Taking out Contracts on Creators?
The organisers of the Oil of the 21st Century have a text, both poetic and inexorably accurate, where they point out that when the content industry claims to be protecting artists, they are increasingly (!) referring to dead authors:
“Human history is the history of copying, and the entirely defensive and desperate attempt to stall its advancement by the means of Intellectual Property – the proposition to ressurect the dead as rights holders and turn the living into their licensees – only indicates how profoundly recent advancements in copying technology, the adaptability and scalability they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, are about to change the order of things. …… The spectre that is haunting Intellectual Proprietors world-wide is no longer just the much-lamented “death of the author”, but the becoming-producer and becoming-distributor of the capitalist consumer.”
For ‘intellectual property’, read copyright, which extends past the death of the author, often for an additional seventy years. When the copyright industry seeks another extension to the scope and duration of exclusive rights, they are attempting to increase the licensing value of their archives rather than help the proverbial garret-dweller in the fight to pay rent, fill the stomach and buy pencils.
The point is a good one, but is ripe for additional amendment- there are after all a few artists still breathing. Successful artists and cultural creators do not need to join the deceased in order to get killed off so far as a fair share of revenue from their work, and control over its fate, is concerned. When Tony Soprano orders an OBE* contract on someone, he of course means it metaphorically – Tony is a man with clear ideas as to what lawyers are useful for, and that does not encompass the operational aspect of settling scores or negotiating with hitmen. The movie, music and software industry do, however, take out creators in a very literal way, through the use of contracts.
Principal weapons in this vile practice of elimination are the work for hire clause in both cinema and software, and unfair accounting practices in music. The former case turns the limited company created for a film production into the effective author for legal purposes, whilst the latter ensures that the risk of failure is carried by the musician. Courtney Love made no bones about the villainous nature of record contracts as some readers may remember, and the Recording Artists Coalition regularly make similar points. One doesn’t hear as many complaints about the work-for-hire clause, partially becasue the material situation in the industry is dealt with through the various industry labour negotiations. One thing is sure however, the immediately interested party as far as film copyright is concerned is rarely the director or the actor. Just a small thing to bear in mind next time you listen to Dan Glickman and other industry representatives.
*One Behind the Ear, a dark Irish pun on the UK honours system.
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