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 4:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 29, 2005

Eyes on the Copyright Fight

I note that Downhill Battle has taken down the .torrent links to EoTP, removed Henry's image from the webpage, and made some language changes to their webpage. I applaud all these moves, and thank them for doing so. They still have a number of things which I am firmly opposed to (advocating download, copy and distribution, advocating public display without license, etc.) but I've already ranted about that in previous posts.

I wanted to take a moment to talk about some language they use on the page. They rhetorically ask if what they are proposing - the distribution, duplication and exhibition of EoTP - is 'Civil Disobedience.' According to them:

So, are these community screenings civil disobedience?

We don't think so at all. The First Amendment and the doctrine of "fair use" can clearly be extended to include the right to distribute a film of such important historical significance as Eyes, when such a film is otherwise unavailable. The history of the Civil Rights Movement is simply too important for us to let its most comprehensive documentary languish in copyright purgatory. This Black History Month we're working to ensure as many people as possible have access to this essential film.

But that doesn't mean that the law shouldn't change. Our present copyright clearance environment forces filmmakers to pay exorbitant fees and to go through piles of paperwork before their films ever see the light of day. Consequently, many works of art will never be released or even attempted and that weakens our culture and our shared history. We need to move back to the original purpose of copyright and find ways to ensure that creativity is supported rather than unnecessarily stifled. And Congress should positively reaffirm the fair use rights of the public... so that "free speech" doesn't just mean the right to hire a lawyer.

All right, fair enough. Let's have a look at that, given that I ranted about the difference between Civil Rights era divil disobedience and this form of direct action in prior posts. I was responding, in those rants, to quotes by Mr. Guyot, displayed on Downhill Battle's webpage, who wastes no time in encouraging everyone to 'violate laws.'

Back to Downhill Battle (DB for short hereafter) and their rationale. Why are they so concerned for EoTP? Well, they seem to be concerned because the film is 'vanishing from library shelves,' from schools, and the like. They want to distribute it to all comers over the internet in a digital format so that these students and library goers can see the film that they saw and were moved by and that the evil copyright law is now preventing those libraries and schools from showing.

My question to them: Have they read the copyright law?

Necessary preface: I AM NOT A LAWYER!

Having said that, let's trot on over to the U.S. Copyright office, where our government reasonably lays out the current law for our perusal. Using the search box at the top, drop in 'Section 108' which is the section of the copyright law dealing with the rights of libraries and educational institutions concerning works that they already possess. You'll find a result for a .pdf of a publication named Circular 21. Don't be intimidated, it's only 24 pages long; it's a booklet for just this sort of occasion. :-) Let me give you the introductory text (and don't worry, government publications are excluded from copyright protection):

The Subjects Covered in This Booklet

The documentary materials collected in this booklet deal with reproduction of copyrighted works by educators, librarians, and archivists for a variety of uses, including:

  • Reproduction for teaching in educational institutions at all levels; and
  • Reproduction by libraries and archives for purposes of study, research, interlibrary exchanges, and archival preservation.

The documents reprinted here are limited to materials dealing with reproduction. Under the copyright law, reproduction can take either of two forms:

  • The making of copies; by photocopying, making microform reproduction, videotaping, or any other method of duplicating visually-perceptible material; and
  • The making of phonorecords; by duplicating sound recordings, taping off the air, or any other method of recapturing sounds.

Okay. Let's dig in to what else this thing has for us. STUDLYCAPS are my emphasis. Section 108, on page 12:

Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives

(a)Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is NOT AN INFRINGEMENT OF COPYRIGHT FOR A LIBRARY OR ARCHIVES or any of its employees acting within the scop of their employment, to reproduce no more than one copy or phonorecord of a work, OR TO DISTRIBUTE SUCH COPY OR PHONORECORD, under the conditions specified by this section, if --

  1. the reproduction is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage
  2. the collections of the library or archives are (i) open to the public, or (ii) available not only to researchers affiliated with the library or archives or with the institution of which it i a part but also to other persons doing research in a specialized field; and
  3. the reproduction or distribution of the work includes a notice of copyright.

