Friday, December 21, 2007

Greeks Bearing Gifts


The words "educational purposes" seem to be getting a new meaning at the industry-funded Copyright Alliance. Posing as a social marketing group aimed to prevent an abuse of basic human rights, the group is running ads with mournful performers and tag lines like this one: "It seems almost every day some special interest group calls for weaker protection of
copyrights—which threatens her livelihood and much, much more." Of course the lobbying of the MPAA and RIAA against the interests of educators is certainly supported by many special interests contrary to the general public's desire to reuse and remix content for creative, educational, and critical purposes.

Particularly laughable is the claim that independent documentary filmmakers, who currently shell out huge fees for each pop song accidentally playing in the background or splice of a news clip that's necessary for story-telling, are big supporters of the effort. The Documentary Filmmakers' Statement at the Center for Social Media seems to be making a very different argument. (For those who don't like big words and legalese, there's also a Disney version on YouTube.)

As an educator who frequently explains particular aspects of a historical period, philosophical position, or cultural aesthetic with a clip from a movie, what I find most repulsive is the fact, reported in "Copyright Alliance Proposes Wiki to Help Professors Get Permissions for Classroom Use" in The Chronicle of Higher Education, that this group wants to create a false sense that there are only a limited number of listed permission-granted films that they would be in charge of listing. Not-for-profit live screenings used directly in the context of teaching such as mine are currently protected by case law involving fair use. Siva Vaidhyanathan has called the bid to roll back precedent under the guise of a user-generated content interface "outrageous."

The group also hosted a one-sided pseudo-academic "symposium, according to Inside Higher Ed.

For a site that claims to put a premium on originality, I thought it was funny to see how much of the content on the site is recycled from others, from the trite "Lesson Plans" from other anti-file-sharing and anti-downloading campaigns to the predictable party line statements in "Documents and Research." I think the latter would only appeal to a student too lazy to go to a paper mill to get some stock "con" position papers on fair use.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Patrick Ross said...

Dear Ms. Losh,

I know bloggers don't hold themselves to the same standards as journalists, but it might interest you to know that even newspaper opinion writers reach out and interview people before writing about them. I'm disappointed you chose to launch an ad hominem attack rather than speaking to me directly, because you unfortunately have included numerous errors in your piece that undermine whatever point you were trying to make. A few select examples:

1. You say we are posing as a "social marketing group aimed to prevent an abuse of basic human rights." I don't know where you get that. We are an educational nonprofit promoting the view of the Founding Fathers, namely that copyright promotes creativity, jobs and growth. All of us win when the culture is enriched with creative works.
2. You say we are "running ads with mournful performers" bemoaning loss of their rights. Well, I work with many artists who say that ad sums up perfectly their plight. But we ran ONE -- count them, ONE -- ad, on May 17th in Roll Call newspaper. It's available on our web site, which surely is where you saw it. But we don't have the budget for an ad campaign. The "Digital Freedom" coalition, a campaign by the PR firm Qorvis Communications funded by the Consumer Electronics Association, frequently runs ads in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other expensive locations promoting the undermining of copyright. I wish I could compete with that, but frankly I believe speaking the truth on copyright in a grassroots fashion to creators and consumers will be far more effective than some slick ad campaign.
3. You refer to us as "industry-funded." This is true. You could also say "union-funded." You could also say "artist-funded." All of those things are true. We accept donations and grant membership to anyone who believes in artists' rights, but that doesn't give any of those members control over our agenda.
4. You said we hosted a "one-sided pseudo-academic symposium," then insulted "Inside Higher Ed" by attributing that to them. Read the article you link to. They didn't say it was one-sided or pseudo-academic. Every single speaker on both panels was a member of academia, including fair use champions such as American University professors Peter Jaszi and Patricia Aufderheide. It is an insult to all of our participants (the agenda is on our web site under newsroom/events) to suggest it wasn't balanced or wasn't academic. We even brought in journalists to serve as neutral moderators. Several of the professors, including Peter, told me afterward it was quite valuable and should be taken on the road.
5. The proposal I made on working with universities to speed use of creative works that you criticize was made at that symposium (you should have read the Chronicle piece more carefully). If you had attended the symposium, you would have seen press coverage hasn't been completely accurate on this score. One of the themes of our symposium was the difficulty professors have obtaining rights clearances for works in the classroom. They seek permission months in advance, but sometimes never hear back. My proposal was meant as a conversation starter for our event. It proposed a wiki, where professors seeking permission for a work could post, and the copyright owner could post back saying no problem, no lawsuit risk there. Then other professors reading the wiki and wishing to do the same use would know they were safe, and could point this out to a pessimistic general counsel. It was meant ONLY FOR SITUATIONS WHERE THE PROFESSOR IS ALREADY SEEKING PERMISSION. This obviously has no bearing on the TEACH Act or fair use in general, since a professor who doesn't need to ask permission WON'T be asking permission. Siva Vaidhyanathan has a reputation for using his blog for vicious attacks without getting his facts straight, and a further reputation for being closed-minded to criticism or corrections, so I let his blog entry go. I don't know you or your reputation, so I'm hoping you're more open to learning new facts.
6. Your conclusion suggests we are against fair use. If you read our principles under About Us, you'll see we "defend the rights of creators to control their property, understanding the necessary balance of those rights with the public good." If you understand fair use, you'll understand that is our recognition of and embrace of fair use. Many of the creators I work with on a daily basis incorporate fair use in the creation of new works. No one wants to get rid of fair use. The creators I work with do value their property rights, however, and they aren't keen on a few non-creators out there trying to stretch fair use to the point where they can gain possession of my members' works without that creator having any say in the matter. That would be a formula for a rapid decline in the production of new creative works, and everyone suffers in that equations.

I sense from the hostility and aggression in your post that you are not open to having a reasoned conversation on this balance between creators' rights and how those works are eventually used by you and me. That's fine, I'm used to that. I do hope, however, that as a self-described student of "digital rhetoric" that you recognize that you made several errors in your piece, all by drawing false conclusions from third parties rather than going to the primary source.

Assuming you don't trust me because you assume I'm some corporate tool, I would at least like you to see the symposium you missed and incorrectly described. We recorded it and are having DVDs made. If you send me a mailing address I will happily ship you a copy as soon as it's produced. Then you can watch it and judge for yourself, and see why your impression of it doesn't match that of any of the participants or attendees.

Sorry to take up so much of your comment space.

Patrick Ross
Executive Director
Copyright Alliance

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Patrick Ross said...

Sorry for a second post, but I was just looking at the photo you chose to lambast us with. It features two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, Grammy winners Lamont Dozier (center) and Steve Cropper (far right). Tell me again why you're mocking our sole ad featuring a songwriter who doesn't want to lose her rights, and then explain to me why Lamont and Steve spoke at our launch in support of our group?

11:18 AM  
Blogger Liz Losh said...

Readers might be interested to know that I wrote back to the officially listed e-mail of Patrick Ross to get the DVD.

Given what has been described as my "ethnographic" approach to writing about digital rhetoric, I did sort of smile at his criticism. Readers might notice that I actually do about a half-dozen detailed taped interviews a year for the book I've been working on, and that this blog also contains a lot of verbatim quotation from talks, demos, presentations, conferences, etc. I'm not trained as a journalist, but I was trained in my Ph.D. program to be conscientious about what appears in print.

Mostly, I didn't see much new on the Copyright Alliance site, so I frankly didn't see much incentive to investigate further. If Mr. Ross chooses to contact me -- which is easy enough to do -- he is certainly encouraged to try to persuade me otherwise.

9:01 PM  

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