Tuesday, October 23, 2012

U.S.A. - The most litigious country in the world.



I read that somewhere recently about the United States. 

I think it is probably true.

Everyone is so aware, so possessive of their rights. Right to privacy, right to love who you want, right to life, right to die, right to marry, right to divorce.

We are also greedy and vindictive and jealous and possessive and full of ourselves.  Affluence fosters this stuff.

Copyright and the right to copy.

I used an artist's sketch the other day without permission, he protested that I neither spelled his name right when linking to his site and crediting him for the work, he likewise protested I didn't ask for permission to use his work. Similarly, a famous Portuguese artist did the same with me a couple of years ago. I apologized, removed the art work, removed the link and will never ever acknowledge their existence ever again. I was using their work because I admired it, I wanted to use the work not only to illustrate my non-commercial, not for profit post of the day, but I wanted to introduce the artist's work to my readers. I thought I was doing them a favor, not realizing perhaps some people do not want to be associated with this blog - and they never will be again.

I have contacted well known artists for permission to use their work, and some have almost eagerly agreed to do so, while a couple of others were less than polite in refusing me - in fact rather puffy and condescending about it. Artists are special people... sometimes very odd... very moody... very jealous... I digress.

So. Is it a sin to use other people's stuff?

Oh. My. Goodness! Isn't everything a sin though? Our rights are violated all of the time!  In a day when people no longer understand the meaning of sin or hell, theologians and ethicist debate the number of sins dancing on a pixel. I know about intellectual property rights and the air space for sale above St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC. But still...

Anyway, a friend sent me the following from moral theologian, Germain Grisez:
What about the morality of this copyright infringement? Except when a property owner’s consent can be reasonably presumed, using his or her property in any way that goes beyond his or her expressed, limited permission is using it contrary to his or her will; and using anything contrary to its owner’s will is the same kind of act, morally speaking, as taking something from an owner contrary to his or her will. Provided the owner’s will in the matter is reasonable—which is to be presumed unless the contrary is established—the using is unfair and constitutes theft. Thus, copying, using, or transferring commercially marketed software in violation of the terms of the license generally should be considered theft. Moreover, such theft generally is a grave matter, because people do not consider most comparable infringements insignificant.
 
What do you think?  I think Andy Warhol could be in hell for copying trademarks and calling it art - but surely not for the decadent lifestyle he promoted.

Anyway.

I think maybe I should stop using the internet...  It's got to be a sin - voyeurism, idle curiosity, envy, avarice, stealing... on and on. Yeah.  So.  I'm going to the basement to scourge myself bloody. (Actually, I'll be painting.)

BTW, I have seen my art used for pamphlet covers, illustrations in books, without permission, albeit it usually crediting me for the work - sometimes not.  I'm fine with that.

Photo source:  http://justtrademarks.org/tag/internet-copyright-infringement

H/T Mercury


 

22 comments:

  1. Wikimedia Commons is a good place to go for images where you don't have to worry about copy write infringement:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

    ReplyDelete
  2. The white background on your blog was my idea - I'm suing you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Grisez does have a habit among moral theologians, however, for coming to conclusions that are too rigorous.

    I see why copying software is illegal, but other things get murky. Making a mix cd for a cute girl is apparently illegal, as is copying a cd from a personal friend (though these things are specifically protected in several countries as long as there is no profit involved). I wonder if Grisez think that's a mortal sin?

    Likewise, it's not even clear whether copying your OWN cd to your computer for your OWN personal use or making your OWN mix cd for your car is legal, nor is it clear whether it is legal to download pictures from the Intenet for your OWN personal viewing.

    It seems it IS technically illegal to post song lyrics or book quotes as status updates or "favorite quotes" on Facebook. It IS technically illegal to have a movie night for a church youth group, it IS technically illegal to let a substitute teacher show a movie in class (unless it's directly related to the subject being taught), it IS technically illegal to share images on social media that are not specifically public domain or user-created, it is probably illegal to play music at a party even if one is not making any money (then who invented party mixes?)

    The kicker is - it is illegal to embed YouTube videos that do not have specific copyright permission, even though there is no way for a user to know this and even though YouTube themselves have no way of knowing, unless the video in question is on the artist or record company's actual channel.

    It seems that the only reason you are not getting charged every time you him a Beatles tune is because the technology does not exist.

    In other countries, the government is very good at finding a reasonable balance between what the creator's legitimate demands are and what is simply nickel an dining the crap out of folks. In this country any and all such legislation is driven by powerful lobbies and Congressmen who have no idea what they are talking about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. +JMJ+

      Remember that scene in About a Boy when one of Hugh Grant's dates, who has just found out that he gets the royalties from a Christmas song his father wrote, asks: "I suppose Christmas carolers should pay you royalties?"

      And Grant's character replies: "They should, yeah, but you can't always catch the greedy bastards."

      Perhaps one day the technology to catch casual hummers will exist, Mercury, and there will be no more "free" music. #dystopianfantasies

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I meant to say Grisez has a reputation, not habit.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's okay, Merc. The election will take place soon and you'll have a few months off to regroup before the next round of politics.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ha! What's that mean? I was just troubled by the fact that this moral theologian seems to imply that copying a cd is a mortal sin.

    And if that's so - basically anything against copyright law is a mortal sin, by that reckoning - even if it seems absurd (i.e. burning one's own mix cd for personal use; copying a cd for one's wife to use in her car).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh yeah - and "Happy Birthday" is copyrighted. Your ass can be sued for performing it in public. The Girl Scouts and other people who run summer camps were ordered that they could not use the song unless they pay royalties.

