January 28, 2005

Continuing with Prof. Madison

Professor Madison wonders if in fact the history of the Civil Rights movement that Eyes on the Prize chronicles really is available elsewhere, as I had averred in an earlier post. This is a fair question. Let me clarify my statement, as I have a tendency to write blog entries while sitting at home with a laptop underneath a cat, slugging coffee, angry and channeling the enraged spirit of Spider Jerusalem.

The facts are available elsewhere. The media may not be. That's why Henry put those clips in Eyes in the first place - because he found them to be the most powerful images of the times. Also, he and his colleagues filmed an enormous amount of original interview footage with dozens of participants in those turbulent times which makes up the rest of the Eyes films. The interview footage used in the final cuts of Eyes is certainly not available anywhere else.

However, I am not saying that efforts to make archival clips more readily available should be quashed. In contrast, I am all in favor of them. I'm not suggesting that they be ripped from the hands of their present owners, either! However, especially in the case of 'orphan' clips which were taken by large organization pool reporters and clips whose owners are no longer known, making access to those pieces of visual and audio history needs to be made easier. Note: not necessarily cheaper, but certainly easier. As an example - as I understand it (and IANAL!) even if it is legitimately impossible to identify who owns a particular clip (due to death, loss of records, etc. etc.) it may still be either impossible or prohibitively difficult to ever package, sell or publicly show any work containing that clip again - even if it is a five-second newsreel clip from fifty years previously. That's clearly (to me) ridiculous.

So in that sense, I am in agreement with the copyfighters. Free this media, and this history; 'free' it in the sense of making it easier for us the people to access and distribute it. I would note that Blackside is not in the habit of locking away history from the people; in fact, all of the footage and clips that were not used in the final cuts of the films were retained by The Civil Rights Project, Inc (the non-profit set up for the fundraising for Eyes and its associated projects) and have been donated to Washingon University, where the public and any filmmaker or student is free to access the collection.

As is usually the case, the information that is in Eyes is almost entirely duplicated in those clips. What is in Eyes is a particular assembly of that information - the 'art', if you will. When I speak of Eyes as being different from the history, this is what I mean. This 'art', work, and assemblage, which is qualitatively different from the history and information contained within. Sure, protest the orphan works copyright problem (and, in fact, DO IT NOW - the U.S. Copyright Office is soliciting public commentary on this VERY ISSUE RIGHT NOW! Commentary is due by March 25th, so put those writing and thinking skills to use for the good of us all!) - protest the fact that we can't re-issue Eyes without an onerous amount of nonsense involving fighting these extremely draconian protections for lost and someties nonexistent copyright holders. But please, don't lump in the living, breathing rights to the piece of art that is Eyes on the Prize with the 'orphan works' or with the five to sixty-second newsreel clips from fifty years ago that are the actual history which everyone seems to be so concerned about. Even the interviews themselves which Henry did - the interviews with figures yers later - the raw interview footage is nearly all available at Washington University. Go get it. Make your own version of Eyes. Make a mash-up. Tell us the history in your own fashion. He'd like that.

But please don't tell us you're a crusader because you're telling people to steal his hard work.

Posted by jbz at January 28, 2005 2:25 PM | TrackBack


Is it just me or does it seem like the argument being made here is that remixing media from different sources only constitutes an artistic work when it's music? I'd think the people who rushed to DJ Dangermouse's defense would see the parallels here. Instead, it seems that the "artists rights" banner is only flown in the direction that allows Downhill Battle unfettered access to the media that they want, when they want it.

Posted by: greg at January 28, 2005 9:31 PM
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