Archive for the ‘rights’ Category


Rights that are Wrong

9 January, 2009

I’m currently working on a White Paper (read: conversation starter) on the issues for Screen Content Producers in getting more engaged with the digital environment. I’m close to finished, but determining when enough is enough is hard.

When talking to film makers and other producers of screen content, the issues that really came up for them were two-fold. The first key point was that many makers of heritage (linear or non-digitally consumed) content simply don’t get the online/mobile/interactive world: the language is different, the concepts are different, and the expectations are different. The second issue that came up was rights: rights required to be approved to place material online, right required to be approved to go digital, rights of people to get access to content (paying or not).

So the paper really has two parts – a fairly simple overview of the three main areas of education for digital (distribution, audience and monetising); and a section on what the issues over rights are, and what some of the solutions might be.

I’m not a lawyer, which is a good and bad thing here. It means that I ask big questions (like “why can’t we….”) but it also means that the reasons take a lot of investigation so I can understand them. Here are some of the issues and things that frustrate me.

  • music isn’t a single thing. There is incidental music and theme music and published music and recorded music
  • and then there are synchronisation rights that let you ‘synchronise’ the music with you content

There is a film in the US (Sita Sings the Blues) which uses recording from the 192o’s which went into the public domain years ago. However, to use these in the film, the producer needs to pay synchronisation rights. Sadly – the record companies are demanding more for the music than the whole film cost to make.

  • Australia didn’t keep particularly good records years ago when we first started making movies and documentaries
  • But none of these can go online until the rights in all the elements are cleared by everyone concerned
  • And we often don’t even know who those people are…

So about 15 years of video content that tells Australian stories in documentary, film and other forms of narrative is going to be destroyed because it has “no value”. I’d love to see this, and I don’t think I’m alone, but unless all the rights holders can be firstly identified, and their approval given – it ain’t going to happen. And it only needs one of them to say ‘no’ and the content remains unseen. Add to this that some documentaries including footage from news items and all these people need to be found also – and the problem just compounds.

Digital needs to mean thinking differently. Digital and online means we need to consider that public access is actually the prime requirement. Digital should recognise that theft of a car (a tangible object which is lost) is different to digital piracy (where the item still remains). Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely believe that authors should be recognised and rewarded for their work. I just think that we need to find ways of doing that that don’t limit what we can access.  In particular, I don’t want our inability to find new ways to address rights to means that years of fascinating video footage, part of our history, is going to be denied to us.

Some rights are just wrong. We need new rights that recognise contribution, that have the potential to reward creators, but that do not result in the public being denied our stories.