Thursday, February 5, 2009

News News, Failing the Written, and Bad Hampster

The newspaper industry has been hemmoraging money in recent years, and even the most world-renouned periodicals are strapped. The New York Times is taking out a new mortgage on its building and getting into bed with shady Mexican bajillionaires. The Wall Street Journal has become a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. Papers everywhere are laying off reporters and cutting back on staff, and are relying even more heavily on wire services like the AP (ignoring the fact that AP's content is also available online, where the papers are getting their butts handed to them) at the expense of local coverage (in which local papers have a distinct advantage).

As newspapers get pwned by the internet, videos like this 1981 San Francisco news report are especially ironic, as they highlight the role that newspapers themselves have played in their own demise:

--But even as the newspaper industry sags and turns to them, the AP is having to slash its prices to compete with CNN's new wire service, and is looking for new sources of revenue. And like any great Scrooge, they're looking to profit from removing hope and joy from people's lives. For instance, CNN is reporting that the AP is claiming ownership over the iconic Hope campaign portrait of President Obama. AP's director of media relations, Paul Colford, announced “The Associated Press has determined that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission. AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to [Los Angeles street artist Shepard] Fairey's attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution." The painting has generated significant revenue since its creation, but Fairley claims to have received none of it, as he donated the image to the campaign.

The Common Man isn't smart enough to know whether Fairley's image violated copyright law or not. If the image was significantly altered, or Fairley's work was only based on the photo (and isn't a copy of the photo), it may fall under the doctrine of fair use. It will be interesting to see whether AP is successful in its negotiation, particularly since it does not appear that they will be able to get anything out of the original artist (blood from a stone, and all that). Someone with a law degree should chime in on this.

--But it's not as thought the AP is a bad thing. Without the AP, for instance, The Common Man wouldn't know about Cha, the 68-year old South Korean woman who has failed her written driving exam 771 times, spending more than $3000 in application fees over the past two years. The exam requires a score of 60 to pass, but the highest Cha has gotten is 50, but she keeps plugging along, returning day after day, week after week, and month after month to take the test again and hopefully get the chance to take her road test. Look, The Common Man admires perserverance, and thinks it a noble trait that should be lauded. But Cha, dear, sometimes it's simply best to let things slide. At this point, it's fair to conclude that God never wanted you to drive a car, and move on. The Common Man's advice is to become the best damn bicyclist you can be. You haven't come particularly close to passing and, frankly, if you can't pass the written The Common Man fears what may happen if you ever do get behind the wheel.

--And finally, while The Common Man despises racial profiling in all of its manifestations, he doesn't mind discriminating on the basis of species. So, if you find yourself in trouble with John Law in the future, just tell them the hampster did it:

1 comment:

BillP said...

I think Fairley has a good fair use defense. The doctrine doesn't make much sense, but the factors are:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

I think a court would say factors 1, 2, and 4 weigh in his favor (it's sort of commercial, but wasn't used that way by him, and you could say that wasn't the primary purpose; it's a very different use than the original news photograph; and a campaign poster wouldn't really compete in the same market as the original photograph). I'm sure he used substantially the entire photograph, which would mean 3 is on AP's side, but in situations like this, where using the entire work is kind of necessary to making the new work at all, courts don't give that much weight. So this seems like a pretty poor case for the AP to pursue, especially given the bad publicity that will probably come of it.

Now YOU, of course, are violating a copyright (either AP's or Fairley's) by reproducing the picture on your blog...