kNOw Future Inc.

law, technology and cinema, washed down with wine

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.

August 15, 2007 Posted by | /, cinema, copyright, law, music | 1 Comment in Drag?

Since the USTR made it clear to Russia that constituted an obstacle to the latter’s entry to the WTO, the writing has been on the wall. Visa and other payment companies withdrew service from the site in January, and now the site has disappeared, without much of explanation. In a formula reminiscent of another epoch, ‘closed by the Kremlin’ is all we are to be told. In the meantime the company behind the domain name has launched a new operation,, which by all accounts provides a stunningly similar user experience, to the point that user names and passwords from the deceased site function on the new arrival. Methinks the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry will not be amused.

July 3, 2007 Posted by | /, copyright, music, technology | 2 Comments

SellaBand: Musicians and Users Together At Last?

Whilst in London a friend drew my attention to a web operation called SellaBand. What piqued my interest is its similarity to the model for cultural financing proposed by Bruce Schneier and John Kelsey some years ago in an essay called The Street Performers Protocol, which was one of the texts which inspired me to explore the construction of alternatives to the outmoded copyright culture. They began from the desire to find a method for financing cultural production which would not rely on restricting the downstream distribution of the works, and thus have no need for digital rights management or tracking of user behaviour. Their schematic was modelled on the trust management in cryptographic networks: a musician would release some tunes to publicize her music, and then ask for specified amount of money in fan contributed in return for the eventual release of the the rest of her work. These donations would be held by a trusted third party, who would hold the money in escrow until the musician delivered on her promise to release the rest of the album. At that point the cash would be released and the music made available without copyright or technological restrictions of any type.

SellaBand signs up bands to receive ‘investments’ and allows their fans to finance them. When the amunt of money invested in a given band reaches 50,000, they provide a producer, studio and A&R personnel to make an album. Each of the original fan investors receives a physical copy of the music. The music is made available for free download but generates advertising revenue, and copies of the album are sold at concerts and in other situations. But here is the kicker: the revenues from advertising and CD sales are shared between the band, SellaBand and the fan investors. In addition no further shares in the band are sold once the 50,000 threshold has been attained, so the number of people receiving a cut will always be limited.

Anpother nice element to the scheme is that the groups partiipating are not contracted exclusively to sellaband, so if they get offered before or after recording the album they can decide to take it and leave without complication. Likewise their fan investors can decide to reallocate their investment to another band at any point up until the 50,000 figure has been reached. I have to say that I like this admixture of gratuity, non-exclusive deals for musicians and the mobilization of the viral marketing of an ardent fan-base. Two of the bands on the SellaBand slate have already made their 50,000, Nemesea and Cubworld, and the site has taken in 500,000 in investments since opening in August last year. This seems like a reasonable approach to the new techno-cultural environment and let’s hope that it strengthens as a tendecy as the Majors continue to fight a losing battle attempting to repeal history, and persecute a lot of music and film lovers on the way.

March 7, 2007 Posted by | /, music, social cooperation, technology | 1 Comment