Images changes their licensing policy to allow more sharing

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:26

BBC News is reporting that Getty Images has made a huge swath of their photographs free to use for small websites and social media users:

Millions of images — including famous shots of Marilyn Monroe and Barack Obama — will now be available without cost to blogs and social media sites.

The photos will be “framed” with a code that links back to Getty’s website.

Getty said it had made the move after realising thousands of its images were being used without attribution.

“Our content was everywhere already,” said Craig Peters, a business development executive at the Seattle-based company.

“If you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply,” he added.

“The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that’s what’s happening…”

I’m delighted to hear this, as one of the things I would like to do with my blog posts is include more images, but it’s often too difficult to locate photos that I am legally allowed to share without having to pay a licensing fee (this blog is a hobby and I earn no money from it). Here’s the wording from Getty’s website:

Embedded Viewer

Where enabled, you may embed Getty Images Content on a website, blog or social media platform using the embedded viewer (the “Embedded Viewer”). Not all Getty Images Content will be available for embedded use, and availability may change without notice. Getty Images reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove Getty Images Content from the Embedded Viewer. Upon request, you agree to take prompt action to stop using the Embedded Viewer and/or Getty Images Content. You may only use embedded Getty Images Content for editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest). Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used: (a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship; (b) in violation of any stated restriction; (c) in a defamatory, pornographic or otherwise unlawful manner; or (d) outside of the context of the Embedded Viewer.

Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetise its use without any compensation to you.

Here’s a totally unrelated photo embedded using Getty’s Embed Images tool:


SIMFEROPOL, UKRAINE – MARCH 05: A statue of Lenin is viewed in the Crimean city of Simferopol on March 5, 2014 in Simferopol, Ukraine. As the standoff between the Russian military and Ukrainian forces continues in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, world leaders are pushing for a diplomatic solution to the escalating situation. The United Nations reports that the poverty rate in Ukraine is now at around 25%, with a falling population in recent years due to both a low fertility rate and migration to other parts of Europe and America. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Searching the Getty Images site, not all search results provide images that are embeddable under the licensing terms, so this isn’t a “free for all” on everything Getty publishes, but it’s certainly a welcome change for even making a portion of their holdings available for legal sharing without charge.

February 10, 2014

A “Dumb” parody that Starbucks finds unamusing

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this “parody” of a Starbucks shop is too similar to the real thing and that it would be easy for someone to think they were buying “the real thing” at this store:

A store labeled as “Dumb Starbucks,” using the Starbucks corporate logo and bearing an almost identical look to an actual Starbucks, opened up in Los Feliz on Friday, according to employees.

It was open until about 6 p.m. Saturday and drinks were free as part of what a barista called a “grand opening.”

The coffee shop reopened again Sunday morning and coffee was again free. Dozens of people could be seen waiting in line to get in.

Messages left with people associated with “Dumb Starbucks” seeking comment have not been returned. Messages left with Starbucks Corporation have also not been returned.

The menu was limited.

On Sunday, there still was no business license or health code rating posted in the establishment. The baristas said they were hired from Craigslist.

Despite the popularity, customers seemed confused about what exactly was going on.

“I saw online that there was a Dumb Starbucks sign. One of my friends posted about it, and I live across the street, so I just walked over,” Jonathan Brown told KPCC. He described it as “weirdly off-kilter,” with everything looking like a regular Starbucks except for the word “dumb” in front of it.

Their “FAQ” posting shows that they’re aware that this ploy may not be lawyer-proof:

Dumb Starbucks FAQ

Update, 11 February: The prank is revealed to be the work of Nathan Fielder.

Mr Fielder appeared in person at the store to make the announcement, where he said there are plans to open a second outlet in Brooklyn, New York.

There had been widespread speculation that the store, which uses Starbucks’ trademarks, was a publicity stunt.

Starbucks said they were aware of the store but denied any affiliation.

“We are evaluating next steps and while we appreciate the humour, they cannot use our name, which is a protected trademark,” a Starbucks spokesperson said in a statement.

