kNOw Future Inc.

law, technology and cinema, washed down with wine

Filmpiraten Crush Austrofascists (at first instance…)

An Austrian court issued an interesting judgment this week. A leftist film collective, Filmpiraten, took a court case against the far-right Freedom Party of Austia (FPÖ) for copyright-infringing reuse of material published on youtube under a creative commons license. The video at issue documented antifascist protests against the Viennese Akademikerball, an annual event held by the FPÖ  which has been the target of demonstrators for many years.

Filmpiraten publish their work on the website and on youtube under a BY-NC-SA license. this means that others are free to use the material without permission providing the use is non-commercial, the work is attributed to them, and that whatever work is created downstream using it is distributed under the same licensing conditions.

The FPÖ operate their own youtube channel which includes a program called FPÖ-TV, published as work in which copyright is claimed. The court case thus concerned a violation of Creative Commons licensing terms under which the Filmpiraten had made their work available. Where a would-be user of material available under a CC license does not accept the licensing conditions, they must make a licensing agreement with the copyright holder in the usual way. Unless they are using it on the basis of one of the statutory exceptions (criticism, commentary etc).

In any case the Filmpiraten were successful in the Viennese court, so this is a significant decision for anyone interest in the treatment of CC licenses in the courts. The FPÖ will appeal. The newspaper report from Der Standard is available here (German).

September 2, 2016 Posted by | /, Austria, copyright, licenses | 1 Comment

Copyfarleft: An Anarchist Gema?

I covered elements of Dmytri’s political critique of Creative Commons in the post below. For the full version I’d recommend the article that he co-authored with Joanne Richardson, Copyright, Copyleft and the Creative Anti-Commons. Now I want to move on to Kleiner’s proposal for an alternative approach to CC which eh outlined at the Oil event, as it is not dealt with in the paper. His approach takes existing organizational structures in copyright, and gives them a marxist twist.

His suggestion is to establish a form of cooperative which would function in the same way as the copyright collection societies, such as GEMA in Germany which collects licenses for musical performances. Members would assign their copyrights to the cooperative, which would issue free non-exclusive licenses to other members.This is a similar modus operandi to that used by the Free Software Foundation who collect copyright assignments from their contributors, and then grant back a series of guaranteed permissions which form the crux of software freedom. Non-members could still use the works but would have to negotiate and pay a licensing fee in the normal manner. The original twist is in the criteria for membership of the cooperative, which would be limited to those who do not employ wage-labour or capital-intensive technology in producing cultural works; Dmytri referred to these as the non-alienation clause, and it’s worth unpacking it a bit.

It is well documented that the vast majority of those using alternative licenses (Creative Commons, Free Art License etc) choose to apply restrictive non-commercial clauses to the reuse of their work. Effectively this negates the potential of the licensing system to impact on the mode of cultural production. As a (re)user you still have to get permission and are subject to what economists call transaction costs. Free software successfully altered the economic landscape of programming by enabling the accumulation of a large arsenal of code which any programmer could use for the purposes of their own work, thus saving them time, provided they complied with the terms of the General Public License. Kleiner locates people’s unwillingness to surrender control in their fear of exploitation, and at least in some parts of the Creative Commons ‘constituency‘, he is obviously on the button. It pains me to remember innumerable number arguments with video-makers unwilling to release their work for fear that they be ‘ripped off’ by a television station, as if Rupert Murdoch was just waiting for them to lower their license guard to give them a good shafting… He argues that if free use is only available to those following a method of production available to any cultural producer, regardless of their means, these fears can be assuaged. To give a practical example, this would mean that someone making a film on their own using off the shelf (probably pirated!) software on general purpose computers would be free to use images or music produced by other members of the co-operative, and would also be allowed to sell the resulting product and support themselves. On the other hand, a production company with fifty employees, using bespoke systems and dedicated animation workstations, would never be allowed ‘free use’ and would have to negotiate fees to clear the use of any works made by members of the co-op. In Kleiner’s framework, any license fees colected in the use way would flow to the co-op rather than the ‘individual’ creator, and would be reinvested in the expansion of the resources of the internal commons.



