Focal Point – Criminalizing Creativity
Well, I skipped out on another week of editorializing, but that’s because of the kick-off of the summer season, which included Omni’s Summer Preview, as well as several anime conventions, one of which I attended. Thus, with how busy things were, Omni and I decided to not publish a Focal Point last week. However, that gave me time to stew on a particular debate that seems to be coming back into the spotlight, especially with the convention season heating up. Obviously, with such a complicated issue, an editorial written on it will be tremendously long. Thus, it was fortuitous that a recent news item allowed me to secede some of my ideas into THIS editorial. Stay tuned for next week’s article…it’s gonna be a doozy…
Yes, it’s another video you must watch before reading this article, but this one is only 20 minutes (instead of 30 minutes), and it’s NOT made by some pretentious British snob (who DID make some good points, despite sounding one-sided and arrogant) but rather a relatively famous law professor. PLUS, there’s a clip of an AMV in there. So, WATCH IT!
I personally have rarely visited Nico Nico Douga. Frankly, having incomprehensible Japanese comments flying across the screen while trying to watch a video sounds about as appealing to me as waiting in line inside a poorly ventilated hallway for an hour-delayed Masquerade Contest amidst a bunch of impatient anime fans who haven’t showered or brushed their teeth in two days at an anime convention (yes, I know you can turn the comments off, but still…) Hell, I wouldn’t even want English comments flying across the screen while trying to watch a video, which would be analogous to the same waiting-in-line scenario described above except now it’s a line for an AMV contest. Nevertheless, I have appreciated the many fruits of creativity harvested from Nico Nico Douga (usually filtered without the comments to YouTube). In particular, I enjoy watching the many MADs or AMVs that parody anime or showcase variations of anime openings.
Thus, I was very sad when a crackdown was announced
However, I wasn’t sad for the same reason many other people were upset: many FANS (and even some fans) were unhappy because they feel they have now lost a source of free entertainment. This is rather ridiculous, because YouTube is still around, and something as small as this will not stop the Japanese from making MADs (although it might stifle some of the motivation to do so, because the Japanese seem to be closet attention whores who want comments written all over their amateur-made videos).
No, I was sad, because this was definitely taking a step back in the progress of the internet being the next distribution platform for content, as well as a prolongation of the current digital battle between professional creators and amateur creator-users.
I’m sure you know of (and dislike) fights that drag on and on and on…
Hoping that you have completely watched Professor Larry Lessig’s 20-minute talk, I do not want to rehash what he so eloquently stated and argued, but I do feel I need to touch upon some points I believe he assumed people already knew or understood (since the majority of his audience were older adults while I feel the majority of Random Curiosity’s readership is of a younger persuasion).
The spirit of copyright is meant to protect creativity. If you have a creator who is creating something useful to society (be it in technology, entertainment, or whatever), then said creator needs to be rewarded in hopes that he or she will continue to create more beneficial things for society. On the flip side, if said creator’s works and rights are not protected, such that anyone could copy and sell them, said creator would at the very best not be motivated to make more creations and at the very worst not be able to make enough of a living to continue being creative. Either way, society suffers a loss in creativity, and thus, society institutes copyright laws to protect itself from such a loss. I think we can all agree that “wholesale copying and distributing,” as Professor Lessig put it, is stealing and criminal (even if it’s done for free, like people who upload bittorrents of anime DVD rips with all the extras, language tracks, etc.).
It follows, then, that if a creator does not want to have his or her works reproduced and manipulated or altered in a particular manner, viewers of said content should respect and abide by that. I’m now talking about remixing and recreating, with AMVs and doujin works being classic examples. It’s not too hard to imagine a manga artist being appalled at seeing the underage sibling characters he or she drew in a benign shoujo story having sex with each other or being raped (even if by tentacle monsters that do not really exist in their manga). Thus, it is perfectly within the rights of creator to ask people to stop or, as the saying go, cease and desist. After all, it is also the creator’s right to grant permission to users to alter their works, as well.
