Hollywood’s Copyright Wars at the Academy

Hollywood’s Copyright Wars

From Thomas Edison’s aggressive copyright disputes to recent lawsuits against video-sharing websites, the motion picture industry has always struggled to influence and adapt to copyright law.

Copyright Laws Last night I attended a presentation by Peter Decherney on his new book Hollywood’s Copyright Wars at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  The event flier described the presentation as follows:

Academy Film Scholar Peter Decherney, author of the new book Hollywood’s Copyright Wars, will frame the current debate about technology and intellectual property in historical and political terms, discussing such issues as piracy, plagiarism, Hollywood’s love-hate relationship with fair use, and how the industry has responded to its intellectual property issues through self-regulation.

Decherney, who was named an Academy Film Scholar in 2009, is associate professor of cinema studies, English and communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Hollywood and the Culture Elite: How the Movies Became American (2005) and many articles on the film industry, including an October 2011 New York Times op-ed piece titled “Will Copyright Stifle Hollywood?”

Decherney, who is not a lawyer, described three key battles from the wars starting with the early days of Hollywood when works were adapted without first acquiring rights; Charlie Chaplin’s attempt to claim copyright in his persona and the rise of the auteurs (Spielberg, Scorcese, Lucas etc) and their efforts to assert moral rights to protect the integrity of their work

A fairly lengthy discussion followed with the most interesting note being how conflicted the audience and even individual members were on the issue in that they wanted their works protected but felt constrained creatively by what they could and could not do.   This included a discussion of Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and Control Creativity, Sweden’s Pirate Party and ended with a concern about the shrinking public domain.

Decherney believes the current battles are part of a consistent reaction to new technologies as pirating until ultimately some consensus or appropriate legal framework is acheived,   He believed the DMCA take down procedures were an effective compromise (even if it means taking down an EFF Downfall Parody).