We have run across a quite long and not at all Web-like article (all the more reason to like it!) that originates a new way of looking at modifications and copyright. To the age-old question “Don’t I have to pay Jack Valenti to caption Shakespeare in Love and post it on the Web?” the answer, from Kevin Carey of a U.K. organization called humanITy (love the capitals), is “You’re asking the wrongquestion.”
As far as Carey is concerned, we need a new way to authorize and pay for future modifications of an artwork when those modifications are necessitated by a change in audience (e.g., suddenly you want to air Coronation Street in Italy) or medium (Webcasting Coronation Street). In “Provisional But Forever: Two Faces of Internet Publishing,” Carey spits out gem after gem after gem, like a South African diamond-smuggler.
- Terrestrial broadcasting... has assumed that its main function is to make an offer of content which is optimally accessible. Ir emember with a deep sense of pain those childhood Saturday-evening entertainment shows with a slightly risqué comedian for dad, dancers for mum, a ballad singer with an accordion for granny and a pop group for me; we all hated each other’s pieces but there was no alternative. Too much ghetto broadcasting would drive away the mass audience.
It is a mistake to see this purely in terms of medium. An all-sport television channel looks more like publishing than broadcasting and many major newspapers look like broadcasts.
[T]he information you provide has a potential unlimited life and with relatively simple tools can be made accessible, as well as available, to very wide audiences. These two concepts – accessibility and availability – are often treated as if they were interchangeable. If a government puts a 500-page technical report on its Website [BSE Inquiry, anyone? –NUblog] it is universally available but hardly universally accessible.
Now the key objection to this approach is that any customisation, even through the use of a temporary file, somehow perverts the initial intention of the author of the intellectual property. Somehow, if she set the text in blue on a crimson background her integrity is being violated if we change it to violet on green.... But we really have to get away from the absurd 19th-century idea of art as in some way sacred and separate from the rest of human existence; we have to think of information provision as a craft, the main point of which is the ability of the consumer to grasp as much as possible of the author’s content....
If you follow the development of Haydn string quartets, you will notice that as well as being musicological it is dynamic; the later quartets written for public performance in halls accommodating up to 800 people had to be very different from those intended for a salon soirée. Today’s self-styled purists would be staggered at the extent to which Mahler altered the instrumentation of his symphonies to accommodate them to different concert halls.
In insisting on a sharp distinction between the creator of intellectual property and its manipulation by mass media we are losing the opportunity to think more clearly about preserving the essence of the author’s intention in spite of adjustments to the means of communicating it.
[Euro-copyright] has simply examined the old rules of copyright for traditional media and has ignored aspects of content alteration which are made possible, and sometimes necessary, by multimedia,such as:
- Simplification, e.g., through the use of language engineering tools within a language
- Transcription, e.g., putting text into braille or automatically generating subtitles
- Elucidation, e.g., transforming simple key words into hyperlinks
- Enhancement, e.g., adding graphics to a difficult text-only document
- Interpretation, e.g., providing parallel commentary
- Interpolation, e.g., creating marginalia within a file
As an author myself, I would be prepared to allow anything to be done to my work along the above lines as long as any successor file has a route back to the original which I created and, therefore, implicitly acknowledges my work and the contribution ofi ntermediaries.
One of the most important requirements for text-only websites is that graphics should be described.... Great paintings are notoriously difficult to describe so the obvious route is to link graphics titles with art-gallery catalogue archives rather than trying yet once more to describe the smile on the face of the Mona Lisa. You save time, provide a better service and, on that basis, can be paid for the routing rather than the direct provision.
This Carey guy rocks pretty hard, doesn’t he?
He’s missing a few points. Elsewhere, he complains that rightsholders demand renegotiation for every subsequent technology. Well, that may be true after the rightsholder has extorted fullr ights from the creator, but not otherwise.
What happened to the other half? Ethically, it’s yours, but the publisher extorted all rights and can do what it wants.
Fair-dealing provisions (and, in the U.S., fair use, which is notably different) already allow you do to things like add hyperlinks. It comes under the rubric of “review and commentary.”
But in any event, a clarion call from Carey. You read about it here first. And, if experience is any guide,last.
Posted on 2001-01-12