Copyfarleft essentially reformulates familiar problems from the creative commons discussion but arguably succeeds in framing them in a more interesting way. For those who use the non-commercial clause as an avatar for ‘keep satanic corporations away from me!’, he actually provides a means of identifying the ‘satanic’. But at a practical level, as a license, it would undoubtedly finish in the same theological attempt to ‘count the ‘number of angels you can fit on a pin’ which lies at the core of the non-commercial clause’s inanity. Let us recall at this point some of the basic issues raised by the latter. Site A offers works available for free and makes money off them by monetizing public attention through advertising sales. Site B sells .avi video files with printed covers at the cost of production and postage. Are either, neither, or both of these sites commercial? If one thinks about the alienation clause for ten seconds similar problems emerge: I make a film using unwaged labour, from youngsters who don’t have the money to buy a computer suitable as a basic video-editing machine, and then trade on the reputation gains of the output so as to make money in secondary activities (speaking, teaching, punditry) – has alienation take place? Has anyone been exploited?


Whilst the proposal has obvious conceptual difficulties, my real critique is a bit more unkind, which is that I think it projects desires from another political age onto an unwelcoming terrain. Effectively this framework expects people to apply a high-level political analysis to their online production, and this dies not jive with my perception of people’s motivations, which are complicated, contradictory and far from having the consciously contestational intention that Kleiner’s proposal implies as a given. In short his demand is for politics with a heroic capital P, in an age where the small ‘p’ is the fertile field of agency. Let me put it another way: there’s no problem in loosely aggregating millions of people around a diffuse pro-piracy/anti-copyright program, because it rhymes with their own interests, is composed of (a) negative thinking and (screw the industry!) (b) small homemade constitutive acts (rip!), and (c) the absence of heavy ideological baggage (all political shades love it!). Try and interest the same people in drawing up a political program that addresses the complexity of modern social organization and you’ll retain the attention of about .1% of them. Maybe 1.1%, if you can make them laugh with reasonable frequency.


In addition to the political problem, there is the matter of the lessons of recent history. Scrutiny of the story behind GNU/Linux, Wikipedia and any of the other really successful attempts to create functioning economic resources for their users, have proceeded by putting usability first, and limiting the political dimension to that which is directly pertinent to that field of activity. A totalizing critique of capitalist social relations simply has provided the base for a large-scale collaborative enterprise in the web so far. And there are some groups who are giving it a crack.

But now it’s late, so I’ll conclude. At a later point it will be worth taking a moment to consider how useful the contributions of Carol Rose, Elinor Ostrom and the scholarship on common property regimes/common pool resources could be.

Notwithstanding my criticisms, I really enjoyed Dmytri’s talk, and found the terms of the discussion much more stimulating that the usual drivel which is uttered when rooms fill up with pseudo-lawyers floundering around technical terms of art. With Mako and Jamie King, I used to joke that licenses should either be precise in their purpose like the GPL, or so outrageous as to open up other dimensions of reflection or satire – I always imagined it as a dadaist subversion of legal boilerplate. In Copyleft, Kleiner has managed to apply a similar method to good effect.

November 22, 2007 Posted by | /, berlin, copyright, licenses, oil21, social cooperation | 8 Comments

A Creative Commons Conspiracy?

Dmytri Kleiner gave a presentation as part of in its new premises the Wiederaufbau für Kreditanstalt, titled “Copyfarleft & Copyjustright – the critique of Creative Commons”. Those interested in such critiques may be interested in a short piece I wrote in 2004, as well as a much more substantial and articulate essay written by my friend Mako Hill, Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software Movement.

The substance of Dmytri’s argument is that whilst copyleft licenses such as the GPL are about users’ rights, Creative Commons (CC) is about producers’ rights and is not concerned with building a commons in the traditional sense – where it functions as an economic resource – at all. Instead Kleiner sees CC as an operation whose objective is to muffle the conflictuality expressed through the various expressions of anti-copyright culture which were incubated in the 80s but were massively bolstered by the emergence of the online environment and the opportunity it offered to move from critiquing the theory of copyright to a rejection of its control.

