Protecting Copyright and Innovation in a Post-Grokster World

On Wednesday, the full Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on “Protecting Copyright and Innovation in a Post-Grokster World,” with testimony from:

  • The Honorable Mary Beth Peters, U.S. Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office, Washington, D.C.
  • The Honorable Debra Wong Yang , U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California , and Chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee , on Cyber/Intellectual Property Subcommittee , Los Angeles, CA
  • Marty Roe, Lead Singer, Diamond Rio, Nashville, TN
  • Cary Sherman, President, Recording Industry Association of America, Washington, D.C.
  • Gary Shapiro, President and Chief Executive Officer, Consumer Electronics Association, Arlington, VA
  • Mark Lemley, William H. Neukom Professor of Law, Stanford University Law School, and Director, Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology, Stanford, CA
  • Ali Aydar, Chief Operating Officer, SNOCAP, San Francisco, CA
  • Sam Yagan, President, MetaMachine, Inc. (developer of eDonkey and Overnet), New York, New York

Details about the testimony continue after the jump…

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Insanity Later

As I’ve been reading reviews of Serenity (previously discussed here), one criticism that comes up repeatedly– particularly in reviews on niche film sites, rather than in the major media– is that Serenity looks or feels like television and not a major event film.
In fact, there seems to be a condescension among film reviewers (particularly those writing for niche film sites and magazines rather than the mainstream media) towards the television medium. This reflects the business reality of Hollywood, where movie budgets dwarf those of their small screen brethren. Shooting a major motion picture in the neighborhood brings in about 300% more crew and equipment than a Law and Order shoot. In the Hollywood pecking order, movies stand ahead of television. This is probably obvious to anyone working in the industry, but as a mere audience member, it’s something I’m just figuring out.
But while film is a director’s medium, television is a writer’s medium.
In film, the director runs the show. The screenwriter delivers the script, but is often treated like the second-class citizen. The director is the go-to guy. In television, the executive producer/show runner controls the writing process. T In television, the directors come in for an episode at a time, while the executive producer/show runner oversees every episode and overall story arcs. (Individual directors and writers get to leave their marks on an episode, but the exec producers and show runners are the center of the television universe.) Writers like Joss Whedon, David Chase, Mitchell Hurwitz, or the team behind Lost are the driving creative forces behind their shows.
So, is film is about look while television is about substance? Not entirely– it’s just that film has a greater potential for developing the visual aspects while television has a greater potential to develop more intricate stories. So, while television may represent a smaller business than film, it is a medium that allows and rewards telling much more ambitious stories.
A television season offers much more scope to develop plots and characters than a 2 hour film. In her review for the NY Times, Manohla Dargis misses much of the quirkiness of Firefly: Scruffy Space Cowboys Fighting Their Failings: “‘Serenity’ works nicely as a movie, although in blowing his television series up to the big screen, Mr. Whedon has lost some of the woolliness that made “Firefly” such a pleasant oddity.”
Seth Stevenson in Slate thinks that the film medium is too limiting and Joss Whedon should stick to television

Perhaps Whedon figures he now has the clout to control a movie set. But I think his skills—imagining every nook and cranny of an intricate fictional universe; conjuring an ensemble of nuanced characters with complex, long-running relationships—are actually far better suited to television. When he’s got a TV show humming, Joss Whedon, bless his pasty, dough-faced soul, is the most gifted serial storyteller alive.

Stephanie Zacharek in Salon misses the pacing of serialized episodic television: Serenity

My problem, I think, is that “Serenity” dredges up some of the same feelings I have when a movie adaptation of a book I love just doesn’t measure up. I’m so used to “reading” Whedon in the long form — so used to riding the rhythms of his television series, rhythms he sustains beautifully week after week, season after season — that “Serenity,” as carefully worked out as it is, feels a bit too compact, truncated. That’s less a failing on Whedon’s part than a recognition of the way TV, done right, can re-create for us the luxury of sinking into a good, long novel.

While Firefly featured 9 main characters, Serenity is bogged down by having to keep all 9 occupied while only really featuring Mal and River. Television manages to develop plots and characters that can not be done in 2 hours on screen. Episodic television is more ambitious, at least in terms of story, than a film. Arrested Development also has 9 core characters, and it’s only a half-hour show. In 92 years on television, The Simpsons have had to feature more and more secondary and tertiary characters just to avoid recycling plots; yet, somehow, we’re still waiting to learn more about Disco Stu’s backstory.
Lost is even more ambitious in exploring at least 12 main characters (and that’s after killing off one last season.) Lost manages to combine the look of film with the broad narrative scope of television. Shot on location in Hawaii, Lost looks more cinematic (read: expensive) than almost anything else on television.
Well, almost anything except the The Sopranos. Like Lost, The Sopranos combine the cinematic approach to presentation with the television approach towards plot and characters. And we only have to wait another year for the next season.
These shows are actually better adapted to long-form DVD than serialized television. Firefly only hit its stride in DVD sales. Viewers were able to see the episodes in order (and not only on Friday nights.) But it also allows viewers to skip to the next chapter in the story. Lost is actually paced better watching 2 or 3 episodes at a time rather than an episode per week. Arrested Development needs repeat viewings to catch all of the jokes and asides.
Or, maybe I’ve been watching too much TV lately.
Previously: Serenity Now

