POLL: Should File-Sharing Be Considered “Free Speech”?

Despite the humour of the FOX censor, this post has little if anything to do with what it commonly called ‘broadacst standards’ in use today. Nope, it refers to censorship outside of the studio, in this case, by the government, and no, I’m not talking about those naughty cartoons from Japan that have lead to charges for some people either.

The issue is that the entertainment lobby (read: the MPAA) really wants to pass a law called PROTECT IP. Now they claim that this law will give them and the government the legal firepower to stamp out “piracy” or unauthorised file-sharing. However there’s a problem.

That problem is that there are no due process clauses. In fact, the government can simply confiscate a website based on accusation alone, no proof required!

Scary thoughts, no?

Anyway, yesterday, an analyst from Disney by the name of Anthony Accardo wrote on the Harvard Business Review website that granting the government the authority to confiscate websites for file sharing would not run counter to the free speech clause in the constitution. In other words, content owners should be allowed to control how you see and view content because they said so.

I recommend you read Mike Masnick’s response on Techdirt for a good deconstruction/analysis of Accardo’s arguments.

My point is that, as an animator or other artistic type, do you think that this proposed law would cross the line when it comes to censorship? I mean, it’s one thing to use legal steps and the courts to remove your content from places you don’t want it to be but isn’t it quite another to just blithely remove not just the content but also the hosting site itself based solely on accusation rather than evidence?

Please answer the poll below or share your thoughts in the comments.

[poll id="2"]

Studios ‘Stealing’ Ideas and Why Animators Need to Know Their Rights

Via: List.co.uk

This morning, I read over on AWN that some guy, by the name of Terence Dunn, is suing DreamWorks for stealing his idea for Kung Fu Panda. Although everything is still at an early stage, this could shape up to be an interesting fight.

This is, of course, the worst fear of many animators, they pitch an idea to a network or studio, get turned around, and then just like that, see a project that’s eerily similar to their own being announced.

My recent post neglected to mention this whole area of copyright law as I regretfully forgot about it. Basically, you cannot copyright an idea, only actual creations. If you come up with the idea to make a show about, oh, I don’t know, an Octopus Pirate, then you can’t simply go around suing everyone if they come up with a show about a pirate who’s also an octopus.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t defend your legal rights, if someone misappropriates your idea, you are certainly entitled to seek compensation. The point is that it is possible to be over-zealous. Think back to the lawsuit from a few years ago regarding SpongeBob Squarepants. Some guy (who has a Wikipedia page?) sued Viacom for stealing his idea for a talking sponge.

The guy’s argument was that in 1991, he created and flogged some sponges with a markered on face. If only he had read Jerry Beck’s excellent Nicktoons book, he would have noticed a comic, drawn by Stephen Hillenberg and featuring a character called Bob the Sponge that was dated 1989. It’s too bad that tons of court time were wasted on a frivolous lawsuit like this although I’m sure some lawyers somewhere are quite happy about the whole ordeal.

In a lawsuit such as the one mentioned at the beginning, the discovery phase will help uncover any and all information that both sides will need in order to build a case. For Dunn, it will hinge on whether or not his idea passes a series of tests that will determine whether or not his concept could be considered the same as Kung Fu Panda. Things such as the plot, character descriptions, design, tone of the story and so forth will be scrutinized in microscopic detail. In addition, the full details of any and all meetings with DreamWorks staff will be similarly torn apart in the quest for the proof needed.

Does the guys suit have merit? Perhaps, it’s still way to early to tell. The reason it’s in the news today is that the court has ruled that Dunn can look at DreamWorks books in order to determine how much he could be owed in damages. This is a bit of a silly move because, at least in my mind, what he is owed should not be motivating him at this stage of the lawsuit if he is truly in the belief that his idea was stolen. It should be blatantly obvious to everyone that Kung Fu Panda was a successful film (with 6 more announced?!) and there should be no doubt in his or anyone else’s mind that should he win, he would be in line for a substantial payout.