Whilst agreeing with much of the substance of the criticism of CC, I shy away endorsing what seems like a pretty tidy theory whereby CC was instrumentally created to quell the rising tide of anti-copyright. For example I’d argue that as soon as it became clear that the gate-keeping role of distributors of cultural works was in crisis, it became obvious to many people that there was an opportunity for many other cultural producers to get a part of the limelight, and that this would necessarily take place on terms which were different to those traditionally imposed by the cultural industries. Standard copyright provisions in this sense represent the inherited form of industrial regulation, designed by and for those with a stake in the old organization of cultural production. Lawyers of course wondered how they might manufacture themselves a role as advisers on rights issues, and offering an a la carte menu specifying permissions and reserved rights was an obvious way to do it. I know this because the idea occurred to me, too. So something like CC was always going to be born, it is a child of its time, a zeitgeist.

There is also a more historically specific and contingent aspect to all this. CC is Larry Lessig’s project to a significant extent, and has been the locomotive of his own views which are wide-ranging and not limited to the field of copyright. Co-founder James Boyle, for example, appears puzzlingly AWOL when it comes to ideologically contextualizing CC. CC came into the world after Larry’s defeat in the Eldred case and many years spent pushing a narrowly legalistic agenda, whose objective had been to persuade nine supreme court judges to adopt a conservative scheme of interpretation to overturn the legislature’s capitulation to Hollywood lobbying embodied in amongst other laws the Sonny Bono Copyright Term extension Act. By 2000, failure in court had called time on this strategy and it was time for a new one. Lessig confessed his errors in Free Culture and moved on: CC was the result. In addition 1999 had seen the explosion of p2p onto the landscape of legal conflict, and it was clear that somewhere down the road there would be a challenge to these technologies under one or another theory of secondary liability for copyright infringement. In such a situation it would be necessary to demonstrate that these technologies had substantial non-infringing uses. The last time a major case was fought on this issue involved the video cassette recorder in Sony v Betamax, where the fact that there existed some producers of broadcast television materials which did not object to copying, and some uses – “time-shifting” materials for later viewing – considered legitimate, cumulatively brought the technology within a space where it was allowed to exist even if it could be used for purposes infringement.

Millions of people are today using CC licenses that permit the reproduction of their ‘content’, such that any means of digital communication can have a significant non-infringing use. If one is searching for an instrumental explanation for the establishmnet of CC, I think this is it. And it has been successful, at least to the extent that when the Grokster et al. went down in the Supreme Court, they went down on the basis of a completely different theory than that used in Sony, a precedent most of the judges simply skirted around.

Ok, I started with the intention of writing about another aspect of Dmytri’s talk but got distracted. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about the proposal for an anarchist GEMA (the German collective rights organization similar to ASCAP).

November 20, 2007 Posted by | /, berlin, copyright, licenses, oil21 | 1 Comment

SIAE Copyright Police before the Advocate General

Late night discussion in Oslo turned to copyright enforcement in Italy, specifically the practices of the Societa Italiana degli Autori ed Editori (SIAE), a collective rights organisation. All CDs, Books, Software and DVDs must be registered and carry a small stamp sold by the SIAE at about 3 cents a pop. All live performances of music must make contact with the SIAE and provide a list of songs played and pay an appropriate license. I was amazed to hear that the Perugia office alone apparently employs six people, and that they systematically catalogue all posters on the city streets in their search.

Today the Slovenian Advocate General to the European Court of Justice, Verica Trstenja, issued an opinion on an interesting case challenging the SIAE’s practice. A german national Scwibbert, resident in Italy was the subject of a criminal prosecution for failing to have a SIAE stamps for CDs containing paintings by, amongst others, Giorgio De Chirico. His alleged offense is only the failure to afix the labels; he was in possession of the necessary rights and thus there is no claim of copyright infringement.

