Friday, February 10, 2006

Why Intellectual Property Issues Should Be Important to You

It's really not just for tech-dorks - consider the consequences of an overly narrow definition of 'fair use':
Looking for concrete proof as to the bad calls and having made the mistake of not TiVoing the game, it dawned on me that this was the perfect opportunity to check out Comcast's Video On Demand (VOD) service. My thoughts were rewarded when there (among the piles of useless shows) was a replay of the game.

I pressed play and was a little surprised to see that the replay was actually a condensed version of the game. "No worries," I thought, "I don't need the whole game; the highlights will do just fine." However, it quickly became apparent that the game wasn't just condensed -- it was edited.

Gone was the Daryl Jackson play where one foot landed in bounds and the other hit the pylon. Touchdown? Gone was the phantom hold call. Gone was any discussion over whether Big Ben actually made it into the end zone. Gone was the flag being thrown on the Hasselbeck's tackle. Cynics might argue that the game was edited to support the NFL's conclusion of "proper officiating."

To make matters worse, it was edited and put together by the content owner, the NFL.

This is where "Fair Use" is so important . . . Sure, it might seem trivial. It's a sporting event. Who cares? However, consider the greater ramifications. What if it weren't a football game? What if, instead, it was CSPAN and the "contest" was a debate? To safeguard consumers' rights viewers must always retain the ability to view, snip, edit, transcode, etc. content as they deem necessary. Consumers need the ability to send video clips to their friends, post them on their websites, etc.. At the trivial end the subject line might read: "You're seriously calling *THAT* a block?!" However, unless we protect that subject with vigor we might just never see the subject line: "You won't believe what he said in the debate."
(Emphasis mine). To quote Mark Kleiman's tagline, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." Of course, if you can just edit out the inconvenient bits...

Update 2/11/06: Ahistoricality has related thoughts.

By way of further discussion, I think this raises interesting questions as to how to treat non-written information in the digital age. "Facts" are not copywritable - to what extent should 'images' (or audio recordings) of live events be seen as facts, as opposed to original works? It's not hard to imagine a scenario where the defining video of a play such as Roethlisberg's TD(?) takes on Zapruder film-like significance, and that leads to all sorts of nastiness, including, but not limited to, Oliver Stone films.

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