Hm, that sounds like it applies to our situation. What else have we got?
(c) The right of reproduction under the section applies to a copy or phonorecord of a published work duplicated in facsimile form solely for the purpose of replacement of a copy or phonorecord that is damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen, if the library or archives has, after a reasonable effort, DETERMINED THAT THE AN UNUSED REPLACEMENT CANNOT BE OBTAINED AT A FAIR PRICE.
Again, that sounds like us. Now, there is a great deal more information in this booklet, and as others wiser than me have noted, Copyright law is a morass. I am not claiming that it actually explicitly permits this activity. What I am saying is that there would appear to be mechanisms in place by which most of their stated concerns for EoTP are already addressed - mechanisms under which the onus of actually pursuing libraries and schools for preserving their copies would fall on the rightsholders (that is, us) if we felt they were doing wrong. This part of the law has been around for years. While it may be confusing and in need of streamlining, I would suggest that this isn't the part of the law that is 'broken' per se.

What part is? Well, suggestively, Downhill Battle are the ones who defended DJ Dangermouse on the release of the (excellent!) Grey Album. In that case, the part of the law under debate was that of derivative works; that is, the use of snippets of prior art in the creation of new works. I can see how this would relate to Eyes; it is, after all, built partially on the assembly of archival clips of newsreel and interview footage from historical sources. It is the licensing of those pieces of intellectual property that are presently delaying a new release of EoTP.

However, I would argue that the situation is not the same. The Grey Album utilized small sub-parts of larger artistic works - samples. It used clips of larger works, and unless you want to argue that art is holographic (and you might, don't get me wrong) then there is a difference between three bars of a song and the full five minutes. But in the case of EoTP, the clips that were licensed were important because of the thirty seconds or whatever that were used. They were, for example, footage of black students entering a school under the protection of the National Guard - an event fifteen seconds long. All the importance and relevance of that clip was contained in that fifteen seconds - and it was used in its entirety. Comparing the use of that clip to the use of a sample by DJDM is somewhat specious. Although the process of assembling the pieces into a coherent whole can certainly be compared as a process of art, the subject matter is qualitatively different. I (and this is just me speaking, remember) believe that whereas DJDM was using small bits of songs as reference, and samples as homage, EoTP was including relevant pieces of historical record which were licensed in their own right, whole.

Next, since Downhill Battle seems wont to talk about all of this on a philosophical base, let's consider the targets. DJDM's source material is/was owned by large record companies who are/were busy lobbying lawmakers for copyright extensions after the death of the artist to increase corporate profits and the like. EoTP, however, includes in many cases interview footage of still-living individuals, or individuals whose immediate family owns the rights to their appearance - and those are the people who must be compensated for the use of that footage. In those particular cases, those clips aren't even twenty years old. They were filmed by Henry and his team specifically for this movie.

So unlike the DJDM case, we have a film comprised of not sub-samples of larger works, but of the aggregation of complete, smaller and wholly important short clips from the historical record. Unlike artists, that's how news photographers make their money - they can't sit in a studio and produce, they have to run around and hope to God that when fifteen important seconds happen, they manage to capture it on their cameras. When that does happen, then that is their only source of income, and while it's talent that will let them capture it in a manner that lets us their viewers see why it's important, there's an awful lot of luck in their being there at all. So they need to make their living off a few five-second clips. They can't bury those five seconds in a three minute track and force you to buy the whole thing (well, at least, not easily).

Whew. OK, enough for now. I'm trying to blurt all this out, because I see that Blackside's lawyers are now involved. I approve, but I don't want everyone who sees this to think that they are just because Blackside is acting in a kneejerk 'HEY! THAT'S OURS!' fashion. There are multiple sides to this. I happen to think that Downhill Battle has some really good motives. I just happen to think they picked a really, really bad example for their campaign, and my reasons aren't just because I'm connected to it. I think the EoTP controversy has actually precious little to do with the parts of copyright law that they're actually concerned about, and I'm trying to explain why. They need to refocus their efforts on the things that need fixing, and find examples that actually point out why the law is broken and where. DJDM and the Grey Album was a great example. EoTP is not.

Posted by jbz at 12:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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 2:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Commonsizing vs. Copyright II

Ah ha! I get to finally use the trackback feature. Thanks to The Madisonian for engaging. As Prof. Madison notes there:

...the argument really does turn out to be about copyright law, not just about fairness to Henry Hampton and his family. The argument for Eyes on the Screen (the campaign) starts from the premise that the copyright to the film may be owned by Blackside, but the real value of the film is the history, not the film. The history isn’t owned by anyone. Moreover, it isn’t just Blackside’s copyright that’s at issue; re-releasing Eyes on the Prize is complex, and the Eyes on the Screen campaign is arguably appropriate, because of copyright clearance issues that have to be resolved for material that the film borrowed from other sources. No one is necessarily a bad guy here. There are just an awful lot of people with irons in the copyright fire.