Hollywood and IP

In an interview, Serenity writer/director Joss Whedon mentions that it might not be a bad idea for studios to look the other way about certain bootleg merchandise. The CulturePulp Q&A: Joss Whedon (be aware, the full interview will spoil major plot points of the film, but not this excerpt):

Q. You’ve also done an absolutely smashing job of ignoring the massive amounts of bootleg “Firefly” fan merchandise…
A. I’m a Deadhead, and where I come from, bootlegging’s a good thing.
Q. If the movie’s a hit, and more official merchandise starts coming out, do you think there’s going to be a crackdown?
A. I have no idea. I never have a piece of merchandising; I haven’t reached a place in the Hollywood DNA chain where I can actually ask for that. So it’s not like I’m losing money.
But even if I was? You know, I’m doin’ fine. I have a job. I’m doing just fine. And the fact that people are making this stuff? You can call it “bootlegging” or you can call it “free advertising.”

Note that these are not knock-offs of official merchandise, or unlicensed shirts with the Serenity equivalent of a picture of Yoda or Bart Simpson, but fan-created products that have to do with minor plot points/secondary background information from the film and television show. These are a way to capture fan energy in ways that the studio or director might never contemplate.
I recently came across screenwriter Josh Friedman’s blog, I find your lack of faith disturbing, which is very entertaining– probably because he can, you know, actually write well. In addition, a couple of his posts can teach valuable lessons about entertainment law practice.
One post explains why credits matter in films: “A shared screenplay credit on WOTW [War of the Worlds] puts my son through school. K thru Graduate. All private if he wants. He can probably bring a friend.”
Another post demonstrates why having a entertainment savvy lawyer is very important:

So he recommends me a cheap lawyer friend of his who I find out later only came to this “lawyer gig” late in life. What he really wants to do is park his Volvo near the beach and sleep. But hey, he’s got one of those law degree thingies so I figure what the fuck. He then proceeds to negotiate a contract between me and the producers WHICH ALLOWS THEM TO OPTION MY SCRIPT FOR $2500 AND THEN RENEW SAID OPTION EVERY YEAR UNTIL THE END OF TIME.

Fewer Indecency Complaints

This week, the FCC released statistics showing that the number of indecency complaints received by the Commission declined significantly during the last quarter of the year. In the first quarter of 2005, the Commission received 157,016 complaints about indecency. In the second quarter, the Commission received a mere 6,161.
This chart looks at the number of complaints received by the FCC about indecent or obscene programming on broadcast television and radio since the beginning of 2002, by quarter. The increase in complaints can be attributed to large-scale mobilized operations that have participants send form letters. The Commission notes that the data may include duplicate complaints.
indecency_graph.png
Download: indecency_graph.pdf
In addition, during the second quarter of 2004, the Commission received 20 complaints about “Howard Stern Commentary.”
Previously:

What happened to the “Amazing”?

This season, The Amazing Race is taking on a different look. Instead of teams of 2 linked by some kind of pre-existing relationship (married couples, dating models, friends, co-workers, clowns, virgins, etc.), this is the Family Race, with teams of 4 related people. The team dynamics are, obviously, different. The logistics of traveling with six people (four team members plus camera and sound operators) are more difficult than traveling with four. But this race looks like it doesn’t even plan to be amazing.
Brooklyn (yay!) to Lancaster, PA? That’s not very amazing. That’s pretty boring. Without the travel, language barriers, culture clash and multiple forms of transportation, this isn’t an Amazing race. And multiple tasks in NYC but no subway navigation? At least the cameo was appreciated here.
TAR9 will go back to the classic formula. I’ll check back in then and hope the show has a long run without having to hold off production to do another family edition.
In contrast, tonight’s Lost was very good.

Shameless self promotion

Besides blawging, my other big revenue-negative hobby is music. In particular, I play saxophones and keys with The Bosch, and we’re releasing a new album. It’s called Buy One, Get One and will be available for the first time at the CD release party on Tuesday night, Sept. 27, at Pianos (158 Ludlow St. in New York), at 10pm.