There are, of course, exceptions (is there anything in life without some exception?), including but not limited to parody, satire, critiques, and fair use. After all, the screen shots I capture and display here on this publicly-viewable website were done so without permission. However, I don’t want to turn this into a Law 101 lecture (I mean, what EXACTLY is entailed in fair use?), so I’ll just quickly justify what I do by saying 1) I am not making any money off of this, and 2) if the creator himself or herself asked me to take down the pictures I captured, I would.
ON THE SOAPBOX (even more so than normal)
By the way, I personally find the “free advertisement” justification faulty. Some people feel they can use works however way they want as long as they’re promoting the work. For example, some would say an AMV can generate interest and cause people to buy an anime series and/or a song they never heard of before. And while the effects of the work may be true, if a particular type of promotion is not agreeable to its creator, one cannot use this justification anymore. There are plenty of advertisements that had the best of intentions of promoting and helping to sell a product, but they ended up painting a bad picture of said product. Thus, if a particular band felt their song’s lyrics meant one thing and did not want the song associated with particular images (like blood and gore or even puppies and flowers), then they have every right to be upset that their work is being manipulated in that way, even if it DOES boost sales. I absolutely cannot stand FANS who feel that the creator owes THEM something for promoting their work by altering it in a way that the creator does not desire, which is exactly what FANS feel (no matter how much they might deny it) when they get all pouty when a creator asks for a fan work to be removed. Again, though, if the creator grants permission, is fine with it, or doesn’t care, then the issue is moot.
OFF THE SOAPBOX
The problem really comes when corporations and entities larger than the individual creator (such as associations, conglomerates, and cartels) hold or try to enforce the copyrights. Granted, some works can only be created by a group (like a studio for anime), but many times it’s the big publisher or record company that makes the big bucks and enforces a copyright to the ignorance and/or chagrin of the original creator. Keep in mind that such groups are a product of capitalism, which is fueled by an economic survival-of-the-fittest, so they will try to do everything in their power to be at the top of the business food chain and stay there – even if that means playing unfairly within the rules (and sometimes, outside of them). Ultimately, everything a corporate group does is driven by the goal of making more money, which isn’t necessarily evil or bad – it’s just how they operate. And unless you want to advocate socialism or communism (which work oh-so-well) then there’s really no use in criticizing businesses for pursuing money…
100 Whose Line Is It Anyway points to those who can identify the anime pictured above where corporations rule.
…until the pursuit of money comes at the cost of something greater, like the environment or creativity.
The fact is that various entities are pushing to extend how long a copyright lasts or how much a copyright encompasses in order to milk their cash cow of creativity as much as possible. Now to be honest, “milking” is perfectly understandable (and somewhat reasonable) – can you honestly say you would NOT do it if you were in their position? In the end, there’s really no reason to criticize the act of milking in and of itself, even if the product of milking was poor, because if said product was REALLY bad, then people wouldn’t buy it and it would soon cease to be made. That’s how capitalism works. Additionally, it should also not be hard to see how businesses will want to protect the source of the milk. If corporations allowed their intellectual properties to be manipulated and altered without any repercussions, they will suffer two financial “set backs” that could completely undermine them as a business:
1) The distribution of derived works provides the consumer an alternate means to enjoy the original, such that the original work does not need to be purchased. I know many people (including myself) who heard an awesome song in an AMV and just let the AMV play on repeat to hear the song over and over again, instead of buying the song itself on CD or mp3. Some people will even go so far as to rip the audio from the AMV to have their own mp3, which is pretty much tantamount to stealing. This is why the main opponents to AMVs are record companies as opposed to anime studios.
2) A derived work can now potentially and effectively act as competition in the industry. When specifically talking about entertainment, there is only so much time you can allot to it. With an original work and a recreated work both vying for your limited attention on the same level, it’s quite understandable for creators of the original work to not want to have to compete with works derived from them. As a personal example, I love Weird Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy,” and while I have heard the original song it parodies enough to enjoy the Weird Al song, I couldn’t even tell you the original song’s title or artist, because I don’t particularly like rap and I don’t plan on purchasing that original song ever.
Competition can be a good thing, forcing us to continually innovate and improve ourselves.
