Posts Tagged ‘Copyright law’

Copyright Law is Changing! Is it Time to Hit the Panic Button?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Copyright law is about to change and creative people all across the U.S. are going into panic mode!

Everyone else could care less. Both reactions are extreme because copyright law as it stands today effects so much of our daily lives that complete enforcement of it would be nothing short of dystopian.

If you care at all, and you should, educating yourself on the current copyright law is important. It can easily be found at http://www.copyright.gov/title17/.

If you want to understand what the fuss is about concerning potential changes then you need to watch this tedious but eye opening podcast video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDoztLDF73I

The most significant part of the Copyright Act of 1976 that most people either do not understand or appreciate is that you possess ownership of copyright the moment you express a thought by affixing it to something tangible. There is no requirement to register a copyright or even attach a notice though both are beneficial. Every single person has copyright ownership of every original scribble, note, photo, video, doodle, craft, song, tune or anything else tangible that they ever created from the moment they created it provided they did not copy it from something else. Copying something without permission would be infringement of another’s copyright.

NOTE: Ideas are not protected by copyright! Only the physical expression of an idea is. Someone can have the same idea for a story or a picture but if how they tell that story or draw that picture is different there can be no conflict.

Instant ownership of copyright makes life a lot easier for creative people because they do not have to pay to register every single thing they create but in a world where now everyone is creative and able to publish their thoughts and pictures tangibly on the internet we are inundated with copyrighted material at every turn and surrounded by copyright holders.

Most people are not aware of the significance or value of copyright and consequently, as we go about our daily lives sharing or copying or quoting all the material we have such easy access to, we have unwittingly become a nation self-entitled of copyright infringers!

John Tehranian outlines in his must read paper Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap”  how easy it is to rack up a huge infringement liability on a daily basis.

“By the end of the day, John has infringed the copyrights of twenty emails, three legal articles, an architectural rendering, a poem, five photographs, an animated character, a musical composition, a painting, and fifty notes and drawings. All told, he has committed at least eighty-three acts of infringement and faces liability in the amount of $12.45 million (to say nothing of potential criminal charges). There is nothing particularly extraordinary about John’s activities. Yet if copyright holders were inclined to enforce their rights to the maximum extent allowed by law, he would be indisputably liable for a mind-boggling $4.544 billion in potential damages each year. And, surprisingly, he has not even committed a single act of infringement through P2P file sharing. Such an outcome flies in the face of our basic sense of justice. Indeed, one must either irrationally conclude that John is a criminal infringer—a veritable grand larcenist—or blithely surmise that copyright law must not mean what it appears to say. Something is clearly amiss. Moreover, the troublesome gap between copyright law and norms has grown only wider in recent years.”

As technology continues to advance it is becoming easier identify when we are being infringed upon or pirated. This is great for people who make their living creating things but what about people who may want to make their living suing people for infringing on their copyrights of photos of the family dog  or that viral cat video we all like to share? Do we really want to live in that kind of police state? Will we stop being creative because we are afraid of being infringed upon? Will we stop sharing  socially for fear of being accused of infringement?

Before 1976, copyrights had to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office similar to registering a patent or a trademark. This helped to identify copyrights that had a perceived value and allowed others to be considered public domain. Registering was definitely less convenient and more costly than the current system but may be not such a bad thing.  Unfortunately, part of the changes to copyright procedure currently being considered is privatizing the registration process. Are creatives about to be corralled into money making scheme for some greedy corporate entity with huge lobby interests in Washington?

In the aforementioned podcast video at about 20:30 in to it, editorial illustrator and copyright champion, Brad Holland, talks about a company called the Copyright Clearance Center who already conveniently owns the website www.copyright.com. He talks in detail about how this company, which has been around since 1978, (the year the Copyright Act of 1976 when into actual effect) collects fees from schools libraries and copy centers for permission to copy images and text to the tune of $300 million a year! This is similar to music collection societies like ASCAP or BMI. Mysteriously, however, creators seem to be kept out of the loop when it comes to distribution of these funds collected by the CCC. Apparently they have all the infrastructure in place to register, manage and police copyrights while making boatloads of money at creator’s expense.

Now let’s look at the elephant in the room – Work For Hire. One of the biggest issues in the Copyright Act of 1976 is that it did not do a great job of defining Work For Hire, a point that was vehemently defended by musicians anticipating their ability to terminate rights granted to record labels after 35 years as defined by the Copyright law. This is a glitch that has big companies scrambling to make deals with creators who may be closing in on that term. It is the main reason Prince was able to settle an agreement with Warner Bros. and the Kirby family was able to settle with Marvel/Disney. It is the main reason why a lot of deals are being struck quietly behind closed doors before the proverbial shit hits the fan.