Here’s the tie to the basic copyright question: Is protecting these copyrights, including Blackside’s, the best way to ensure that the history is widely known? Or is commonsizing the film – long after it was first broadcast and distributed, and long after Henry Hampton’s place in film history was assurred – a better way to share that history?

I would respond as follows. Eyes on the Prize is not the history. The history is not the film. Rather, Eyes is one filmmaker's idea of a presentation of the history, in one medium. Its execution was the work of hundreds of talented people - I don't want to sound like I'm claiming Henry did it all by himself in a garret somewhere! The film came to be, however, because from the time he was a teenager, he worked towards building Blackside, building a team, and doing that movie with them.

As such, claiming that the importance of the history should grant rights to the people to appropriate Eyes on the Prize strikes me as a bit of an overreach. The history is there. It's available in all manner of places. However, my uncle and his colleagues did an awful lot of work to make it available and accessible in one place, and understandable and emotionally meaningful to viewers who did not live through it. That was their contribution. Claiming now that because the history they covered is so very important that their work should be available to all is somewhat akin to proposing a system of Eminent Domain for information and intellectual property. That's all well and good, but who decides? The mob? And using what criteria? If we take Downhill Battle's example, any group of activists with a website can suddenly then declare Eminent Domain on any piece of intellectual property that they wish, set up a website and a BitTorrent link, and have at it.

Let me approach this from another tack. Everyone keeps talking about how there are old clips whose ancient copyrights keep Eyes from being distributed to a new generation. Whether or not one agrees with this, let me point something out. Sonny Bono copyright extensions or not, Eyes itself was made only around eighteen years ago. Its rights rest not in the hands of Henry's descendants, but in the hands of his sisters - one of whom is older than Henry was. He passed away not due to old age but due to complications from treatment for lung cancer at an early age. So when you are advocating the distribution of Eyes, you're not just advocating the distribution of some fifty-year-old clip in contravention of the copyright laws - you're advocating the distribution of a piece of work which it took my uncle thirty years of his life to get made - and, were it not for lung cancer, he would likely be sitting here fuming at. This is not a dusty piece of should-be-public domain information.

If you truly think that Eyes on the Prize is so important that it should be freely available to anyone without recompense, then again, what is the motivation for the sponsors who originally supported Eyes on the Prize to do so again? What is the motivation for the filmmakers like my uncle, who work for pay and for art and duty, to do their jobs? Not out of fear for their legacy in years to come, but out of worry for their rights to their work if people can slap their work up on a website because someone has judged it 'too critical to let lapse' when they themselves are working to get it rereleased, without even asking if that's the case?

This isn't about money. This is about ownership, pride thereof, and control of one's creation. If Henry had had the money when making Eyes to clear the rights to those clips in perpetuity, you damn well better believe he would have. But he was operating on tight funding, and his choice allowed the movie to be made, aired and sold - if even for a limited time. His thinking was (from what he told me) that if the film was a success (and they didn't know if it would be) that later they could fundraise for additional rights clearances and re-issue the film. That's what is going on today, and that's what this protest movement is jeopardizing.

Posted by jbz at 10:14 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Eyes on the Prize is most definitely NOT commonsized

I note that Tiffiniy Cheng, director of Downhill Battle, has commented on my previous blog post. For that I thank and commend her. Dialogue is indeed what I sought with it. I'm not sure what it's gotten us, but then again, one is never sure, in the middle of the process; one just has to soldier on.

The blog The Madisonian asks a good question about this whole issue, wondering if this means that Eyes is 'commonsized' in the way the song 'Happy Birthday' is - that is, moved into the commons. Their conclusion, based on Wired's latest blurb, is a definite 'no' - presumably because the legal representative of the rightsholders stated unequivocally in response to a query that...well, see for yourself.

What appears (to me) to be happening is that various actors seem determined to push this into the status of 'test case' using 'Eyes' as cannon fodder, the effect on Eyes be damned. This saddens me greatly. Several of the figures in this debacle have made attempts to convince me of the purity of their motives, describing their support for the availability of Eyes to the general public, and the like. I don't in any way believe they are lying to me. I think they are, in fact, just as fervant as they sound when they tell me it is incredibly important that the public have access to Eyes on the Prize. I think it's important too.

