Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Open => Movies

A friend in Canada sent me a DVD at Christmas. It was a little different to your average DVD in that it contained another example of an open movie, and a very fine one too. But it's an open movie with a cautionary tale attached.

I'll get the good stuff out of the way first. It's called Sita Sings the Blues and tells a story from the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana, about the failure of Sita's marriage to Rama and its aftermath. This is juxtaposed with the breakup of another marriage; that of the film's maker Nina Paley. Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email.

It's an amazing film; moving, witty and beautiful. It also includes some lovely music, most notably songs sung by a lady named Annette Hanshaw, on shellac 78s from the 1920s and 30s.

Nina has released this movie under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence. As she says on the movie home page, "From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes." The reason I'm mentioning it here (other than that I really want you to watch this movie) is to remind you of how convoluted and counter-intuitive copyrights can sometimes be ... especially in music.

Those of you who have been on our course or read the book will no doubt recall that I explain that a recording of a song contains two different copyrights; one for the recording and one for the song itself. In most cases the copyright in a sound recording expires 50 years after it is first published but that other copyright continues until 70 years after the death of the longest-lived composer or lyricist. Nina wasn't aware of this until after she had completed the movie and had to apply for licences from the music publishers retrospectively even though the recordings were out of copyright; never an easy task. She achieved this but it cost her - personally - $50 thousand. The publishers, on the other hand, may have been tied into contracts with their composers that restricted their room for manoeuvre (although they did drop their original fees from over $200K!). I should also add that including music in a movie or TV program involves a thing called the synchronisation right, which is different from the mechanical right which allowed the recording to be made in the first place, and the performance right which would allow it to be played in public.

So Nina has paid personally to allow us to download or stream the movie for our own personal use. It's right there up to 1080p HD resolution ... donations accepted.

While we're discussing open movies, have I mentioned the Blender Foundation to you before? Blender is a very powerful open-source animation package. Someday I really want to get to grips with it. The organisation behind it - based in free-spirited Amsterdam - have made some movie 'shorts' to show it off. There are three so far and they are also really worth a look. They are released under another Creative Commons licence, this time the Attribution one. Elephants Dream is a surreal journey inside a giant machine, Big Buck Bunny is Rambo meets Disney (sort of) with rendered fur ... and Sintel is a cautionary tale about a search for a pet dragon (with fast action). Each movie tests another feature of the software.

You can find the three on Blender's Open Projects page.

My and finally is to ponder whether there is a way of explaining the intricacies of intellectual property (like copyright) so that anyone stands a chance of understanding it. Now that almost everyone is using and creating and publishing (over the internet), rights are no longer something for experts and companies: they directly affect everyone. Maybe we need some kind of Highway Code for copyright. What do you think?

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