Documentary filmmakers are in a particularly difficult position in terms of intellectual property, as most documentarians focus on lives of real people -- and modern life, especially in the US, Europe and Japan, is inundated with logos, music, background video and myriad other trademark and copyright concerns. Bound by Law?, a discussion of the intersection of fair use, public domain, copyright and documentary film -- done in a comic book format -- illustrates both the complexities that documentarians face and the broader struggle over how we can record modern life in all of its forms for posterity. Created by Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins at the Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Bound by Law? is well-worth reading by anyone trying to understand how intellectual property rules affect our lives. Although it looks only at American regulations, many of the concepts it covers apply far more broadly.
The ongoing evolution of copyright laws in the industrialized world has served both to protect and to stymie creative artists. On the one hand, stronger and more explicit protection of copyright assures emerging artists that larger corporate entities can't simply take the artists' work; on the other hand, aggressive assertion of rights over material that is part of our common culture has a demonstrable negative impact on the creative abilities of artists. Although much of the debate online focuses on American laws, digital era copyright laws in Europe and Japan have evoked similar arguments, and the role of intellectual property laws in the relationship between industrialized and developing nations remains controversial. The solutions offered by groups like Creative Commons can go a long way to making the situation more reasonable, but they require positive action on the part of artists.
Long-time WorldChanging readers will also note that many of the issues that apply to documentary filmmakers would apply to some degree to people using "participatory panopticon"-style technologies, especially as the more rudimentary versions of these technologies come to be used as ways to document events as they happen. It's likely, in fact, that the biggest roadblocks to more widespread adoption of "lifeblogging," "sousveillance" and other participatory panopticon tools will arise not from privacy concerns, but from intellectual property problems. Some will come from twisty legal passages, all alike, that label showing the recordings to others as "public presentation." Some will come from restrictions on recording hardware meant to stop "piracy" of copyrighted material by shutting down whenever songs or videos with digital restriction "watermarks" are captured, even in the background.
As Bound by Law? demonstrates, this is not an easily-resolved situation -- but it's one that is increasingly important to us all.
Striking the right balance in intellectual property for a health cultural environment where creativity flourishes. Good metaphor that.