Copyrights are no joke

As I try to evolve as a blogger, I’ve become acutely aware that I have no full understanding of the scope of copyrights and intellectual property.

There are many reasons for this. The main is probably that I’ve spent too much time on Facebook where these rights are broken to unimaginable degrees as images, quotes, and more are shared, downloaded, etc.

The other reason is the more complex and – I think – the one that many people fall into: The valley of doom determining legal rights on intellectual property and what we (artists, authors, humans) feel the rights should be.

Copyright Symbols

Copyright Symbols (Photo credit: MikeBlogs)

Today, I was introduced to the ARS (Artists Rights Society) which has a mission to protect those rights in the legal arena. Having had some experience finding groups which purport to protect rights but which are actually just out to make a buck (through member dues, lawsuits, fees for rights to use, etc.), I was (and remain) skeptical about ARS’s motivations, even if I agree with the fight.

But even more surprising was – with a quick Internet search – an article I found from the New York Times from last year by Patricia Cohen. The article begins by telling how ARS fought James Cameron on behalf of Picasso’s heirs over the use of an image of one of the artist’s paintings in the movie, Titanic. They eventually won and Cameron agreed to pay for the right to use the image. But what astounds me is that Cameron – arguably and artist himself – didn’t initiate the process to get those rights.

And then the article continues with another example where derivative works were used by director Julian Schnabel in the biographical film, Basquiat, against the desires of the artist’s father, his heir and owner of the intellectual rights. Schnabel refused to even negotiate, which is apparently not uncommon for big buck films to do. Just like big corps (which they really are anyway) they’d rather pay a fine and get a slap on the wrist for violating someone’s rights because they make a much larger profit than they lose in fines.

If big corps want to be legally viewed as people, then we need to hold them to the same standards. Maybe the way to do that is to make fines for violating things like this start with a minimum and grow in proportion to the amount they make by using the intellectual property of others. For example, say the minimum fine is $1,000 with a percentage of20%. If they make $1,000,000 on a film which uses Picasso’s images without proper rights obtained, their fine then grows to $200,000 and continues to grow as long as they continue to profit without the proper right to use.

That would surely cut into their profit margin and make it considerably cheaper to just request rights from the beginning – which is exactly why I know this or any similar model won’t be adopted. I’m sure I’m not the first to think this is the way to right the wrong.

Which is exactly why organizations like ARS are very important. I just hope they are true to their mission and not a wolf in disguise.

Intellectual Property and YOU

Intellectual Property and YOU (Photo credit: Thomas Gehrke)

As many on WordPress do, I rely greatly on Zemanta and Creative Commons for the images I use to supplement my original images. I have to trust in them that these images are free to use (without modification and with link and credit) but when I read in the NY Times article mentioned above that powerhouses like Google Art Project can even be guilty in this arena, I have to fear for myself too. Unwilling violation of someones intellectual property and copyright doesn’t change the illegality of the action, however innocent.

Copyright 2013 by T. E. Wilson

One response to “Copyrights are no joke

  1. Pingback: The song, “Happy Birthday”, will enter the public domain in 2030 | Below Zero | Above Infinity·

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