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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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May 6, 2004

Video Art or Copyright Crime?

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Posted by Wendy Seltzer

The New York Times reviews Jon Rouston's movie theater videos, shots of the screen, audience, and ambience at various opening-day movie showings. Critic's Notebook: When One Man's Video Art Is Another's Copyright Crime . The problem is that this art has been outlawed in many states. That's a side effect of the broad anti-camcorder statutes the MPAA has been pushing on many states, including California, despite the fact that its own insiders leak most movies to the public pre-release (study PDF).

It used to be the critics who'd tell us whether art was good or bad, original or imitative. Now it's the lawyers. As the reviewer comments on art's impoverished field:

It does not matter whether you think that Mr. Routson's work is good or bad art; it is quite good enough, in my view. It does matter that the no-camcorder laws may not do much to stem pirating while making it increasingly difficult for artists to do one of the things they do best: comment on the world around them.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Abuse


1. Allen on May 6, 2004 1:49 PM writes...

This is sheer speculative FUD.

I'm sure that if he has a reputation in what he does, the cinema's would allow him to continue his work. His work doesn't seem to prejudice the showing of the film: he's not causing lost profits or other sort of damage. Arguably, if he didn't have a reputation, then it would be easy to understand why the cinema might turn him down because they wouldn't know whether he was "trying it on".

Artists have difficulties in other areas. Try photographing landscapes near a military base. Try using your children in your art. Try a reggio style photograph of industrial machinary.

In all these cases, where the boundaries of the work intersect with other interests, there are tensions. It's good that there are tensions to prevent abusive practices. In many cases, good faith approaches can overcome this: gain permission before hand. If you can't gain permission, but the subject matter is important: there are public interest defences.

If the article was going to be objective: it would have asked the opinion of the cinema owners and movie producers. They may well have said that they'd make consideration for his work.

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2. AdamThomas on May 6, 2004 6:01 PM writes...

I agree. The NYT piece improperly conflated the California arrests with the end of Mr. Rouston's filming.

I also believe the Reuter's piece confuses the sources of copyright violation. Despite the use of the word "Separately" to differentiate Sprague from Camcorder infringers, nesting the two occurances in the same article without contrasting the reality of source infringement is equally FUDish.

On the use of metal detectors in movie theatres:
The moment AMC starts making me take my shoes off before seeing a flick, they're going to have a tough time blaming piracy on decreased revenues.

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3. Wendy on May 6, 2004 6:26 PM writes...

Sure there are many barriers to art already, but that's no reason to add more. Copyright law -- and now quasi-copyright -- in particular is always a restriction on speech, and art on the boundaries is a good way to see the effects. Artists shouldn't have to ask permission, and the copyright fair use defenses are often strongest for those works to which a copyright holder would never grant permission. But the camcorder statutes don't have fair use defenses.

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4. Allen on May 7, 2004 10:36 AM writes...

It is preferable that artists should not have to ask permission, but it's an honest approach to the world that realises that there are boundaries in place, and sometimes those boundaries are there as a result of the abusive minority who cause disporportionate difficulty for the majority (or, at least, another non-abusive minority). It's nice to camcorders or copyright, but the real issue are peoples actions.

Now, I disagree with the concept of camcorder laws per se, but I don't disagree with the right of the cinema to prohibit them from being used once it discovers that they are being used in a damaging sense (i.e. to produce movies that are distributed and possibly do cause people not to see a paying performance). I don't see the point in codifying yet another statute that could be covered by contract/confidentiality/etc in relation to entry conditions for going into the cinema. But I do see the point of restrictions being put into place.

- sympathise with the artist who now has hurdles, as an inevitable consequence of abusive minority;
- take issue with over-statuteification on issues that should be covered by common law principles;
- don't shoot copyright because it's not really copyright that's at fault;

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