If Copyright law stands as it is, where creators own copyright from the moment of creation, any freelancer who did not sign a declaration of work for hire and was not actually defined as an employee of the company currently holding the copyright could terminate rights of use of their contribution to the work. Anything published after 1975 is currently fair game for future reversions.

Using comics as an example, say I am a letterer of an independent comic of the 1980’s and I was paid to letter a comic by the author or the publisher but as a freelancer and had no signed agreement  that this was exclusively considered Work for Hire. According to copyright law can’t I consider that I am the “author” of the lettering on that comic and copyright holder from the time I penned it to the paper? If I decide I want to revert my rights by terminating the rights of the current holder, can I? If I can revert my rights, any reprint would require new lettering to replace mine or a new deal would need to be struck with me for a new term. Imagine if the Inker or the colorist did the same. This could prevent a work from being republished and it could create havoc for current publishers holding reprint rights.

Imagine if this happens in film where creators from many disciplines come together as freelancers to create a movie. It may sound far fetched but this is the backbone of this revival of the Orphan Works Copyright Act of 2008. It in theory seeks to make works accessible that are unable to be recopied into digital format by Libraries and Schools because copyright permission cannot be obtained by creators that cannot be located.

The argument is that  our culture is being deprived of accessibility to works because of the inadequacies of the copyright law which intends, in part, to restrict perpetual ownership of works so they can be absorbed by the culture that supported and inspired it. This is the reason that the new law intends to have copyrights registered, to enable identifying creators but I bet it will also redefine the Work for Hire clause to prevent the mass migration of rights from corporations to creators. This is a  classic case of misdirection that speculates  most freelancers will not be aware or willing to pay to register copyrights on every work they did thirty-five years ago under a questionable Work for Hire situation, sweeping one big elephant under the rug.

Copyright law has three significant objectives: Identify the copyright holder,  protect the rights of the copyright holder for the term of their copyright and limit terms of copyrights so works can ultimately be absorbed by the society that cultivated it.

I believe it is fair to say that the current copyright law has some inadequacies, mostly in regard to how staggeringly unenforceable it is at its most basic level. Policing every infringement on a daily basis would be impossible and if it were we would not want to live under those conditions. But for those of us that rely on the value of our works and their copyright for our income, it is time to be attentive to how we may be affected by changes and become involved with how a new law is constructed.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Maybe not, but it is time to get educated about copyright and to ensure that any new copyright law benefits everyone fairly.

© 2015 Gerry Giovinco (just in case)

Rebuilding Riverdale At Whose Expense?

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

The magic number must be 75! It is no mistake that Marvel, DC and now Archie Comics, all of which published their premier iconic characters between 1938 and 1941, have rolled out celebrations of their 75th year anniversary finding interesting ways to reboot their entire universes in the process.

DC rebooted with Flashpoint, then The New 52 and now Convergence. Marvel is rebooting with Secret Wars and the establishment of Battleworld. Now Archie is planning to “Build a New Riverdale” with a controversial Kickstarter.

No coincidence that, as copyright law stands today, characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Prince Namor, The Human Torch, Archie and most of the gang living in Reverdale are sitting on the precipice of public domain as their copyrights, whose duration is 95 years from first publication, are set to expire within the next 20 years.

All three publishers are scrambling to recreate their brand to distance the next generation of consumers and those that follow from the classic versions of their characters guaranteeing that their origin stories and adventures will  be considered outdated and unmarketable. In the meantime, trademarks of every variation of those characters, their costumes and logos which can be prevented from ever expiring will be maintained an marketed as aggressively as possible.

So while Archie is rebuilding Riverdale and seemingly throwing out any style guide that remotely looks like the characters originally designed by Bob Montana, they are just ensuring that nobody else can tell a story about life in Riverdale without infringing on their trademark. Soon Archie and the gang will have as many different looks and styles as Batman has logos.

The funny thing is Archie wants our help and is seeking $350,000 on a Kickstarter campaign to do it!

Why?

According to Archie publisher Jon Goldwater, they just want to get the new product to market as fast as possible and have their funds tied up in a deal to expand digest distribution into Target and Wal-Mart stores.

What is Target and Wal-Mart’s sudden interest in Archie all about? If they wanted comics wouldn’t they be going after Marvel or DC first? Something is in the wind. Probably the “Riverdale” TV series that will soon be coming to FOX. All that exposure has got to be killing them!