January 2, 2014

Casualties from the most recent copyright term expansion

Filed under: Business, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:14

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick mourns the creative works that should have entered the public domain yesterday, but thanks to Congress will remain locked up for much, much longer:

As they do every year, unfortunately, the good folks at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke have put together a depressing list of what should have entered the public domain yesterday. As you hopefully know, until 1978, the maximum amount of time that work in the US could be covered by copyright was 56 years (you initially received a 28 year copyright term, which could be renewed for another 28 years). That means, back in 1957, everyone who created the works in that list knew absolutely, and without a doubt that their works would be given back to the public to share, to perform, to build on and more… on January 1, 2014 at the very latest. And they all still created their works, making clear that the incentive of a 56 year monopoly was absolutely more than enough incentive to create.

And yet, for reasons that still no one has made clear, Congress unilaterally changed the terms of the deal, took these works away from the public, without any compensation at all, and will keep them locked up for at least another 40 years. At least.

[…]

And it’s not just arts and entertainment. The post points out plenty of science and technology is still locked up thanks to all of this.

    1957 was a noteworthy year for science: the USSR launched Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2, IBM released the first FORTRAN compiler, and the UK’s Medical Research Council published an early report linking smoking and lung cancer. There were groundbreaking publications in the fields of superconductivity and astrophysics such as “Theory of Superconductivity” by John Bardeen, L.N. Cooper, and J.R. Schrieffer and “Synthesis of the Elements in Stars… ” by Geofrey Burbidge, Margaret Burbidge, William Fowler, and Fred Hoyle.

They further make an important point that while the works listed above grab all the attention, because they were so successful, the real shame is in lots of other works that are simply not available at all any more. And this would likely include all sorts of works from 1985. After all, works created in 1985, if created under the old law, would have been given an initial 28 year copyright term, which would also be expiring, and if history is any guide, the vast majority of those would not have their copyrights renewed. Instead, they’re locked up… and quite frequently completely unavailable, with a very real risk of being lost to history.

The really crazy part about all of this is that it’s the exact opposite of the entire original purpose of copyright. Copyright law was put in place specifically to encourage the creation of works that would be put into the public domain to promote learning, knowledge and understanding. Yet, instead, it’s been distorted, twisted and misrepresented into a system that is used solely to lock stuff up, make it less accessible and less available, limiting the ability to promote knowledge and learning. What a shame.

November 14, 2013

If you like DRM in your computer, you’ll love it in your car

Filed under: Law, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:05

The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks that extending the DRM regime to cars (as in the latest vehicle from Renault) will drive consumers crazy:

Forget extra cupholders or power windows: the new Renault Zoe comes with a “feature” that absolutely nobody wants. Instead of selling consumers a complete car that they can use, repair, and upgrade as they see fit, Renault has opted to lock purchasers into a rental contract with a battery manufacturer and enforce that contract with digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that can remotely prevent the battery from charging at all.

We’ve long joined makers and tinkerers in warning that, as software becomes a part of more and more everyday devices, DRM and the legal restrictions on circumventing it will create hurdles to standard repairs and even operation. In the U.S., a car manufacturer who had wrapped its onboard software in technical restrictions could argue that attempts to get around those are in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — specifically section 1201, the notorious “anti-circumvention” provisions. These provisions make it illegal for users to circumvent DRM or help others do so, even if the purpose is perfectly legal otherwise. Similar laws exist around the world, and are even written into some international trade agreements — including, according to a recently leaked draft, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Since the DMCA became law in 1998, Section 1201 has resulted in countless unintended consequences. It has chilled innovation, stifled the speech of legitimate security researchers, and interfered with consumer rights. Section 1201 came under particular fire this year because it may prevent consumers from unlocking their own phones to use with different carriers. After a broadly popular petition raised the issue, the White House acknowledged that the restriction is out of line with common sense.

WikiLeaks strikes again

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:50

This time it’s apparently a recent draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The Register‘s Richard Chirgwin assures us that it’s not as bad as we thought — it’s much worse:

The TPP is a document supposed to harmonise intellectual property protections in participating nations — America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Chile and Peru. Instead, it looks like a an Australia-US-Japan club force-marching the treaty into America’s favoured position on nearly everything, from criminalisation of copyright infringements through to a blank cheque for pharmaceutical companies.

The document, here, is huge, but some of the key items include:

  • Criminalisation of copyright infringement by all signatories;
  • Stronger DRM and “technological protection measure” regimes;
  • ISPs to be made liable for copyright infringement on their networks;
  • A “take it down first, argue later” DMCA-like process for notifying copyright infringements;
  • Patentable plants and animals;
  • The evergreening of patents — this has become particularly notorious in the pharmaceutical business, where the repackaging of an out-of-patent medication is used to keep common compounds out of the public domain.

