Thursday, January 31, 2008

Catching up with the State of the Law

There's nothing like an MCLE compliance deadline to catch up on the law. California has a 25 hours over the course of three years requirement (it used to be 36 hours), where four must be general ethics, one on elimination of bias in the legal system, and one on substance abuse. I filled out the missing hour of general ethics last night at a Beverly Hills Bar Association Entertainment Section meeting last night that also gave me time to chat with Marybeth Peters, the Registrar of Copyrights.

I first met Marybeth about 20 years ago, when I worked with attorney Charles D. Ossola on behalf of the American Society of Magazine (now, Media) Photographers lobbying on copyright issues, particularly work made for hire. At that time, I think Mary Beth was chief counsel to Ralph Oman, who was the Register of Copyrights when I lived and worked as a photographer in the D.C. Area. I also met Bill Patry, who at that time was also a lawyer at the Copyright Office, and who remains one of my favorite writers on copyright law matters.

I've run into Marybeth a number of times over the years, but it has been a while. Since I started working at the community college, it has been more difficult for me to get to MCLE events, which often take place during the day--sometimes all day. That's why I haven't been to "The Copyright Office Comes to Los Angeles" in four years, despite the fact that it is one of the most interesting MCLE programs for a copyright lawyer to attend. It's an intense look at litigation, regulation, and legislation dealing with copyright and Mary Beth is always there with a crack team from her office.

We chatted about the people we knew in common, such as Chuck Ossola, former ASMP Executive Director Richard Weisgrau, ASMP legal counsel Vic Perlman, and current ASMP Executive Director Gene Mopsik. Then I asked her about current legislation, particularly the Orphan Works provision, the current and possible future chairs of the House committee overseeing copyright law, and Lawrence Lessig.

Distressing to me was learning that Rep. Howard Berman wants to leave his chairmanship of the copyright committee to take a different chairmanship. I first met Congressman Berman several years before I met Marybeth and I am beside myself that this friend to creators will no longer head the committee. In his place, Rick Boucher of Virginia, who is much more broadcaster-inclined. I wish there was something which could be done to change Congressman Berman's mind. He always recognizes me when we are at the same event. I've always felt comfortable calling his office with issues and he's always made sure I get attention. And I don't even live in his district out here in California.

The Orphan Works provision is one that photographers have actively worked against, because the result appears to be that there will be no real economic recourse for work which is used without permission. Marybeth told me that the problem with photographs is that they are rarely filed with names--the most common registration, because of the sheer number registered at one time by photographers, is done with sequential numbers. And she said that her department is under some sort of order to set up a filing system with the actual registered works. I said that I thought the office got rid of stuff after three years. She said they actually kept unpublished work for longer and now no longer destroy it. I did express concern about the band width and other storage issues they must face trying to come up with solutions and she told me that very few people actually understand what kind of technological problems they do face.

Lawrence Lessig is now an adviser to Barack Obama, which is kind of scary to me since Lawrence Lessig is no friend to copyright owners. I don't think he knows how to make a distinction between big corporations and individuals who create copyrights and live by them. After all, he gets paid by Stanford University to teach, so he doesn't have to make a living by writing and collecting royalties. Mind you, I agree with Lessig that the latest term extension to our copyright act was not necessary--I think that the life of the copyright creator plus 70 years is a long-enough monopoly--but I think Lessig wants to reduce the length of time from that standard. He's apparently not terribly concerned that might pull us out of compliance with international copyright conventions.

Alex Albrecht from Diggnation was on the panel dealing with new media delivery. He was a fun addition to a stage of lawyers and an agent. He looks a lot like Blake Lewis from last season on American Idol. He was described as "Internet Star." After a brief description of the Diggnation show, a friend sitting next to me said it sounded like "Wayne's World" and I had to agree.) During that part of the program, on New Media Distribution and Delivery, there was discussion on the amount of money currently being spent to advertise and the expectation of future revenues (many billions in about 3 years.) Currently companies spend 7.5% of their advertising dollars on the Internet. Seems to me there's money to share with the companies

I guess I should check out Alex's show sometime. Diggnation started with three people and a camera (there is now a studio with more than 20 employees.) It did make me think that I should set up a video camera on Len and begin airing episodes of "Len in Comicsworld." He's got great stories to tell about working in comics, since he met or worked with so many of the Golden and Silver Age creators and editors (he is actually often included in the ranks of Silver Age writers.)

1 comment:

CopyOwner said...

I was amused and a bit troubled by your insightful musings. I sensed a knee-jerk fear of Rep. Boucher and rote praise for Rep. Berman. I realize that it is the position of copyright maximalists, but while I have spent many years protecting copyrights, I a quite confident that had we followed a more liberal approach over the last ten years, major copyright owners would be better off financially, and their works would be more widely disseminated for profit -- for their profit. Sadly, Rep. Berman tended to respond uncritically to the major copyright holding companies' requests for more control. But consider movie rentals. Hollywood's inability to control movie rentals singlehandedly delivered the greatest source of revenue to the studios. In music, in contrast, the record companies got away with denying licenses to established retailers like Tower Records, who were ready, willing and able to sell music downloads long before Napster became a household word. The record labels feared sharing revenue with retailers, and chose instead to adopt dead-end anti-competitive total-control business models that delivered the market to unauthorized business channels who could fill the void left by marginalized retailers.

I would love to see Rep. Boucher chair the subcommittee. I think it might breathe some fresh air into the suffocating industry. The sooner that the major copyright holding companies can learn to loosen their grip and let others make bucket-loads of money for them instead of making mere cups-full of money directly, the better off we will all be. With Boucher, they will finally have to actually justify their legislative wish list rather than merely specify it.