Monthly Archives: April 2009

some cases for copyright violations, part two

There’s another scenario I want to examine, which covers the ground of a legally gray area when it comes to copyright law and fair use.  Morally, I think these scenarios are okay, but it’s kind of an examination more than anything about how our law doesn’t take matters of exceptions into consideration very well.  As a result, you get a lot of scofflaws who are breaking the law (voluntarily or otherwise) either because of ignorance or exercising what only seems fair, based on the commercial options presented them.

In fact, that’s where the real problems are created, when copyright and commercialism intersect and they don’t exactly meet up.  Specifically, the question I want to ask is, what would be the right thing to do when a work has never commercially been available, or has fallen out of publication completely.

While the two situations are slightly different, they both deal in the same area — archiving our public knowledge as a culture.  First, a throwback to an uncommon issue, one that I’ve personally run into quite a lot.

I’m a big fan of old time radio — radio shows that were broadcast over the air a long, long time ago, in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.  There is, without a doubt, some really great stuff that is out there, an entirely dead medium for the most part, dramatized storytelling, that has been pretty much ignored since it’s original broadcasts.  The problem is that this stuff is so old, and that recording this stuff for commercial use wasn’t even a consideration in the commercial world back then.  It is, in fact, a miracle that recordings of this stuff even exists at all.  A lot of stuff was on the airwaves once, never to be heard again.

An analogy comparing today’s technologies may be helpful.  Imagine that we had all our television broadcasts, satellite and movies as outlets to consume entertainment, but there was no way to record any of it.  No DVRs, no VCRs, no DVD players, personal video cameras, Blu-Ray, CDs, cassette tapes or DVDs.  The television show, live event or movie release would have its short day in the sun, its fifteen minutes of fame, and then disappear from the public mindset completely, and only live on in memory.  That’s exactly what has happened here, with old time radio.  It was all produced with no expectation or option of being recorded and redistributed later.  It was flash-point entertainment.

Now one effect of there being no option for public recording and copying and such is that the question of what the copyright status of these old entertainment shows is largely in question, across the board, for the entire medium.  If there’s no way to even create a copy, why bother with strict copyright laws or even securing a copyright in the first place?  As a result, the question of *who* owns the copyright on the original recordings is largely in question for almost all the series.  There have been cases where it’s properly been tracked down and secured, but these are by far the minority.  And even then, the owners generally shoot themselves in the foot and insist that no-one can copy them without their permission, thus removing them from people’s archives and getting passed over for the other stuff anyway.  It’s ironic how people often exercise copyright law in an effort to prevent “piracy”, only to ensure obscurity.

So, the question for this scenario is — what’s the gray area when there is no clear cut status on the copyright of a large part of media.  Is it okay to archive, download and share?  Most certainly, it’s public domain, either because copyrights were never secured or re-applied for.  Either way, though, nearly all of it was never commercially packaged and released anyway, and so there’s never been a legal way to obtain copies.

There are, of course, business enterprises out there who will sell you the recordings on cassette, CD, MP3 or otherwise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the question of copyright has been resolved in those cases.  For instance, you can go look at archive.org for lots of old films that have been put in public domain, and still go buy them on Amazon.com on DVD from a range of distributors.  The fact that a lot of old time radio is out there, both commercially and free, indicates that it’s clearly not a solid situation that has been resolved.  And I’m not talking about underground torrent, warez and other seedy sites that host this stuff, but rather lots of outlets that have been around for years that have this stuff for free, and haven’t been shut down.  I realize that’s a poor argument — assuming that someone hasn’t broken the law because they haven’t been prosecuted — but it seems to support my point that, if there’s no way to get it through the more “proper,” common commercial channels, it seems perfectly reasonable to just get it however you can.

Looks like I’m gonna have to split my second case up again, in another post.  This one’s already gone a lot longer than I expected. :)

Oh, and for the record, I have a large collection of old time radio.

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some cases for copyright violations

The whole Pirate Bay trial thing has gotten me thinking quite a bit about copyright, and I figured I’d post up a few more of my thoughts on the matter.  There are a couple of times where I think being able to freely download content online are justified, since you are in a sense already authorized.  There’s two scenarios I wanna cover.

The first one is, what are your fair use rights if you bought a copy (or a license as studios would prefer) to a work — does that legally mean that you can reproduce that copy if yours gets damaged, lost, or is defective?  That’s honestly an open question I’m asking myself, and I tend to lean towards the side that is alright to provide yourself with a copy of something you already paid for.

A small anecdotal example that happened to me recently, is I bought some DVDs of a TV show online.  I’ve been watching them at home on my DVD player, but one of the discs was having playback issues — it would skip and I couldn’t watch the entire episode.  The quality of the disc was irrelevant, since I bought the package new, and they were obviously in pristine quality.  I examined the disc and it didn’t have any earmarks of what looked to be a low quality product, so I put it back in the player and got the same response.