The Italian technical regulation was challenged as being a ‘measure with equivalent effect’ to a barrier to the freedom of movement of goods, and in breach of the requirements set out in Directive 98/34 on the ‘provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulation.’ Italian law required the stamps to be used with books prior to 1998 but later extended the scheme to cover other objects. The AG’s position is that the expansion required notification to the EU, and this not having been done, the trial judge in Forli should have refused to apply the provisions. Opinions of the Advocate general are not binding and are intended to guide the Judges of the ECJ, so this story may not have ended yet.

June 28, 2007 Posted by | /, copyright, european union, italy, licenses | Leave a comment

Film and Appropriation – A Very Tricky Business

In editing studios people often quiz me as to the whther they can use elements of such and such a film, and it’s becoming rather depressing not being able to give them a straight answer. Let’s take something apparently simple first: public domain works. Unfortunately there are quite a few movies cruising the internet under a Creative Commons PD licence which, well, are in the public domain at all…. This is what happens when you have an infinite number of jurisdictions and rules in continual change. Take Russia. There extended their copyright duration in 2004 from 50 to seventy year after the death of the author. Now Dziga Vertov died in 1954, so without the change, “Man With a Movie Camera” would certainly have entered the public domain in 2005. But maybe it’s public domain elsewhere, but filmmakers who want to distribute their works over the net need to theoretically be clean everywhere.

These divergence are an order of magnitude worse when it comes to fair use/fair dealing.

Then there’s the question of protection for sound recordings. Prior to 1972 they weren’t protected by federal law in the US. then you find a case like Capital Records v Naxos to tell you that in fact they are protected at least in New York by State Law! This is the stuff of hair loss – 50 more states to add to the choice-of-law soup.

Of course what happens is that on a functional level deals are done, warranties provided only for certain markets, which correspond with specific jurisdictions. But at a time when web distribution, either on demand or retail, is accelerating, it’s snubs reality. Oh well. Bandit filmmakers don’t need to worry, along with filesharers – the jurisdiction problem for business correlates, curiously, to the difficulty of cracking down on unauthorised uses where no cash is being made of the results.

June 1, 2007 Posted by | /, cinema, copyright, law, licenses | Leave a comment

Mini-Report from Fordham International IP Conference

As mentioned elsewhere, I haven’t missed the Fordham IIP conference for years. Oriented largely towards the intellectual property industry, both in the sense of practitioners and those industries driving up the protection rachet, the value I extract from it is in inverse relation to the sympathy that I feel with the perspectives usually expressed; I learn from listening to those whose views I oppose. Unfortunately this year my participation was curtailed due to work commitments, so I missed an essential part of the gig, namely compere High Hansen’s acidic jokes at the expense of all the nabobs present. My pal Mako suggests that this is in fact the secret elixir behind the events repeated success: the bigwigs come with sado-masochistic urges, to see/hear themselves abused by Hansen, and take pleasure in the sight of others receiving the same treatment. Perhapa this is a case for Slavoj Zizek?

At this point in the IP wars everyone has their roles well-rehearsed, so there were relatively few surprises or revelations. PhRMA representatives, media industry types etc bemoaned the fact that the oodles of extra protection they’ve received in recent years are insufficient to protect the vital work they’re carrying out from the assault by nasty pirates. Yawn. We heard from the IFPI how the three step test in the Berne/WTO convention on limitations and exceptions to copyright protection is excessively promiscuous, but they would say that, wouldn’t they.

Later there was a debate about the use of compulsory licenses on pharmaceutical products in Thailand, a current hotspot for this conflict (along with Brazil and India). The Thai government has issued CLs on second generation AIDS treatments along with another drug for treating heart disease, enabling them to make treatment accessible for their citizens at much reduced prces. Opponents to this policy have learned a thing or two over the years, so there was no vulgar ‘let them pay or let them die‘ talk. Instead the adversaries were incredibly boring and emphasised supposed procedural faux-pas committed by the new (military) government rather than arguing the policy.

