John McCann

I write it; you own it; that’s not right

In Content business on February 23, 2007 at 1:33 pm

A recent post by Terry Heaton delves into the issues behind the attempts by Google to convince the TV networks, and other copyright holders, to put their content on YouTube. According to Heaton, this situation is part of a bigger cultural and legal issue.

“There is more at stake in this battle than meets the eye, for the very nature of contemporary copyright law is what’s being challenged. It’s a touchpoint between the controlled distribution of modernism and the shared distribution of postmodernism, and I don’t think anybody really knows where it’s all heading.

I do know that the whole concept of copyright needs to be reexamined by lawmakers, because the public interest is not served by current law. Content creators aren’t served by it either, only the copyright holders — the elite and tightly-controlled world of music, film, video, print and artistic publishers — is benefited, and this artificial government only has itself to blame for its current conundrum.”

The concept of “shared distribution of postmoderism” refers to the distribution of content by multiple parties, not just the party who owns the content’s copyright. On one level, shared distribution does not seem to be the correct process unless the copyright holder agrees. That is clearly the way it has worked in most countries for a long time. As the record companies often say, without controlled distribution the artists will not get paid.

Heaton’s second point deals with this position; the content authors (the artists, writers, etc.) do not own the copyrights and thus may not benefit from distribution controlled by the copyright holder.

I am very supportive of this position because of my previous experiences. I wrote my first academic article while I was a PhD student at Purdue University and was elated when the article was accepted for publication by the leading journal in my field. My elation was reduced when I read the form that I had to sign; it required me to assign the article’s copyright to the journal. I had to give up all rights to the article, and even had to get the journal’s permission to hand out copies of the article to my students. This infuriated me because I had worked for over a year on the article and the journal had done nothing, absolutely nothing, to create the content.

I was told by my colleagues that I had no option. If I wanted to succeed in the academic world, I had to publish articles in leading journals, all of which required me to give up the copyright. I learned that it was even worse in some academic fields in which it was common practice for the author of the paper to pay the journal to publish it. Every time that I published an article or a book, I cringed when the dreaded copyright form arrived.

IMHO … no, make that IMAO (In My Angry Opinion), the content business is broken and needs fixing. So I applaud attempts by Google and others to design and implement a better model.


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