The problem is that the reason I think it is important that the public have access to Eyes on the Prize differs from theirs. They think it is important as an example. I think it is important because of what it says. There shouldn't necessarily be a conflict there, but there is. Why? Because the example that gets used to push this case is going to suffer. The points, teachings and content of that example are going to be backgrounded, slightly, forevermore, behind the more-recent and now-blazingly-public part of its 'new role as poster child' for this new fight.

That's where we part ways.

I'm in no way suggesting that the fight that's being fought here is less important than the fight that Eyes on the Prize chronicles, educates about, and poignantly remembers. But I am saying that the fight that's being fought here isn't that fight, and that it's a disservice to the people who suffered, fought, died even in that fight to have their struggle and the record of that struggle appropriated as the symbol of a new fight - one which really has nothing to do with theirs.

It disturbs me that none of the outlets pushing this project seem willing to mention this 'other side of the story' - link to it, mention it at all, or offer comment sites where it could be mentioned. Still, it makes sense. If you're trying to roll a bandwagon, you don't want to point out the potholes.

It's a funny feeling, being 'the other side' in the blogging revolution. I'm now (I suppose) one of 'them' - the 'evil rights holders' who doesn't agree with the 'cool revolution.' And I don't have a voice - because nobody links to my blog, and because - unlike the record companies, who are the usual targets of this sort of action - I don't own media channels and don't have money. I'm a workin' stiff with a computer - that's all. So I don't get heard unless somebody decides to come over here and read my opinion.

What that means is that the blogging revolution has come full circle in this case. They're not the plucky underdogs. Blackside, inc. is not some megalithic corporation with big vaults of IP that they Won't Give You, and money that they're hoarding. Blackside is two of Henry's sisters, one retired and one nearly so. I'm his nephew, workin' stiff with a mortgage and a condo. I don't have a TV station, or anything like that. Blackside itself is a set of legal documents and a telephone line, these days - because my mother and my aunt aren't filmmakers, and the real purpose of Blackside (as told me by Henry) wasn't even really to make films; it was to train young black filmmakers in a time when there weren't really that many of them out there.

He (and others with him) did that. Many of them went on out into the world to make films, and tell the Black Side of things. That made him proud. At that, Blackside served its purpose. That, and it allowed Henry to make movies - movies he'd wanted to make all his life.

Anyway, now, suddenly, the bloggers are fighting Big Media, the copyright system, what have you, but they're doing it using my family's property as cannon fodder. To use a metaphor only slightly less ludicrous than some that have been offered to me as justification for their actions (by the players), I feel like someone whose hennery has been raided by protesters, and all my eggs thrown at the congressman during a protest. The cops aren't after me, and we have an enlightened enough system that it's all treated as protest - except I'm out my eggs, and if I want recompense, I have to go after the protesters in court. And then I'm the bad guy, not the congressman who voted for the law or the lobbyist who pushed for it - me, the guy whose eggs are missing.

But the protesters still get the press.

Posted by jbz at 7:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005

It doesn't matter if the cause is just.

So I'm reading one of my favorite blogs, and this pops up.

Oh boy.

This touches me much harder than usual, and in conflicting directions. On the one hand, I agree wholeheartedly that the copyright system in the United States is fucked up and in dire need of repair. I also agree that Eyes on the Prize is one of the sterling examples of how badly the system has failed us.

On the other hand, I have some skin in this game, and also some information that many people might not. Henry Hampton was my uncle; I spoke at his memorial service. I loved him dearly, and miss him daily. As a young 'un, I remember doing 'makework' gaffer tasks on some of the interviews for Eyes I.

This protest might be a good thing, as far as copyright goes. However, as far as Eyes goes, it's really not. Really, really, really not. It's a bad thing in many senses of the word. I know that one of the first things I'm going to have to convince everyone of is that I'm not saying this out of greed, so let me be clear about how I'm involved. My mother and her sister inherited Blackside, Inc (the film company my uncle Henry started, which made Eyes) and also inherited the rights to the Eyes films. My family receives no royalties on any sale of any Eyes media, as far as I'm aware; all rights to duplicate and sell Eyes have expired (which is one reason it is not available) and when it was available, PBS received most of the proceeds. At the time, Blackside received whatever royalties were forthcoming, and Henry was alive and owned Blackside, so the question of my motives would be moot.

Here's why it's a bad thing that Downhill Battle is doing and proposing.