Jamie Love made his usual well informed contributuon, pointing out that Italy has issued compulsory licenses on several occasions in recent years without great controversey (most recently a prostrate drug in March of this year). One deduces that it is a lot more difficult to demonize, isolate and berate an EU country following a progressive policy on these subjects than is the case with a nation in south-east Asia. Industry representatives pointed out that Thai government ministers are raising their own salaries of its own ministers whilst cutting the health budget, and this is a valid point: politicians suck and line their own pockets (universal truth) but that’s no reason to pay the extortionate prices charged by the pharamaceutical industry as a global racketeering operation.

During the next session there was an update from Victoria Espinel of the United States Trade Representative, which is not an institution I like. Their most recent sin is their annual section 301 report ( a sort of grade-card on each country’s compliance with US interpretations of international copyright standards). She was all excited because they have just been allocated a whole new office dedicated entirely to IP and Innovation. This is worrying as a text-book example of institutional behaviour: the USTR has grown on the back of an aggressive expansionist IP policy, which is now being consolidated in the institutional DNA – a seperate new office can only be understood as a reward for their contribution so far, so the message is obviously continue on the same tack…

Espinel did have one positive nugget to communicate however, which is that with the recent Democrat takeover of the House Way and Means Committee there is apparently pressue on to revisit some of the terms of recent Bilateral Trade Agreements with developing countries. Panama, Peru and Colombia have all recently signed deals with the US and it seems that many democrats regard the IP tems as having been too exacting and wish to relax some elements, which is good news.

May 20, 2007 Posted by | /, copyright, events, licenses, pharmaceuticals | 1 Comment

Film, Licenses and Legal Formalities

Today we finished shooting in the San Francisco/Bay Area. Since my last report we had an intriguing conversation with archivist Rick Prelinger (and met his partner Megan Shaw Prelinger, designer of the serendipity organization of the Prelinger Library). The next day we shot a good interview with EFF attorney Fred Von Lohmann in Dolores Park near the Mission, and then continued on into the early hours of the morning with technologists Peter Eckersley, Aaron Schwartz, Raph Levien and Lisa Rein; suffice it to say that it was a wine-lubricated marathon that concluded with the hardcore falling asleep on the floor 😉 In the morning I woke up to the realization that whilst San Francisco may be sunny, it combines this with a schizophrenic coolness that goes right to the bone. That night we visited the Other Cinema, lair of the experimental and appropriationist politcial fimmaker Craig Baldwin (director of Sonic Outlaws amongst other works). His studio is a wonderland of curiosities and media ephemera, and we filmed him set amidst the piles of abondoned 16mm film that constitute the raw material for much of his media archeologies. Sunday was spent with a very thoughful Seth Schoen of DeCSS haiku fame, and intrepid investigator of media industry efforts to hardwire control into hardware. Thereafter it was further ruminations with the Eckersley.

Today was utterly mental as we packed in many missing elements: in the morning there was a visit (which I blamelessly missed) to Howard Rheingold, then it was a dash over to berkely for a cyclone speed chat with historian and agitator Iain Boal. After lunch we saw Brewster Kahle from the Internet Archive, before speeding back to Berkeley for a truncated meeting with lawyer Pamela Samuelson. Lastly, reeling with exhaustion, we returned to SF to visit Bram Cohen, inventor of Bit Torrent, in their spanking new offices in downtown.

Having overheated mentally this is not the right time to write. I would merely note that we are thinking a lot about the license under which the film will be released, and what we should do with the out-takes. Previously theoretical questions are now very immediate. Given that this work has some funding we are obliged to cross every ‘i’, including obtaining clearances from each of our interviewees. This poses some interesting problems and dilemmas regarding the licensing options. I will expand on this later this week. Worth noting is that the only person to look over the standard form attentively was Brewster Kahle, who made his signature contingent on the addition of a commitment to make the film available on the website – fair play Brewster!