America and Japan are opposing consumer protections proposed by the other nations (Australia excepted). These provisions, in Article QQ.A.9, would be designed to prevent the abuse of copyright processes, use of intellectual property rights as a restraint of trade or as the basis of anticompetitive practises.

[…]

America manages to put itself beyond the pale as the sole sponsor of Article QQ.E.1, pretty much a “Monsanto clause” by pushing for patent coverage of plants and animals, including “biological processes for the production of plants and animals.” New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Chile and Mexico want to specifically exclude these, along with “diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals”.

October 23, 2013

Game company provokes a massive Streisand Effect

Filed under: Business, Gaming, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In Hit and Run, Scott Shackford explains how Wild Games Studio learned (the hard way) about the Streisand Effect:

The game [Day One: Garry’s Incident] is getting terrible reviews, and YouTube is host to a ton of them. The reviews may actually be a little bit of a challenge to find now thanks to Wild Games Studio’s response to one particular review. A gentleman by the name of TotalBiscuit (no, really, that’s his … okay, fine, his real name is John Bain) is probably one of the most successful video game critics on the Internet. His YouTube channel boasts just shy of 1.3 million subscribers. He sampled the game on October 1 and did not find it enjoyable (Sample of response to the game: “Screw everything about this!”).

Video game reviews on YouTube allow critics to do something they can’t do through blog posts or print reviews: They can actually play and demonstrate the game in action in the video. This is a boon for consumers looking to spend their game money on a quality product as the game market grows and grows and grows. It’s also a boon for good game developers, as there’s nothing like the sight of a reviewer with a big audience enjoying your product to push folks off the fence in your favor. For bad games, though, it has the potential to devastate more than those old-fashioned reviews, as video watchers can actually see how terrible the problems are.

Wild Games Studio made their problems even worse by trying to retaliate against Bain. They made a copyright claim against him on YouTube, using a flimsy excuse that he monetizes the videos with advertising (Bain manages a living with his game journalism and announcing) and thus cannot use their assets without their permission. The studio succeeded. YouTube yanked the review. Furthermore, YouTube’s copyright-protection system threatens users that their channel will be deleted if they get three of these takedown claims. In Bain’s case, that would result in the removal of hundreds of videos.

I first encountered TotalBiscuit’s YouTube channel during the Guild Wars 2 beta period, and quite enjoyed his iconoclastic views of the game. I’m happy to hear that this particular thuggish attempt to shut him down has failed, and largely due to the response of gamers and his channel subscribers.

September 17, 2013

Revisiting “Sherlock Holmes and the case of public domain”

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:01

If you’ve been following along at home, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has been conducting a remarkable rearguard campaign to ensure that the last ten Sherlock Holmes short stories do not enter public domain. Earlier this year, we looked at The case of the over-extended copyright and Sherlock Holmes and the case of public domain. The estate is now involved in a lawsuit where TechDirt‘s Mike Masnick says they are pushing a theory of copyright that might work to infinitely extend copyright protection to certain works:

For a few years now we’ve discussed a few times some of the confusion as to why Sherlock Holmes isn’t considered in the public domain in the US, even though he probably should be. As we’ve explained, all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books except for one are in the public domain. The Conan Doyle estate claims that having that single book under copyright means that the entire character is covered by copyright. Earlier this year, we pointed out that a noted Sherlock Holmes scholar (such things exist!) named Leslie Klinger had decided to file for declaratory judgment that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain, following a legal nastygram from the Estate, arguing that it needed a license fee for Klinger’s latest book.

The Conan Doyle Estate has now filed its response to the motion for summary judgment, and it’s an astounding study of ignorance concerning copyright law and the public domain. While it admits that there are only ten short stories (from that one remaining book) that are under copyright, it still argues that those ten stories lock up pretty much everything else. First, it argues that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson continued to grow as personalities in those last ten stories, and that the stories were non-linear (i.e., some took place earlier in their fictional lives), it more or less encompasses everything, even those public domain works.

