October 23, 2011

House Lights: S.978, showbiz, and you

Before I say any more, do take a look at this video recorded on behalf of Huntington (Long Island), New York singer/songwriter Patricia Shih (I wish they could have come in a little tighter on her, but hey) and enjoy this little "flash mob" action from 11 October 2011, meant to support the Huntington Arts Council (whose funding was being targeted for budget cuts).

Oh, and by the way, this one was clearly made with no harm meant to the creative team behind the classic Broadway musical Damn Yankees:

©2011 Shih Enterprises, Inc.

Thank you. Now take a look at the lead story in this 3 October Tubefilter episode with Marc Hustvedt (you're welcome to view the balance of it, but it's the first story I'd like to you to note):

©2011 Tubefilter, Inc.

Yes, I wish the first story was a joke, even a late April Fools' one. But there's nothing funny in S.978, according to OpenCongress::

The bill would make web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a prison sentence of up to 5 years. That means you could go to jail for posting a video to YouTube with the wrong background music, all in the name of protecting big media companies that don’t want to update their old business models for the age of peer–to–peer sharing.

And there is a lot of money being wagered that this bill will become law. Many of the names will be all too familiar (Disney, Viacom, Sony, Universal Music, some very powerful unions, and the usual lobbying groups). And look at the names of the officials being showered with that cash to go their way.

By now, you may have heard that a new digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future is hitting back with a campaign that should make more than just a certain teen idol's fans especially fearful. Because while Justin Bieber may be the biggest of the names to possibly run afoul of S.978, future teen idols aren't the only ones who may take a hit.

Go back to Patricia Shih. The celebrated musician (and a close friend, I should disclose) could also face jail time for her take on "You Gotta Have Heart" even though her target wasn't Broadway but the Huntington Village Board (and she wasn't alone, as you no doubt noticed).

Underground filmmakers, such as the notable Damon Packard (Reflections of Evil, Space Disco–One) could also get hit with the full force of this bill. Ditto mash–up maestros whose inventive takes on pop apparently haven't swayed the minds and hearts of music execs who wonder why their clammy junk hardly ever moves (hint: shouldn't you let a DJ take over and tinker with it?).

What troubles your Projectionist even more is the potential damage to the "Fair Use" clause of the United States Copyright Act, which does allow for the sampling of fragments from Copyrighted works (as in the Tubefilter episode shown above, by the way) for the purpose of commentary and criticism, so long as the samples are worked into an entirely new work. The folks who are Negativland certainly understand this; so do the Media Education Foundation, even if you find their efforts less than stellar (Consuming Kids had to be one of the worst "agenda" flicks I've ever seen — and I actually agree with the points made in that one).

While I could go further, I believe action will indeed speak louder than words. OpenCongress will let registered users (USA only, of course) take action by urging their elected officials to defeat S.978; you can also take action at the Free Bieber site if you feel more comfortable there. Those outside the USA can also do their part to educate people about wrong–headed legislation like this and the damage (intentional or unintentional) it can create if not stopped.

Look at it this way: The next flash mob video you save could be your own.

Just remember Patricia Shih.

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