Saturday, May 06, 2006

Myths of Copyright

A friend forwarded me an email advertising an event sponsored by the Cloud Foundation and the Massachusetts Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. The VLA is great, but there's been a failure of communication with, at least, whoever prepared the email:

Subject: Your Art = Your Property: A Free Workshop for Teens on Copywrite Law in the Music Industry

Your Art = Your Intellectual Property:
A Free Workshop for Teens on Intellectual Property Rights in the Music and Performance Industry

Spaces are filling quickly for this important workshop!

All youth workshops are FREE at Cloud Place!

Monday May 15,

Cloud Place
647 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116

What do Usher, P. Diddy, and Daddy Yankee have in common? They all have their music, moves, and image copywritten.

Boston-area teens and artist educators are invited to a fun seminar on laws that help artists stay in control of their intellectual property. Working with other young artists, learn about your rights within the music and performance industry from Boston's own, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

I understand the derivation of "copywritten," which incidentally produces 375,000 hits on Google (though that includes Google's helpful insertion, after result 3, of some actual "copyright" results). But it's shameful for an organization claiming to explain the law to use this back-formed term.

There are other problems: since copyright now attaches at fixation, Usher, P. Diddy and the like are not special in having copyright protection. If anything, teen artists are more likely to own their own copyrights than famous artists signed to record labels. Worse is the idea that Usher et al.'s "moves" are protected by intellectual property law; this is unlikely at best. Choreography is covered by copyright if fixed (and a music video could possibly count, though it's like a picture of a sculpture in reducing a three-dimensional work of art to a two-dimensional view), but it's unlikely that an individual move would be protectable. As for "image," I presume the reference is to right of publicity law; individual pictures are owned by the photographer or the entity with whom the photographer contracts.

Copyright education is a good idea. But if the educators can't get the law right, how do we expect ordinary people to do so?

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