Here is the track listing (links go to MP3 files):

  1. Come On, Phillie
  2. The Movie Director
  3. Metronome
  4. Matching Girlfriend
  5. Teenage Symphony
  6. Back to the Laboratory
  7. Zombie Killer
  8. Napoleon Invades Russia
  9. Tell the Doctor

What’s on the Replay

With the new tv season, there are actually things on my DVR worth watching.
Arrested Development picks up as the best show on television. Jim Cramer upgrades the Bluth Company from “triple sell” to “don’t buy” and the company celebrates with a “mission accomplished” banner. Lucille goes off mood-altering drugs after hearing “some kind of scientist” on the Today Show.
I have watched a couple of episodes of the new Battlestar Galactica and it looks interesting, but it is difficult to figure out what is going on without having seen the miniseries/pilot and first season.
Family Guy has done very well in its second chance. Maybe its because the Simpsons are no longer as relevant as it used to be or because Family Guy has finally staked out its own identity, but Family Guy is wonderfully inappropriate.
Kitchen Confidential doesn’t seem like it will be as edgy as its source material. It seems like the show could end up being very sitcom-y, despite being shot single camera. It’s hard to tell from the pilot if the show will be witty or witless. It could go either way. I’ll stick with the original Chef Bourdain.
Lost opened by solving one mystery (what’s in the hatch) by posing an even bigger, what is that in the hatch? Why is it there? An article in the NY Times indicates that the creators have a plan for the series and aren’t making it all up as they go along: The Laws of the Jungle

But the creators do know how the series ends. The survivors will not learn they are part of some dastardly experiment, or discover they are in purgatory, or wake up from a bad dream. “These guys get off the island,” said Mr. Cuse.
Then, nearly in unison, both men add, “If it’s an island.”

This reminds me of a bit from a Simpsons episode (not surprisingly); Lisa On Ice:

[in the future, Lisa is being sworn in as President]
Chief Justice: I now pronounce you President of these United —
Reporter: Stop the inauguration! I just discovered our President Elect got an F in second grade gym class!
[crows gasps; Lisa is handcuffed]
Chief Justice: In that case I sentence you to a lifetime of horror on Monster Island. [to Lisa] Don’t worry, it’s just a name.
[Lisa and others are chased by fire-breathing monsters]
Lisa: He said it was just a name!
Man: What he meant is that Monster Island is actually a peninsula.

Hopefully, that’s not what Cuse and Lindelof are planning for the Lostaways.
My Name is Earl is the best of the new shows with buzz. The SF Chronicle’s Tim Goodman describes the appeal succinctly: “What we’ve got here, essentially, is a dim-bulb, belatedly big-hearted Sisyphus.”
The Office may not be as good as the British original, but the show is paced differently than any other comedy.
The Amazing Race: Family Edition will probably not live up to the “classic” seasons. It may be time to watch Season 1 on DVD.
The Simpsons is now starting its 16th season on the air. After season 7, the show started to go downhill. It’s up from the worst of the new era, but there isn’t much new left for the Simpson family to do. Although the material on the latest DVD release (season 6) far outshines the new episodes, the show is still funny, just not as funny or clever as it was during its heyday.

The planets in proper alignment

Oy va Voi and Balkan Beat Box @ Irving Plaza
Yesterday, I got tipped off to a klezmer show at Irving Plaza, and boy, a I glad I went. Oi Va Voi and Balkan Beat Box are two bands that take klezmer and other eastern european music and mix them with dance beats and other modern elements.
Oi Va Voi takes klezmer themes and pairs them with danceable beats. They will be playing again on Sunday in Riverside Park around 6 PM.
As good as Oi Va Voi were, Balkan Beat Box were even more engaging. Combining electronic beats with influences from jazz as well as eastern european, mediterranean and near eastern music, the songs are very unique. The set opened with the band parading through the crowd wearing masks and playing drums and horns. They even got a NYC crowd dancing. BBB’s new album is out on JDub Records and is available on iTunes.
James Carter @ The Blue Note
On Sunday, I caught James Carter play the last night of his week at the Blue Note and came away less impressed than the previous times I’ve seen Carter. Even though the organ trio is a format that serves him well, the set lacked focus.
Carter is like a painter who has colors in his palette that other painters simply don’t have access to. Other improvisers have fewer avenues of exploration, but can combine them in a more coherent manner. Chris Potter, for example, shapes his solos very well– each time, he takes the audience somewhere with a specific destination in mind. Carter wanders aimlessly in various directions, which is enjoyable because of his skills, but less focused than other brilliant saxophone players.
This particular ensemble, with and guests James “Blood” Ullmer on guitar and Hamiet Bluiett on bari sax is ne of the best that Carter has led. A live CD recored at the Blue Note, Out of Nowhere, is available on Half Note records.
Other upcoming shows of interest
The Bad Plus, through Sunday @ Village Vanguard
The Walk Ons, tonight (Friday) @ Crash Mansion, 10:30
Sam Champion, CD release show, tonight (Friday) @ Mercury Lounge, 11:30
On Sunday, Magnetic Field is hosting Atlantic Antic on Sunday 9/25 with The Ponys, The Hong Kong, The Soul Shakers, Detachment Kit, The Dansettes playing outside on Atlantic Ave.
The Bosch, CD Release show, Tuesday, 9/27 @ Pianos, 9:30
Electric Six, Fri. 9/30 @ Bowery
Beck, Thu.-Fri. 10/6-7 at Hammerstein Ballroom. On Thursday, McRorie opens.