I figured it was a total fluke and just skipped over that one, and chalked it up to a rare case of bad luck on my end.  But then, the same thing happened on the next disc as well.  One of the episodes would stutter and I couldn’t get my DVD player to navigate around it … I had to skip the chapter completely.

Now, I had just barely bought this, so I was well within the reseller’s timeline of being able to return the discs for an exchange, but what if that wasn’t the case?  What if I bought a series set, and didn’t open it up and play it back until months or years later (which is, in reality, not a strange occurrence with me at all, considering I’m building a large archive).  I’d be pretty much screwed, as my receipts would be gone, as well as any records that I even bought the thing, most likely.  I probably wouldn’t even remember where I got it.

In a case like that, what would my rights be if I decided to fire up a P2P program or grab a torrent of the missing episodes that I couldn’t watch or rip myself?  Personally, I feel like I’m totally in the right, as I paid for my privilege (or license), and there is no other recourse except to substitute my limited physical copy for a digital copy of an infinite good.  As a collector, I’d be bummed that I didn’t have a working disc, but I’d still prefer to have the ability to watch it any format rather than none at all.

So there’s one scenario where I think that torrents and file-sharing could prove to be a reliable source — I can look at is a digital backup of everything I’ve bought that can be recreated in binary form.  I really doubt that the original producers are going to go through all the trouble and hassle of hosting backups of the data and verifying my original purchase, so I can use the online “pirated” library to my advantage.  Plus it could be seen as a boon to them, they wouldn’t have to pay for the infrastructure to host it.  But, anyway, I want to examine the legal issue, not the business one.

Meh, I’m running out of steam.  I’ll cover the second case later. :)

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something wicked this way comes

I just noticed this post this morning from my feed for Soundtrack Collector — there is a new release for the score to the Disney horror movie, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” This is actually pretty interesting, because it’s the first time it’s officially been put in print. The release is also a limited edition (only 3000 copies), so if you want one, you’d have to hurry.

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James Horner did the score, and I have to say, it is one of the most interesting and original ones I’ve ever heard. The range of emotions this one manages to capture in music is just stunning. It’s not one I listen to regularly, but it is great, and easily recognizable. Horner also did probably the best one I’ve ever heard at all — the score to Krull. Another one not to be missed in this lifetime.

I’ve actually already got a copy of the score on CD. Even though it was never officially licensed for release, there was a very nice bootleg that was produced, and I managed to snag a copy on ebay a few years ago for a really hefty fee (oh noes, I’m a pirate!). It was worth it. :)

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And look, I just noticed, I was the one to provide the track listing for the website’s database. Heh.

For some reason, the bootleg has three tracks more than the other one, but is only 47 seconds longer in recording length too. Interesting. I might have to pick up a copy and compare the two. Either way, both of them are collector’s items.

If you’ve never heard of or seen the movie, I’d recommend checking it out. It’s spooky. I think the screenplay was written by Ray Bradbury himself, though I can’t remember. A lot of his stories are great, of course. Plus this movie was in the period when Walt Disney Productions was stretching their legs with genres and putting out some amazing films in the mean time. It was in this era that titles like TRON, The Black Hole and Watcher in the Woods also came out. Just watching it, you’d never guess it was produced by Disney, that’s for sure. They had some originality back then.

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the law, morality, and fair use

Just so everyone doesn’t think I’m an anarchist scofflaw, I figured I might as well post a follow up (already) to my last post.

For the record, I don’t take much interest in politics and law in general, and my personal approach has always been one more of practicality and principle more than anything else (do good, don’t harm your neighbor). In that vein, fair use seems evident as long as I’m doing no specific harm when it comes to something simple as ripping DVDs for personal use. I can understand, practically speaking, the Hollywood side of it (even in their misguided capitalist philosophies) that legally given any loophole, it will be abused by those skirting the law. Practically speaking, though, honesty is the best policy. Simply say that something is wrong and expect people to abide by it and everything will work out wonderfully. That doesn’t happen of course, which is why we have laws and then enforce them. Unfortunately, just as there are unjust people, there are unjust laws. And that’s where I get a bit confused as to where the line should be drawn when abiding by them.

Religiously speaking, as Latter-day Saints, we believe in upholding and sustaining the law, and so as a matter of congregational membership, I’ll confirm that as my stance as well.

Joseph Smith, when asked what the basic precepts of our religion were, compiled a short list which was later considered as modern-day scripture and compiled collectively as the Articles of Faith. The 12th (of 13 total) states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” As a matter of principle, I think the 13th actually applies just as well when it comes to proper government: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul–We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”

As things go down the crapper for this nation, as our civil rights and liberties are systematically removed, I often find myself wondering how much we are held to the 12th Article of Faith to sustain and uphold the law, when it is completely unjust. Historically, in the Book of Mormon, the Lord has preferred an evil, corrupt government to none at all. I’m not going to go into great detail of the story, since you can read it in 3rd Nephi (starting around chapter six for the actual events, but reading the whole book would encompass much better the whole story), but I’ll try to paraphrase some points the best I can.