    I wonder if its even legal to play music at parties - even public domain stuff is copyrighted as far as the recording goes, so even if you want to rock out to classical music at a block party, that Leonard Bernstein recording is copyrighted. It seems the only legal party entertainment is live classical music or a live an playing original music (and who wants to hear that?)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Re: Warhol's using trademarked images. The beauty of a trademark is that it's easily identifiable and identified with a particular product or company. Warhol's screen-printed renditions of the Campbell's Soup can, etc. start with the advertising image and take it to another dimension.

    I don't think you could get away with that now.
    In the last election cycle someone took a published photo of Obama and used it as the base for his poster, claiming fair use when he was sued. They settled out of court.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What Warhol did actually falls directly under "fair use" because his art was "transformative" and not "derivative" ... it was also parody, which is protected as well.

      Delete
    2. How is that different from Shepard Fairey's Obama poster which was based on an AP freelancer's photo? His art was transformative in the same way as Warhol's.

      I don't see either Fairey or Warhol's art as parody; they transformed the images into something else entirely with use of a different color palette. Neither seems to have been making fun of the subjects; Warhol used a portrait of Jackie Kennedy taken shortly before JFK was assassinated so a perception of parody would likely have lead to a lawsuit in that case and Fairey's use of an Obama photo for propaganda lead to a lawsuit. I believe that Fairey's art was derivative of Warhol's as he basically did the same thing; take a photo of a famous person and print it in different colors.

      I think our society is that much more litigious now and any time someone else's work is referenced there will be a lawsuit.

      Delete
    3. How is that different from Shepard Fairey's Obama poster which was based on an AP freelancer's photo? His art was transformative in the same way as Warhol's.

      I don't see either Fairey or Warhol's art as parody; they transformed the images into something else entirely with use of a different color palette. Neither seems to have been making fun of the subjects; Warhol used a portrait of Jackie Kennedy taken shortly before JFK was assassinated so a perception of parody would likely have lead to a lawsuit in that case and Fairey's use of an Obama photo for propaganda lead to a lawsuit. I believe that Fairey's art was derivative of Warhol's as he basically did the same thing; take a photo of a famous person and print it in different colors.

      I think our society is that much more litigious now and any time someone else's work is referenced there will be a lawsuit.

      Delete
  10. +JMJ+

    And now I'm about to reference another movie.

    Terry, whenever I hear about artists squabbling over paintings, I remember Gene Kelly in An American in Paris saying that the difference between a painter and a composer or author is that the latter two can always own copies of their work, but once a painting is sold, it's gone.

    Apparently, not any longer . . .

    OH! That reminds me!!! You know those caricatures that used to be on the Crescat blog? (I'm not sure if they still are; and I don't go to Patheos, so I "can't" check.) I saw one of them on a book blog. As far as I could tell, the book blogger was not Catholic, had no idea who the Crescat was, and just liked the image enough to use it for one of her posts. #nottattlingjustsaying

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See, I see nothing wrong with sharing images that are publicly posted on the Internet. But apparently it's illegal - and it's apparently technically illegal to even save them to your hard drive, which means viewing them is technically illegal, because your computer downloads the image to view it.

      Delete
    2. We should ask Grisez if that is grave matter ...

      Delete
  11. So...should I be concerned about all the music I listen to via YouTube? And the 400+ music/lyrics videos I've put on my "Favorites" playlist? :( What if I just use the playlist to keep track of songs I like, and don't use it to actually *listen* to songs?

    I'm dead serious, btw. If I'm committing mortal sin I want to know. :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not a priest or a theologian, but I am rather certain you are not committing a mortal sin or a venial sin for that matter. But ask your priest.

      BTW - one needs full knowledge and consent of the will to commit a mortal sin.

      Delete
    2. I worry that too.

      A big problem comes from the fact that some artists and recording companies seem to claim "rights" far beyond what is reasonable.

      For example, a strict interpretation of copyright law makes summer camp movie nights are illegal, or makes it illegal to play music at parties.

      There is also NO WAY OF KNOWING whether a YouTube video has permission from the artist or not.

      I think our laws are utterly ridiculous - how much can an artist / record company reasonably claim as their "rights"? That I cannot play their music at a block party?

      Delete
  12. So...should I be concerned about all the music I listen to via YouTube? Or the 400+ music/lyrics videos in my "Favorites" playlist? :( What if I just use the playlist to keep track of songs I like, and don't actually use it to *listen* to them?

    I'm dead serious, btw. If I'm committing mortal sin I want to know. :/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. lapetus - here is a great article about YouTube:

      http://brandsplusmusic.blogspot.com/2010/08/music-copyright-and-youtube.html

      It's full of all kinds of links to more useful information.

      It seems, after reading this, that most videos on YouTube are technically "illegal" in that the poster had no a priori "right" to perform or upload them, HOWEVER, YouTube has a "Content ID" system that tracks all uploaded content and flags anything similar to copyrighted song / video.

      The owner of the copyright then can decide what to do with the flagged content - leave it up or have it taken down. In the majority of cases, they leave it up, as its often beneficial to them. If they ask YouTube to take it down, it's done more or less immediately (and in some cases wrongly, because they sometimes take down videos that should be exempt under "fair use").

      Bottom line: if a video with copyrighted content that had not been formally authorized survives on YouTube, this is because the copyright holder has given tacit approval.

      It's actually a brilliant system, and is necessary to meet the new advances in technology and user-generated content, etc.

      Delete
  13. http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_stewart_how_youtube_thinks_about_copyright.html

    Awesome video by YouTube explaining it.

    You can *still* be sued theoretically if you embed a video that happens to be copyrighted without permission, but there is no such precedent - it has never happened in all the years so far, and there is a lot of legal opinion that embedding videos would not breach anything even if the video itself is infringing (you're not uploading a video, you're really just linking to YouTube).

    ReplyDelete


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. Be sure and double check if your comment posted after you do the verification deal - sometimes it doesn't print if you made an error.