Saturday, March 22, 2014

IP: Learn to love it because it rules your life

As I continue to work on my master's project many people have asked me how I became interested in intellectual property. I thought I'd share the source that originally piqued my interest because it's 10:45pm and I would rather write a blog post then work on my master's project. Obviously 10pm on a Saturday night is the poor decision making hour, regardless of what you are doing.

A few years ago Netflix was a new thing. Somehow or another I stumbled across a movie called "Sita Sings the Blues." Yadda yadda yadda, DVD shows up and I watch the movie and it's good. For whatever reason (boredom and extreme lack of friends/social engagements) I was watching the DVD extras which I never do unless they're bloopers (remedial sense of humor). The creator of the movie, Nina Paley, had some really interesting things to say about the soundtrack for the movie. Copyright law, protection terms, and licensing all played heavily into the use of the songs and  her and influenced decision to license the work for free under a creative commons license.

I won't reproduce everything she said, you can read about it here. I can't really explain why I found the topic so interesting other than it was complicated and thought provoking.

For example (taken from FAQs page):

"Q: Why would corporations hang onto all these old copyrights if they are going to make it so hard to use them?

A: Well, there's a good answer to that. The corporations that hold these copyrights are media companies that also control most of the new media that comes out. Estimates vary, but it's said that 98 percent of all culture is unavailable right now because of copyrights. So the reason they hold the copyrights isn't because they want to get paid, it's because they don't want all the old stuff competing with the media stream that they control now."

While that is certainly one perspective to have, the flip side is copyright enables artists to earn a living as an artist. If artists (singers, painters, dancers/choreographers, etc.) can't realize any economic benefits from their creative output then their ability to earning a living is hindered, and creativity is diminished. It is precisely because artists are afforded protection under copyright law that they can share their work with others without fear of someone ripping them off. 

Now, are big media conglomerates holding copyrights tightly in their big green hulk-like fists? No, probably not. They're monetizing their investments. That would kind of be like saying why wont Apple just give me an iPhone for free because I want it and they want me to want it. Well Johnny, they don't just give you their product for free because that's called business. 

Nina's comment about competing media streams is slightly misinformed. Sound recordings have compulsory licences that allow people to produce copies of published works for private sale (sale to individuals and not as soundtracks) with or without permission from the copyright holder blah blah blah. Do you own research. My point is copyright law is an implicit license for people to USE material, it does not give copyright holders ultimate control over works into oblivion. It sets the terms of use, operative word there is USE. Copyright law is all about striking a balance between the investment of the creator and the interests of the public. Does either side win everything all the time? Nope. That, Johnny, is called a compromise. 

Anyways you can and should watch the movie Sita Sings the Blues, for free here. 

And that's why I think intellectual property law is neat. What can museums learn from this story? I donno. You tell me.

© 2014 Patricia Lord

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fear Mongering: NAGPRA II

Bet that headline caught your attention!

Here's a scary thought; what if museums had to give back all the information they have released regarding Native American culture? You're thinking "But that's impossible! It's already been released, how will I track it down? How will I get all of it? I don't know where it is!"

And that is gossip.

Kidding, but if you get that reference I like you.

Now what if instead of gathering up all those feathers you had to pay Native Americans artists for every instance of infringement perpetrated by museums?

How about if I said that Native Americans may be able to own copyright in their traditional works.

Are you feeling nervous yet?

What if you had to ask a Native artists permission every time you wanted publish an image of an object they created? What if permission had to be granted anytime a third party asked to publish an image of a Native object in your collection?

Feel yourself getting agitated?

What if you had to share any profits you made from selling copies of old sound recordings of Native American singers preforming traditional songs?

What if owning a traditional object does not mean you own the copyrights? What if age is not the sole determining factor in term protection limitation?

What if a Native artist could revoke their copyright transfer decades after the transfer was made?

What if publishing information that actively harms the spiritual, emotional, economic, and cultural health of a Native tribe is not considered 'fair use'?

Scared yet? Well you should be. Why? Because all of these things are actually already laws that govern the use and ownership of intellectual property.


Yes, that's right. Shockingly, museums have been misapplying intellectual property laws to Native works for almost a century.

Now, since intellectual property law is a complex and beautifully frustrating beast understanding how these laws apply to traditional works created by Native artists is difficult. I could explain it to you but I don't want to. Do your own research.

All I am simply saying is that museums have been either intentionally or unintentionally depriving Native Americans of their intellectual property rights and economic interests for about a century. This is inline with our other efforts of physical property deprivation, and privacy deprivation, and general respect deprivation. Good for us for being consistent in our subjugation of Native peoples.

Now what if I told you there are already articles being drafted that would provide greater protection for indigenous groups internationally?

If you're interested in learning more you'll have to buy the book. Coming this June. (The book is my Master's Project).

So how do you feel about your ability to apply intellectual property law to Native American material?

"I have doubts."

© 2014 Patricia Lord