Playing Catch-Up

Ahh…technology. What would we do without it? And, perhaps more to the point, what are we going to do with it?

Little technological malfunctions set me on edge at times. Take last night for example. For the second time in a few months, I experienced a password glitch with my Barnes & Noble account, and I couldn’t sync a book I had just purchased with the Nook’s iPad app. Three minutes of trying later, and by the time I called customer service, I had all but announced my return to paper books out of frustration.

I’m better now, though. Thanks for wondering.

Along more academic lines, there has been a lot of interesting thought ┬áin the past few decades about the metaphysical or theological implications of technology…what we as mankind are attempting to achieve through our progress. One doesn’t have to look far for the perpetual stream of thought-provoking insight on how our technology is changing us even as we create it. What and how we invent, and the things for which we ultimately use our inventions, say a great deal about us as a people.

I remember, for example, checking a book out of the library when I was in elementary school about the city of tomorrow. The book was large, with lots of pictures. I remember that it portrayed cars that traveled on mono-rail type circuits through a futuristic city…cars that you didn’t actually have to drive, but rather simply told an address and let them take you there. Everyone used them in this book, and I remember thinking that this would be a tremendously cool experience. Of course, the concept of intelligent cars was a natural desire to take hold of the America psyche, because we love our automobiles. I remember, when I was young, my father joking about how he wanted a Knight Rider type of vehicle that would leave its parking place and come to the front of the grocery store to meet us. I remember that I sort of wanted that, too, because, again…how cool would that be?

Interestingly, now that the technology exists and is being actively tested, it turns out that there are some interesting legal ramifications involved, beyond the social questions of whether or not we trust our programmers to be able to prevent our cars from getting us into accidents.

Beyond the theological implications of technological development, there is a world of legal quagmire here. Our progress, in short, is decades ahead of our legal system. ┬áInventors, as it were, travel at warp speed, while law-makers remain in sub-space. Nowhere can this be seen more readily that in the privacy debates that dominate our headlines on a regular basis, to say nothing of how the copyright system struggles to keep up with the unprecedented availability of music, film, and literature available at a moment’s notice.

I’m fascinated at the age in which we live. The technological advances that have occurred since my grandparents’ generation is unprecedented, and now, in my generation, the legal system is scrambling to keep up, largely at the behest of those who stand to make the most money in the new age (as usual). The number of things that could change on a moment’s notice to be no longer free, or to be completely illegal, alternately mystifies and scares me. What is constant is that I’m always amused at how the legal system perpetually moves at a proverbial snail’s pace to attempt regulation of the information sharing that has changed the face of mankind.

I think that, by the time they’ve caught up with our current position, that we’ll be decades further ahead. Which leads me to wonder: what does this sort of information and artistic availability look like with a wholly incapable system of regulation in place? I think we will continue to see the answer to that question play out in the years to come.

Photo Attribution: visual velocity pc

Not-So Intellectual Propriety

Is it me, or does the ferocity with which the battle to protect intellectual property make the entire situation…well, less than intellectual?

This story broke over the weekend. In essence, someone in a meeting in L.A. heard some commotion, looked out of a window, and saw what was apparently a scene from Transformers 3 being filmed. He shot a quick video with his phone, and uploaded it to YouTube. The motion picture studio complained of copyright violation, and pressured YouTube to subsequently take down the video.

So, by this logic, filming the people filming the movie is now a copyright violation? Explain this to me, please?

Copyright law exists (in Dave language) to prevent unauthorized copies of a work being made. When I copyright a project, that is to prevent someone from making copies and distributing them without my permission, or from claiming it as their own. The second is always the primary motivator for me: I register my work for either copyright protection, or under a Creative Commons license, in order to prevent someone from claiming my work as their own. As recent attempts to lock down every conceivable form of media imaginable in insanely counter-productive ways by groups such as the RIAA, MPAA, and many book publishers has shown us of late, however, this can be taken to such an extreme that lawful users have difficulty legally obtaining copies of the work. 

A slightly grey area exists in the so-called doctrine of fair use, which permits certain uses of copyrighted material without permission, but not for profit, such as in the case of educators using material for instructional examples in their classrooms. When you use someone’s material as support in an argument in an academic paper, for example, you are using it under fair use, citing the source on your bibliography page.

Here’s the issue: I don’t understand how one could claim that the guy filming the filming of this movie scene was attempting to steal part of the plot from the Transformers 3 screenplay (after all, he apparently identified it as exactly that, thus effectively citing the source). In fact, I see nothing here that would indicate that he was even distributing a part of the movie without permission. He was making a brief, obviously amateur video of a movie crew shooting part of a film on a public street. How do you copyright the act of creating part of a creative work in public? That could easily have been a different movie, and the segment he posted to YouTube could well end up on the cutting room floor. By the same logic, if I encountered a famous novelist in a coffee shop writing his next great work, and snapped a quick picture with my phone for Twitter, could I then be sued for copyright violation if a few words on his laptop screen happened to end up in the photo?

Paranoia is a sad thing. We live in an age of YouTube, Flickr, and multiple other ways in which video and photos of average individuals walking through public areas may end up on the Internet. We are filmed at intersections by traffic cameras frequently. We may end up in the background of someone’s vacation photo. If anything, privacy issues may be at stake. Perhaps the film crew could object to their images being uploaded without their consent, but on the grounds of privacy, not copyright. Even on privacy grounds, I doubt this would be a viable claim. The only way to ensure you will not end up on the Internet today is to not leave your home.

I’ve mused here before that the only way to be true to one’s art may be to not make a living creating said art. All too often, corporations are permitted to own the art, or at least it’s production channels, in order for the artist to make any sort of income from their work. When corporations fear that their precious profits may be lost, this sort of over-reaction becomes rampant, making the world a smaller place for everyone. In fact, clips such as these could well result in better box office performance, as some will go to the movie in order to see if the scene they watched on YouTube is in the final product.

So, hold on. I’m about to do something crazy:

There. I’ve filmed myself writing. Now I can sue myself for copyright violation, right? I’ve infringed on my own intellectual property!!

Oh, wait. I suppose that wouldn’t make much sense.

Would it?