Again, I understand the reasons why businesses will want to protect themselves from these issues mentioned above, but while #1 is decently legitimate, #2 is problematic, because it circumvents the original purpose of copyright: the promotion of creativity. If a company clamps down on derived works, like MADs and AMVs, mostly because they do not want to compete with said derived work, then they are being lazy, selfish, and ignorant. To continue the cow analogy above, it’s okay to protect your cash cow but not by killing all the other cows on the pasture so that all the grass can only be eaten by your cow. The very competition that drives corporations to take such a cut-throat stance at economic survival is the same one they actually try to diminish once they are at the top (or at least in a comfortable financial situation). Nevertheless, it is this very competition that can help promote more creativity, or more importantly, BETTER creativity, especially when you look at the constant rehashing of stories in television (anime) and film from books and manga. This is why the law and how copyrights are handled need to be restructured, especially in lieu of current technology that is facilitating this read-write culture that Lessig talked about. Don’t lie to yourselves: many activities that the anime fan community participates in are illegal somewhere or another, but being illegal doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. And when the spirit of the law and the letter of the law are too far out of synch, that’s when the letter of the law needs to be rewritten.
The worst part of about this conglomerate of associations cracking down on Nico Nico Douga is that it’s exacerbating the fight between the two extremisms that Professor Lessig discussed towards the end of his talk. I have witnessed first hand, with my own students, how young people start to feel entitled to free entertainment, because they believe the corporate big wigs of America are merely stuffing their pockets and squeezing every penny out of the common working person.
During one anime club meeting, I got into a discussion with some students about how awesome the game Portal is. Through the conversation, I discovered that a few of them pirated a version of the game, instead of buying it. I heard the typical excuses: “I don’t have the money,” to which I replied, “But you have the money to buy those $50 sneakers?” However, one particularly academically-bright student mentioned how he did not like Valve, and he was purposefully not giving them his money due to some of their corporate decisions as a game developer – basically, he was pseudo-boycotting, but instead of shunning the entire company and its products, he would simply steal the product. I asked about whether or not he thought the actual creators of the Portal (who were hired right out of college by Valve upon seeing their prototype Portal game) should be paid, to which he responded that they should. I concluded, then, that Valve took a chance with hiring them and that if more big companies like Valve hired on small-time game developers with great ideas like the Portal team, then we’d get a lot more cool games, and thus, said companies should be financially supported in such a practice. His flustered rebuttal: “Well, I’m just one kid – me breaking a dumb law isn’t really going to make them go bankrupt.”
Doesn’t anime teach us that even one (whiny, whimpy, little) person can still make a big enough difference to change the world?
The current youth are beginning to learn that laws can (and maybe even should) be ignored, trifled with, and belittled, because they’re engaging in activities that are technically illegal but are not really wrong. One of first things I learned when I decided to be a teacher was that I should never make a rule that I was not willing to enforce. If you do that, then you undermine your own authority. And the last thing we need in society is a generation of youths thinking that laws mean nothing. Again, this doesn’t mean laws are perfect and are never to be subject to revision – there just simply needs to be a balance. Currently, there’s just a blanket copyright law that deems many creative products of fans (and FANS) as illegal, such that the law becomes a joke, and that’s a big problem not only for fandom but for society as a whole. Professor Lessig is proposing a new system to govern the use of creative works and intellectual properties at various levels of control, which you can read more about here. I think this is a step in the right direction to helping anime fandom flourish, as well as providing many other benefits to society.
In a perfect world, in my opinion, the line between creator and user is blurred beyond recognition, such that people who make something would have no problem with someone else taking what they have made and remaking it in a new and interesting way for profit or otherwise. Ideally, the original creator would then be motivated to create something even MORE interesting in order to compete, but sadly, humanity is typically too selfish and lazy to do this. Thus, we have to go with the best system we got, with its laws and copyrights, but that does not preclude us from revising and improving said system, with many arguments and debates going back and forth on how best to accomplish this. Such a difficult and tedious struggle is really the only practical way to stop criminalizing creativity…
…but that’s what makes it all the more worthwhile, right?
who takes, uses, and alters a lot of content without permission for the sake of education…
Believe it or not, I actually photoshopped a comic together using scans from the manga Love Hina in order to provide alternative education for special ed kids who had low reading skills …