January 31, 2005

Heh. And so it begins.

I've actually been waiting for this. One of my more personal problems with this whole process (the Eyes debate) has been the appropriation of the Civil Rights struggle by copyfighters - their comparison (either implicit or explicit) of their cause, methods, opponents, wrongs against which they fight and so on to those endured by the civil rights activists profiled by Eyes on the Prize. Although I have strayed over the line in suggesting this, I think, I've really tried to keep my mouth shut.

So, along comes a commenter and pretty much lays it all out for me. "Reverend Joe," thank you very much. Let's have a good look at your post, which does a good job of laying out the points.

Rev. Joe says:

That said, I would have had no philosophical issue with downloading EoTP from the DHB BitTorrent links that you, in part, got removed from the DHB website, had I the desire to watch it. I have to tell you, you harm your own case when you speak hypocritically about what the supporters of DHB's campaign are trying to accomplish, and also when you call them "theives" and "pirates". Is it just to call the people your Uncle chronicled "criminals" and "unpatriotic" because they broke the law of the land, unjust as it was?
Well, Rev. Joe, I acknowledge that I personally can't do much to stop you from clicking the download links. For the record, the only way I (in part) got those links removed from the DHB website was by conversing with Tiffiniy Cheng. I am not a decision maker nor a rights-holder of Blackside, Inc. Please be sure to get your facts straight. Any decisions involving lawyers, and any conversations involving lawyers, explicitly don't involve me, as I told Ms. Cheng at the beginning of our first (and every subsequent) conversation. Whether or not you believe that is up to you.

I "harm my own case" when I speak "hypocritically" about what the supporters of DHB's campaign are trying to accomplish, and call them "theives(sp)" and "pirates". Um, okay, I'm not sure how that's hypocritical, as I'm not out there copying stuff, but fine. As for it being just to call the people my uncle chronicled 'criminals' and the like, well, that's a whole other issue. First of all, it depends which people. He chronicled a lot of people, from murderers to preachers to folks that might qualify as saintly. Let's take the average protester. Perhaps the ones that took part in non-violent sit-ins. They probably wouldn't technically be 'criminals' but we could indeed call them guilty of misdemeanors, or whatever the penalty for trespass was - I don't know offhand.

My point is that what you call them is a technical term. It has nothing to do with moral justice. I, personally, *do* indicate that I feel what they are doing in this case is unjust. I do *not* feel that what the protesters did during said sit-ins and the like was unjust. If you read my entries, I did try to explain why.

The next paragraph is really my favorite:

You are entitled to your opinion of what "parts of copyright law" should be reformed, of course, just as the KKK is entitled to theirs about what "parts of segregation law" should be kept. Personally, I'd like to scrap the whole lot of copyright laws and start over. But when you insult someone for civilly disobeying a law *THEY* find to be unfair and think should be changed, invoking the name of your Uncle in the process, you're just being a hypocrite. And, if it's true your Uncle would be "fuming at" those downloads, then he was a hypocrite, too. It's fine if you want to say you disagree with our assessment that this part of the law is unjust and should be disobeyed -- but keep your insults to yourself -- or expect harsher ones in return.
Well! Refreshing! This really should fall under some modified form of Godwin's Law. At this point, we begin falling into what I can only assume are attempts to actively muddle the two struggles - civil rights and copyfight - both to vilify me and elevate the copyfighters. I find myself compared to the KKK in the first line. I'm sure that as a Black Jew, the KKK and I would have much to talk about. Reverend Joe notes that he'd like to scrap the entire copyright law and start over. This is perfectly valid opinion, one that should indeed be here - huzzah and more power to you, Rev. Joe. Thanks for your input. I wish you luck in your struggle to do so. I happen to disagree with you, but that's OK. "But when you insult someone for civilly disobeying a law *THEY* find unfair..." um, hold the phone. One of the key tenets of civil disobedience, as I mentioned earlier, was the maxim that it not deprive, harm or involve others in your action, or if so, does so to the minimum amount possible. That's not the case here.

Oh yeh, and what insults? 'Pirate?' 'Thief?' Okay, well, that might be an insult, I suppose, but it's a technical term, and if you say you're not, it's because we disagree on the actual law itself which, at the moment, is the law of the land - and which you acknowledge you're breaking. So 'thief' fits, technically. *I'm* the one who's been compared *somewhat humorously, I do admit) to the KKK. Man, I'd *love* to see their faces if I showed up at a meeting...shades of The Hebrew Hammer ("Shabbat shalom, motherfuckers!!!") Heh. Heh heh. Anyhow, call Tiffiniy - I'd like to think our conversations were carried on with the utmost civility.

