Friday 30 March 2007

More on copyright and art

The more I think and read about copyrights and artists, the more I feel something desperately needs to be done.

I was listening to a podcast on that discussed the merits and drawbacks of "fan edits" of films (made popular by the so-called "Phantom Edit" of "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace"). Even though the idea of a "fan" re-editing someone else's film to suit their tastes could sound disrespectful, these sorts of projects are undertaken usually because the person cares so much about the original work in the first place. (I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone willing to spend the time to re-edit a film if they didn't care about it.) Even if they seek to "improve" it, they're only doing so because they want to love that film more.

The podcast [The Hollywood Saloon - highly recommended for fellow film geeks] really made me think just how positive such things are, and what the people involved might be able to teach themselves about editing and filmmaking, and also what they might create from such endevours. They might actually improve on the original. Even George Lucas, if I recall correctly, was very impressed with the idea that someone could create their own version of his blockbuster using household technology (the Lucas-Lawyers stepped in afterwards and said, "What Mr. Lucas meant to say was..." you can guess the rest).

I've seen fans of computer games take it upon themselves to create updates, remakes and even entire sequels to games they've loved. Small groups of people taking on masses of work, normally reserved for teams of professionals, and on top of their normal jobs, just because they love the original so much.

You might see them as ultra-geeks, but imagine the amount of passion that must be required to sustain the energy needed to create such projects.

One of my all time favourite websites, and one that helped lead me to my career as a graphic designer, was one that allowed fans of films share their own alternate covers for their DVD collections. The people on the site re-designed existing artwork in an attempt to improve what they saw as inferior packaging for a film. Sometimes it was a techinical exercise, sometimes it was an experiment, and but most of the time it was because they loved the films so much, they couldn't sit idle while their favourite films looked so ugly on their shelves.

These projects were inspired from a healthy, wholesome desire to create and driven by passion to share something with others... and completely for free, I might add. They weren't created with profit in mind. Nobody did marketing to try and find out what people "wanted" and then set about trying to create it for sale. It was done because the people involved had an idea that they wanted to see come to light, and then share it with like-minded individuals who could also hopefully appreciate it.

It's sad to say that nearly all of such projects that I've seen have been shut down by the copyright holders (including the website I loved). Not because they posed any real threat, but because, by law, a copyright holder must be seen to protect their property at all times. If they don't, then when a real threat does come along, it can be used against the copyright holder to prove that they have sent a message out that they weren't pursuing a particular copyright, and as such, that others may use it.

It's so sad that such a system exists that pretty much forces copyright holders to pursue non-threatening and non-profit projects that may infringe on their property.

Of course, I'm sure many of these projects could have been considered sub-standard when compared to the original work, thanks to limited resources and the fact that passion doesn't always equal skill. Because of this, it could be argued that some projects could be seen as a threat to the quality of the original brand. In my experience, everything from the "Phantom Edit" through to tweaks to games, are always clearly labelled by the people who made them as being what they are: Produced by and for fans. Indeed most people are proud that their work is "fan" created, and declare it loudly, leaving no confusion to those they share it with (what would be the profit in deception unless they were selling something?).

I know that this probably doesn't affect most people who read this, and the things I've talked about are probably considered "lower" forms of art, but they're examples of how something positive and creative can be ruined by law, and that saddens me :(

The desperate and modern need for "originality" and the subsequent hate for anything deemed a "rip off" (read: copy) is something that's been created by marketing people and sustained by lawyers. This attitude can be seen in other things besides art, which only goes to highlight how it can strangulate creativity. For example, who wants "rip off" Nike trainers? Ask a child and they'll tell you that they want the original! The real thing. People have been held up and robbed, sometimes even killed, for their trainers. Why? Who benefits from getting people to spend over-the-odds on such things and creating a desire, nay need, to own them? Not the original artists, but the copyright holders, of course.

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