The Nephites (native Americans, circa 30 to 32 A.D. at this point) were having internal problems nationally from secret societies who were trying to overthrow the democratic government in order to establish a king. Well, they succeeded in killing the chief judge (the leader of the gov’t), but instead of establishing a king, a mix of anarchy and mobocracy established itself, and the people united into tribes.

Very shortly after was the death of Christ in Jerusalem, and there were great storms in the Americas that changed “the whole face of the land” and destroyed many cities. In chapter nine of 3rd Nephi, the Lord Himself bemoans the destruction of the people, and mentions many of the great cities that have been destroyed. Of the people that destroyed the government, this is what He had to say: “And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.”

I’m not going to claim to be a religious or historical scholar, but I find the whole thing interesting. A corrupt government is better than none at all, though I’m having trouble figuring out why. I can only infer that it is because it provides *some* certain rights, privileges and peace to the people that without that basic structure, it makes the Lord’s work even harder. I suppose, in a sense, it’s simpler to reform government by reforming the people individually than it is to massively recollect a divided continent of people wandering in lawlessness. I’m just guessing here. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, when it comes to the moral ground of obeying unjust laws, I’m a bit perplexed on the matter of what stance we should take. I haven’t made it a serious study, and if I did, I’m sure I’d find some answers, it’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I thought I’d do a bit of a brain dump on the matter.

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the law may change, users not so much

Two things are going on currently that affect how users access their media: the Pirate Bay trial and the Hollywood vs. Real trial. I fully expect Real to lose the battle, and will be considerably surprised if they don’t, and Hollywood will somehow say that ripping DVDs is illegal. However, I don’t think anything is really going to change.

As far as the Pirate Bay losing it’s trial (and will probably have a retrial), I don’t think the execs are really thinking things through too well. That’s pretty much self-evident to start with, as personally I see torrents as nothing more than free advertising, but the consequences are going to be severe. TorrentFreak has an excellent article they posted recently titled, Why Everybody Lost the Pirate Bay Trial, and I see their prediction as dead-on:

“.. thanks to this trial the next generation of file-sharing sites will be much more secretive. The next mutation of The Pirate Bay will have no subversive rhetoric and won’t mock the labels and studios chasing it. It will be silent. It won’t respond.”

I think a similar thing will happen with the DVD ripping trial … when Real loses, their software will go off the market, as well as a lot of commercial options that rip DVDs as well. But the software won’t go away. It’s already out there. People won’t stop ripping DVDs. I know I won’t. Personally, I feel justified to do what I want within my home with whatever I legally purchase. I don’t see it as a licensing issue since I don’t sign away any rights when buying the physical products, so I ignore their self-installed prohibitions as to what I can and cannot do with my physical property. I also feel justified since I am not making any copies that are given away to anyone else, but I think it’s absolutely incredulous to think that a backup for myself can somehow be contrived as unauthorized.

Anyway, the law may change, but users who think their fair use is getting trampled are just going to ignore it anyway and continue doing things their own way. I can’t really say I blame them.

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knowing

I just got back from watching Knowing in the theater. It was freaking awesome. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I saw that the director was Alex Proyas, I knew I was in for a rare treat that I wouldn’t forget. And I was right. :)

He’s also directed, among others, The Crow, Dark City and I, Robot. I’ve never seen The Crow, but I absolutely love, love, love the other two. What’s really interesting is there are some common humanity themes between his movies, which I really won’t go into now because I don’t wanna spoil the movie for anyone.

But if you like dark, quirky, original, interesting movies, then go check it out.

Plus, the score was really good. I just bought the soundtrack on Amazon. I can’t wait to give it a good listen.

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tv shows on youtube

After reading for about the fourth time about how YouTube has full TV shows online, a la Hulu, nobody had an actual freaking link …. so here’s a link to the alphabetical listing.

I’m looking around right now, and my initial impression is that they’ve kinda done what Netflix has — dumped the stuff that nobody really watches or is interested in all that much. A lot of these, I’ve never even heard of.

Or, they do something weird, and just randomly pick the seasons to display. Star Trek: The Original Series — enjoy Season Three. MacGyver, Season Seven. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: one episode from the first season.

Well, whatever .. it’s a step in the right direction, even if it does feel like a total shotgun approach.

Edit: Just noticed this …. this is hilariously awesome and bad. I loaded up the one Alfred Hitchcock episode, and right in the beginning, you see this small visual overlay from the DVD player in the top right corner. I recognize it, because my Sony DVD player does the exact same thing!

Don’t tell me they did what I think they did — took an analog rip? That is, just hooked up some RCA or component cables and ripped it that way? That’s the only way I can think of they’d get the output for a player on the final video. That is awesome. :)

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