Let's jump to the whole next section, where you claim 'Of COURSE it's about MONEY.' Um, newsflash...no, it's not. As I said, although you apparently don't believe me, I don't get any money from Eyes on the Prize. Although I realize you may have trouble realizing this, it is possible for people who own things (and that includes intellectual things) to have an interest in how those things are used. My uncle didn't make Eyes in order to make money, he made it in order to say something. This does not mean he was averse to making money from it when possible - but primarily, he made it to say something very specific for posterity. He was so concerned with the specifics of that message, he made sure there was a teaching plan produced with the film, a laserdisc set to be used with the teaching plan, a book designed to be a companion to the film, and spent innumerable hours of his life giving talks about the film and the surrounding history in the hopes that the story would be told and told consistently. One of the reasons he left the films themselves to his sisters was because they shared, closer than anyone else he knew, his experience growing up. They weren't and aren't filmmakers. They didn't know anything about running a film company. But they went through the same upbringing he did - the experience that led him, in his middle teens, to start thinking about making what would become Eyes on the Prize.

That consistency of message is not something that just happens and sticks around once the film is made. It requires a steward. Someone who decides what the film will be used for, and how. Someone (or someones) who will push for the film, and try to ensure that the film doesn't get appropriated for other fights, ones which (while important) are not the fights which Eyes on the Prize was made to commemorate.

It confuses me how someone who purports to be for a movement which claims to elevate the importance of information over money rights can't understand that there might be motivations other than money for trying to retain control of a work. Finally, this in no way involves 'lording it over the public.' I am the public. The entities my mother and aunt and their agents are negotiating with are not the public, some of them; some of them are. You appear to have this false dichotomy built up in your head where anyone who owns the rights to anything is no longer 'the public.' Strange. Where does it say that producing something means one must sign away one's membership in the 'protected class' of 'the public?' I am being honest, intellectually. I'm sorry if you don't think I am; that's your prerogative. But your sinmple refusal to believe it doesn't make it so.

Moving right along.

Next bit of irony -- you complain that: "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."

Isn't this rich? Let me see if I can follow this ... you feel draconian restrictions and complete, no-registration-necessary control over everything from a scribbled doodle on a scratchpad to interview archival footage is BAD when it bothers YOU, the documentary maker / heir, but the same sorts of draconian restrictions on the PUBLIC, long after both the author and a meaningful period to exploit the work commercially are long expired, are GOOD policy, because it HELPS documentary filmmakers financially. Hmmm, I think I start to understand your motivations in this debate, finally.

Ha. Wow. I don't even know where to start. Okay, at the beginning.

The quote you offer at the start is me trying to explain some of the things I think are wrong with the system. WRONG. As in, agreeing with you. Next please. I believe in compensating owners for their clips. I don't claim to know what the proper balance is between their rights and the public's right to access them. I never have. That is, it seems to me, the question. I do believe that the creators of those clips have some rights, yes. I believe that in the event an owner can't be easily located ("orphan work") then there should be no restriction on its use, and it should be considered public domain - like a trademark, if no one steps up to defend. But that is all my personal opinion.

"Hmmm, I think I start to understand your motivations in this debate, finally." Oh good. I'm so glad! A day without elementary sarcasm is really a wasted day for me. My brain suffers without the challenge.

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

Let me explain something to you if you're going to continue to engage copy-fighers in this manner. You open yourself to endless abuse with this kind of rhetoric. There is nothing going on in this controversy that involves stealing. As you may or may not be aware, stealing involves taking something away from someone who already owns that thing, so that they no longer have it. What is happening to you / your Uncle's estate is called copyright infringement -- thats what we call it when someone violates the U.S. Law that maintains an artifcial monopoly for one party over the copying of some creation by everyone else. Calling the people who do violate that law for non-commercial purposes "thieves" is about as accurate as call those who violated segregation laws "terrorists". And the motivations behind the two inaccuracies are pretty much the same, as well.

I didn't call them terrorists. Ever. Check carefully. Between that and the KKK accusation, where precisely are you coming from? Is this because of my name?

Anyhow you continue to make my point for me. I 'open myself up for endless abuse?' Great. As I said - the tactic here is to hijack Eyes on the Prize and then utilize both it and this debate as publicity mill for the copyfight debate - which drags Eyes on the Prize not only crosswise into the Copyfight debate itself (which is merely a muddling of its actual intent) but down into the debate level of, well, people like you, sir. And that, truly, is a loss for us all. It don't matter what happen to me, but I don't want this film dragged through 'endless abuse' from 'engaging copyfighters.' It has nothing to do with that.

So, "Reverend Joe," thanks very much for providing us with a timely demonstration.

Posted by jbz at January 31, 2005 4:17 PM | TrackBack

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