April 24, 2007 Posted by | cinema, licenses, p2p | Leave a comment

Putting Freedom Back into “Free Culture’

Today I want to make some comments about a fraught term, free culture, and a project undertaken by Mako, Erik Moller and others – Freedom Defined. When Creative Commons was founded in 2002 there were already several licenses developed for cultural works, upon their arrival the permutation of choices multiplied and the consequences became more confusing. Somewhere, within all this choice, the essence of the endeavour was lost – what positive goal were its advocates trying to achieve? Instead, we finished up with a bewildering array of boilerplate legal documents, each one apparently designed for discrete purposes, and no inspirational vision – unless the slogan ‘some rights reserved’ gives you goose-pimples. New ideas need an easily communicable crux, and legalese will not do the trick. Choice is a good thing, but for it to be useful people need to understand the implications of their selection, and copyright is a pretty technical field whose workings are neither intuitive nor transparent.
Continue reading

February 20, 2007 Posted by | /, cinema, communication, copyright, licenses, social cooperation | 1 Comment

A Commons for Creators or Consumers?

This is an article I wrote in early 2003 for film-makers, reprinted here as a prelude to some remarks on work recently undertaken by my friend Mako to develop a ‘definition’ for ‘Free Culture’. Rather than semantic quibbling, the fight over its meaning goes to the heart of the conflict over the future production of culture. Une traduction francaise est disponible ici. C’e’ anche la versione italiana.

From Anti-Copyright to the new Commons

The legends ‘anti-copyright’ appeared first in the late 1980s in DIY music fanzines. The music industry was in the midst of a jihad: “Home Taping is Killing Music!” they screamed, a time not unlike now in sun. Meanwhile, in a not so distant universe, programmers had moved from rejection to subversion of copyright laws, experimenting with the General Public License propounded by the GNU project. The license returned freedoms taken away from users by copyright and required that those who built upon this code make their own source code available in turn. This quality is what gives the ‘copyleft’ license a ‘viral’ quality. Licenses protect the user from legal action so long as the terms and conditions are observed no contact with the ‘author’ is required. You are free to reuse provided every modification and improvement becomes available to all.

Barnraising in Illinois

Following the completion of the GNU/Linux operating system in 1992, the GPL’s fame spread like wildfire and began to spawn imitators in domains outside of software. Artists, writers, musicians and film-makers created a babel of different licenses granting to users rights that were taken of them by a copyright law in constant expansion. These licenses were inconsistent with one another and none managed to galvanise a sufficient community to start a movement akin to what occurred in free software. This wasn’t surprising; text, music and video each have their particularities and cannot be treated as being the same as software. But the GPL taught a lesson: by putting things in common it was possible to change the way software is produced, build the only serious opposition to the Microsoft monopoly and stop the continual theft of programmer’s knowledge through employment contracts that gave companies exclusive control over the final program.

Cut to 2002. Creative Commons is formed to bring this idea of freedom to culture. It is not the first, but sponsored by Larry Lessig and many outraged at copyright expansion, it quickly becomes the most succesful. The core of the project is a software engine that produces custom licenses on the answers to three questions:

  • does the producer insist on the association of their name with the work (“attribution”)? (automatic in later versions of the license)
  • is it available for any form of reuse or only non-commercial activity?
  • can new (derivative) works be created from it and if so under what circumstances?

Two Visions

Two divergent and clashing conceptions in the use of CC licenses become evident.

Continue reading

February 17, 2007 Posted by | /, copyright, licenses, social cooperation | 2 Comments

Mix and Mash: CC Online Video Remixing Competition

Creative Commons UK today launched a competition for recombinant video online. The theme is “Britannia Rules, Britannia Sucks” and submissions should be three minutes or less in duration. The site contains extensive links to resources for recyclable materials available under CC or in the public domain, whilst yours truly wrote some guidelines on using copyrighted works under the fair dealing clause. Winners will receive high-end camera, be featured on the frontpage of Google Video and have their films screened at the National film Theatre in London.

I’m curious to see what kind of stuff will turn up, particularly because examining the fair dealing cases again brought home once again the absurdity of the law.

February 9, 2007 Posted by | /, cinema, copyright, licenses, social cooperation | Leave a comment