    The facts are that Sir Arthur continued creating the characters in the copyrighted Ten Stories, adding significant aspects of each character’s background, creating new history about the dynamics of their own relationship, changing Holmes’s outlook on the world, and giving him new skills. And Sir Arthur did this in a non-linear way. Each of the Ten Stories is set at various points earlier in the two men’s lives—and even late stories create new aspects of the men’s youthful character. In other words, at any given point in their fictional lives, the characters depend on copyrighted character development.

Of course, if that’s true, it basically presents a way to make copyright on characters perpetual. You just need to have someone continue to release new works that have some minor change to the character, and they get to pretend you have a new starting point for the public domain ticker. That can’t be what the law intended.

Update, 3 January 2014: In a slight surprise, the court has ruled that the character is no longer protected under US copyright laws.

Update the second, 17 June 2014: The appeal has been heard, and the original decision has been confirmed and the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are in the public domain in the United States.

It is legal to publish stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson without the permission of their creator’s estate, because those characters are in the public domain. That’s a straightforward reading of current copyright law, and the Seventh Circuit confirmed it yesterday, upholding a lower court’s ruling that Holmes fan Leslie Klinger has the right to edit an anthology of Sherlock stories by contemporary writers.

It’s a welcome decision. The argument offered by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate rested on the fact that 10 Sherlock stories were published after 1923 and therefore have not yet entered the public domain. Because those stories introduced new elements to Holmes’ and Watson’s fictional lives, the estate’s attorneys claimed that the characters were not fully created until after 1923 and therefore aren’t in the public domain after all. At a time when copyright terms are constantly being extended into the future, the estate was effectively attempting to enact a stealth extension into the past.

August 20, 2013

Everything Is A Remix

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

Remixing is a folk art but the techniques are the same ones used at any level of creation: copy, transform, and combine. You could even say that everything is a remix.

H/T to American Digest for the link.

August 15, 2013

Letting the public share in public domain works of art

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:54

Techdirt‘s Glyn Moody on the Getty’s recent innovation in allowing (relatively) unfettered access to public domain artwork in their collection:

Techdirt has published a number of posts that explore the issue of whether art organizations can stop people sharing images of works in their collections when the latter are indisputably in the public domain. Even if museums might be able to claim copyright in their “official” photographic images, the more important question is whether they ought to. The good news is that some institutions are beginning to realize that using copyright monopolies in this way contradicts their basic reason for existing — to share the joy of art. Here, for example, is a wonderful statement of that principle from the Getty Museum entitled “Open Content, An Idea Whose Time Has Come“:

    Today the Getty becomes an even more engaged digital citizen, one that shares its collections, research, and knowledge more openly than ever before. We’ve launched the Open Content Program to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible.

    The initial focus of the Open Content Program is to make available all images of public domain artworks in the Getty’s collections. Today we’ve taken a first step toward this goal by making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose.

    These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size. You can browse all available images here, or look for individual “download” links on the Getty Museum’s collection pages. As part of the download, we’ll ask for a very brief description of how you’re planning to use the image. We hope to learn that the images will serve a broad range of needs and projects.

As that makes clear, the scheme is not strictly “freely and without restriction” since you are asked for a description of what you plan to do with the image; there’s also a request that attribution be given. However, these are minor restrictions.

For example, the full-sized version of this photograph of the construction of the Forth bridge in Scotland is available for download:

Cantilevers Complete, 9th July 1889

Cantilevers Complete, 9th July 1889

This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty’s Open Content Program.

John Fergus
Scottish, July 9, 1889
Photogravure

84.XB.874.3.1.34

Scotland’s Forth Bridge bridge was built to carry the two tracks of the North British Railway one and a half miles over the Firth of Forth between South Queensferry and North Queensferry, a hundred and fifty feet above high tide. This photograph shows the gargantuan structure’s recently completed cantilevers reaching across the firth like outstretched arms. The presence of this mighty bridge drastically altered both the landscape and the lives of nearby residents.

Requiring 55,000 tons of steel, 640,000 cubic feet of granite, and 8,000,000 rivets, the Forth Bridge remains one of the safest bridges in use today. Having witnessed the worst train disaster up to that time in the late 1800s, the Scottish public demanded an exceptionally sound structure. An earlier bridge had swayed and collapsed in the wind, killing seventy-five passengers and crew members on a passing night train. As a result the frightened public needed-and got-a bridge that looked as though it could never tumble down.

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