There is a good chance that DreamWorks will settle, especially if it looks like they will lose. As in most cases like this, it is much cheaper for them to offer the guy a certain (not unsubstantial) amount that puts everything to rest and allows things to carry on much as they did before.

It’s important to remember that situations such as this are extremely rare. Studios and networks are well aware of the potential for crippling damages if they are shown to have blatantly ripped off some-one’s idea, as a result, they are much more inclined (and motivated) to either acquire the original idea and develop it themselves, or take the basic concept (a kung fu panda) and turn it into their own creation.

Like I said at the beginning, you cannot copyright an idea (yet), only actual creative work. Lawsuits such as those mentioned above are all the more reason for animators to familiarize themselves with copyright law and what rights and limitations are set out within.

The Legal Pitfalls That Animators Must Navigate

I would love to go into much more detail on the topic but unfortunately, I don’t have that long a lunch break to knock one out. So instead, here’s a quick run-down of what animators should be aware of when it comes to their work.

For the record, I am not a lawyer and the following should not be construed as legal advice. If in doubt, consult a legal professional, preferably one with a Bar Association logo on their newspaper ad.

When it comes to animation, there are a variety of laws that animators must concern themselves with. Perhaps most prominent is contract law and labour laws, which naturally help determine how long you work and how and when you are paid.

I read numerous stories that pop up fairly frequently regarding various setups that invariably involve the production of animation without pay. These can take the form of a competition, test or and “internship”. I use inverted commas because no internship as defined by law allows the intern to actually undertake anything even resembling work without due compensation.

Another aspect is overtime. Again, it is worth having an inside-out knowledge of your working contract. Bear in mind that for some, this may be in the form of an agreement that the union may have with the company. I’ve found that the TAG Blog to be a good source for explanations in this regard.

Besides the various labour laws, the second big grouping of legislation that animators run up against is copyright. In general, if you create work for a studio or otherwise entity that compensates you for the work created, you do not have rights to said work. In other words, it is created under a “for-hire” arrangement. For most studio employees, this is the nature of their work.

If you are creating your own stuff, then it is owned entirely by you unless you sell or otherwise transfer ownership and/or rights to another party. This would be the case of you pitched a TV show idea to a network who subsequently purchased it.

It is important to remember that you are responsible for monitoring your work. In other words, if someone is plagarising your work, it is your responsibility to notify the responsible party in order to rectify the situation. A while back, an animator I know had issues with someone on YouTube outright copying his work without due recognition. After failing to rectify the situation through communication, he simply contacted YouTube and had the video removed.

having said that, keep in mind that fan-art or personal art featuring personal interpretations of copyrighted material may still fall under trademark law, where the rights are assigned to a particular character and not the individual piece of work.

In today’s modern, internet-crazed age, many animators are rightly eager to get their films online for all to see. This is encouraging, yet I wonder how many are familiar with the single most important law regarding the internet and copyright? In the US, it is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (wikipedia link) and it outlines certain conditions regarding the uploading and availability of copyrighted content on the internet.

For instance, it outlines the concept of safe havens for ISPs and website owners in relation to user content and outlines the nature by which content can be considered infringing. Animators should be keenly aware of this, especially if you would like to upload films you produced under contract, studio employment or otherwise “for-hire” work. It should be especially noted that even inclusion in a demo reel is grounds for a takedown notice. A few months back, Berlin-based David OReilly found this out when the U2 video that he made was yanked off You-Tube for copyright violation by Universal Records. This should serve as a stark reminder that although he posted it as a way to inform and display his own talents, the copyright owner thought differently.

If in doubt, get everything in writing and consult with a legal professional before signing any contracts. Read through any contracts and be aware of your obligations before signing, you will not have any excuses later on. If you are considering putting a video online whose copyright or other rights do not belong to you, get clearance first or better yet, negotiate a clause in your contract that allows you to publicize your creations.

If anyone out there has any other advice, please add it to the comments. This is all I could come up with in half an hour.