I am heartily in favor of everybody showing their copies of Eyes to as many people as they can. If you have a copy of Eyes that you bought or inherited, great; show it. But please, please, please don't don't encourage others to duplicate it and distribute it, and please (above all, as some motherless losers are doing on eBay) don't sell it.

There are negotiations ongoing (on and off, but ongoing) to re-issue Eyes on the Prize in DVD format, ideally with additional materials for teaching. Funds are being solicited for this effort, and sponsors pitched. This would allow the production of additional materials and allow Eyes to be distributed to the public and libraries and schools once more, playable on modern equipment and archived on more durable media. Every time the 'COPY EYES!' website gets seen by one of the rights-holders we have to negotiate with, however, the chances of us ever getting this done diminishes. This brings me to my second point.

Eyes on the Prize is not about the copyright movement. It is not about intellectual property. It is about the Civil Rights movement, and the Black experience in America. Using it in this way, no matter how noble the intention, will serve to brand it fairly indelibly in the minds of the policymakers as the 'spearhead of the p2p movement' and the 'emblem of the anti-copyright movement.' While I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, I am saying that that will absolutely detract from the teachings and message that Eyes was, in fact, created to get across - teachings of history and messages of racial tolerance and diversity - by irretrievably muddling in a contemporary, hot-button (and entirely unrelated to the original topic) fight.

Whatever the motives, the countercopyright crew are essentially hijacking someone else's life's work and appropriating its power and recognition for their own purposes. In the process, they are potentially diminishing and damaging its own effectiveness. It's not their place to make the decision to throw the weight of Eyes behind this fight.

Finally, I would point something out. They invoke Henry Hampton's name and legacy on their page, where they advocate downloading and illegally distributing his works. Henry Hampton may have made documentaries, but that doesn't mean he worked for free. Blackside, Inc. was always a for-profit corporation, and Henry Hampton took home what profits his films were able to generate. So trying to invoke his name while you encourage everyone to trample on the rights granted his works strikes me as extremely hypocritical.


It has been pointed out to me that the use of Eyes on the Prize by Downhill Battle could be looked upon as akin to the use of "This land is our land" by JibJab during the recent campaign. I respectfully disagree, and here's why. JibJab did, indeed, take someone else's existing piece of work and make it available for download without asking consent in order to make a point about a modern debate. However, JibJab used that piece of work as the basis for an original satire, and the piece of work itself (the Woody Guthrie song) was relevant to the point at hand (as in all good satire). On top of it, they layered an original contribution (a Flash piece) which was linked to the music.

In this case, Downhill Battle has done no such thing. The have taken an existing piece of work (Eyes on the Prize) and are offering it for download, and encouraging others to download, duplicate and distribute it, in violation of the law. No original work has been added, and - more important - nothing about Eyes on the Prize is relevant to the current debate save its status as an out-of-print film! As such, any out of print film could be substituted for it, and Downhill Battle's page would make just as much sense. However, it wouldn't be as effective. Why? Because Eyes on the Prize has recently been profiled in Wired Magazine and Salon.com, talking about this very issue. It already has name association with this problem. Plus, it is (or was) a relatively well-known documentary film, one of the highest rated films on PBS when it was aired. Libraries and schools are fond of it. In short, there is a ready-made sympathetic audience.

None of this, however, matters to the point - which is that what Downhill Battle really cares about is not the work itself, but the action. The action of downloading, distributing, and showing it. Defying the currently broken copyright law. Thus, it is qualitatively different from the use of "This Land is Our Land" by JibJab - who utilized the content of that famous song to make a political point that resonated.

If, in fact, what they really cared about was 'preserving Eyes on the Prize for posterity' as they have claimed - I find it extremely troubling that no attempt was made to contact any of the current rights holders (my family) to simply ask us what efforts, if any, were being made to ensure the future availability of this work to the public. We would have been happy to detail (as much as we were able) the state of ongoing research, fundraising and negotiations, all with the aim of clearing, producing and distributing a DVD release of Eyes on the Prize. This is why I have trouble believing arguments that what they're doing is really 'for the good of preserving Eyes.' Even if they don't agree with my arguments about how this effort damages ongoing attempts to reissue it, they never attempted to determine what (legal) efforts were underway to preserve and release the films.