In their rush to market these new projects by selling direct to the audience through Kickstarter, they also managed to offend their most ardent supporters, the retailers in the Direct Market. They should’ve seen that coming! Publishers like Marvel, DC and Archie are the bread and butter of the Direct Market retailer. When these publishers venture into a direct-to-customer distribution system they simply cut the retailers out at the knees.

Retailers are not the only victims. So are Indy publishers that have come rely on crowdfunding as a means to generate precious preorders on a product that may not meet the sales requirements of distribution through Diamond. A company like Archie, seeking a huge some of money in a campaign will crowd out smaller publishers, especially those that are now producing comics that compete directly for the audience that Archie has appealed to  for decades.

This is the same technique that Marvel and DC employed in the 1980’s when they were threatened by the emergence of successful independent publishers in the fledgeling Direct Market. They simply flooded the market. More product does not mean that consumers will spend more money. Consumers have a limited amount of funds and when more product is introduced into a market it only means that the consumer now has to make choices on how they spend their money. The winners are usually the ones that have a big enough budget to promote their product and an already committed audience. That is not the small indy publisher.

How many Kickstarter campaigns have you read about in the news feeds this week besides Archie’s?

Point made.

If Archie reaches their goal, that is $350,000 that is not going to other crowdfunding campaigns. It is also $350,000 not venturing into a comic shop.

Archie wants to rebuild Riverdale by strip-mining the resources of the current comics market all in an effort to erect a bulkhead that will secure them from public domain which is intended as a reward for a culture that supported their work for 95 years. In the process they describe themselves as small and scrappy, yet tread on those publishers that  genuinely meet that description. Their campaign does not even offer great rewards! Supporters are asked to pay twice as much for product that will soon be available in stores.

Archie is a company that has been around for over 75 years with celebrated characters that have been in films, cartoons and live action series on TV. They have managed to maintain a presence with their comics outside of the Direct Market with their digest format, a  feat that even Marvel and DC cannot claim. Now they have a deal with Target and Wal-Mart and a television deal with FOX, yet they still need $350,000 of our money to launch three new comic books, something the’ve been capable of doing themselves with no problem for three quarters of a century. Sounds like an easy way to get a lot of free advertising with a major dash of greed.

Not-so-poor or  little Archie wants our help but remember who loses in this one… everyone but Archie Comics. If their campaign is a success, they are laughing all the way to the bank, where they should have gone for a loan in the first place.

Gerry Giovinco

Shia LaBeouf is Dangerous

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Many of us have watched in amazement as Shia LaBeouf has exposed himself as the pretentious, self-absorbed, entitled, plagiarist that he is ever since he has been publicly called out for his direct swipe of Dan Clowes comic Justin M. Damiano which LaBeauf  adapted, uncredited and unauthorized into a short film titled HowardCantour.com.

Further scrutiny has proven that there is little that LaBeouf has ever created that was not lifted from somewhere else. Even his apologies were swiped!

An incriminating list of LaBeouf’s transgressions can be found here.

LaBeouf went on the defensive in this interview with Rich Johnston declaring that, Authorship is Censorship seemingly championing the perspective of Creative Commons.

Now he has gone on the offensive by antagonizing Dan Clowes with more blatant plagiarism of his work.

LaBeouf’s actions are so extreme they reek of publicity stunt and have even been compared to performance art, but could they be something much more subversive?

While he mocks and trivializes plagiarism, piracy and copyright law, infuriating  copyright owners and creators, everywhere he is galvanizing a pro-copyright , anti-piracy sentiment that will empower the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), “a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.”

The TPP will crush the internet by restricting users’ freedom of speech and right to privacy and due process. It will limit creative innovation by stalling public domain transitions. Worst of all, it is a non-transparent manipulation by corporations to control intellectual property and end users in an effort to protect their own bottom line at the expense of personal and creative freedoms.

Shia LaBeouf is a very public and extreme example of what the TPP wants us all to believe they are protecting against. His actions and words play into their hands every time he is demonized by the press or by any one of us blogging or commenting against him.

It is time to maintain a rational perspective and pay close attention to the ramifications of the TPP. This agreement needs to be shut down the same way SOPA was and for the same reasons. Take the time to learn about and understand copyright law and its history. Learn about the virtues of public domain. Be concerned about your rights as an internet user. Above all maintain,  a perspective of moderation to avoid becoming an irrational extremist like LaBeouf.

Shia LeBeouf is dangerous if his ridiculous antics create an atmosphere that cost us all what we have come to enjoy and use as the greatest tool of expression in the history of the planet: the internet as we know it.  Don’t be fooled! His actions may be “more than meets the eye.”

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco




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