Addendum Mk. II:

Oh yes. That little dig about eBay...for anyone who is desperate to acquire Eyes on the Prize and is offered a set for sale, please note that it was NEVER issued on DVD. Anyone trying to sell you Eyes on the Prize I or II on DVD is selling you a homemade (illegal) copy. There was a Laserdisc version of Eyes I (and II, I believe) available for classrooms, and a lucky few folks have those, so Laserdiscs are likely real - but no DVDs, nope, never. If you see them on eBay, report 'em as frauds. Not for my sake (as I said before, I don't see any money from any of this) but because we don't want some poor person taken for their money because some unscrupulous loser is sitting in a basement turning out DVD burner copies of the thing. Yes, I've seen it happen, and yes, I've called eBay down on them. I've felt unclean for doing it, but also felt that it had to be done.

Posted by jbz at 3:43 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

Compare this to a blowjob and some missing files.

It just blows my mind.

Posted by jbz at 3:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005


Damn BoingBoing for having all this stuff I just gotta get. Even if they got it second-hand. I mean, I need this. Now.

Don't you?

Posted by jbz at 4:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Oh yeah.

There was a Baconfest. You missed it, unless you didn't. I didn't. I am swimming in nitrates. Swimming, I tell you. It is good. The tenth (my God) Baconfest was...just as good as the others.

Many points to Daren Chapin, who managed to both play Asshole and bottle-feed within...well, some improbably short time period. And that's bottle-feed someone else, people. Not his homeslice self. And to Kermit, for commuting to NYC from the fest for a Batmitzvah, and returning again, to continue drinking. To Dave Burbach, for being the only member of the fest to have punched his ticket at ALL TEN ITERATIONS. These are but a few of the heroic feats performed.

Thank you all. It's two months 'till Baconfest.

Posted by jbz at 3:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Salt and Asbestos

So this other monkey brought in grasshoppers. In a baggie. For snacks. They appear to be smoked. He claimed they were like 'salty raisins.' After trying one, I can state that they are, in fact salty - but are like raisins only in the texture, in that 'there are now strange awful-grtty-between-the-teeth-objects-in-my-mouth' sort of way. Plus, they taste like overworked (read: burnt) brake pads tend to smell.

No sir, Mr. Fox sir, I do not like it. Not at all, sir.

Posted by jbz at 3:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

Addiction - sweat, ketones, shivering and lack of sleep.

And there you have it. If only it was substances - oh yes, there are programs for those. Instant versions for us impatient Americans if we can't take the time out of our busy self-destruction. No; no, nothing like that.

Much less destructive, but oh so insidious.

It's almost like work.

Weekday evenings, weekends, hours, days - I can't even begin to count.

Yep, it's World of Warcraft. And it's supplanted AO in my (BWAhahahaha*cough*) spare time. I sure hope those folks at Blizzard are hard at work on expansions, because when folks on my home Realm start hitting the level cap in droves, it's gonna stop being fun...and then what, go back to real life? Nahhhhhhhh...

They have this awful command..."/played". It just gives you the amount of time you've spent actually logged into the damn game. Mine passed over into 'days' and I stopped looking at it...and this was only a couple weeks into the darn thing.

This wouldn't be complete without a couple musings on what makes WoW attractive to me, other than my well-known addictive tendencies (quiet in the cheap seats, you). It's actually not all that impressive, technically - they've had all kinds of problems with it, and they've consistently wimped out in a classically American MMORPG fashion in their efforts to handle the load. Despite large and repeated beta tests, Blizzard was overrun with early adopters and load problems, and rather than deal with it by improving base stability and performance, they seem to have frantically increased their rate of 'instancing.' I understand that this is much more than a technical decision; it's intimately tied into the design of the game, from content to play flow to population load in zones to the amount of available quests to the simple stuff like the capacity of the 'helper processes' like the ships/zeppelins. However, it means that despite hearing impressive numbers like '250,000 people online!' I'm never, ever going to see more than a couple hundred at any given time - and if I do ever see that many, it's likely to be the last thing I see before my client gives out due to lag and load crash.

It's really, really, disappointing. As far as I'm concerned, the first M in MMORPG just isn't there yet. I hear that the Wish beta was cancelled by Mutable Realms today. Whatever else is said about Wish (and I know next-to-nothing, save where the servers were for the beta...heh), it was at least an apparent attempt to increase the performance of massive gatherings in virtual worlds.

All of the various problems exhibited by the MMORPGs in handling large number gatherings realtime bode extremely ill for my long-wished-for, and extremely overpromised consensual, overarching virtual space.

More on that later.

Posted by jbz at 12:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack