The Fine Line at OnCopyright 2010


Article ImageTo remix or not to remix—that is the question. For the 170 attendees at the second annual OnCopyright conference, the sessions became a sounding board for ways to navigate the fine line between collaboration and infringement.

OnCopyright 2010, a 1-day event held at the Union League Club in New York City and sponsored by the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), tackled the issue of copyright from four vantage points: art, society, technology, and law. The 19 experts from these four sectors provided insights into the changing parameters of remixing, mashups, collaboration, and disruptive technology.

“While the conference didn’t clear up all the ambiguity we’re facing with copyright issues, it’s definitely providing a platform for ongoing discussions,” says Bill Burger, the OnCopyright conference coordinator. For media companies, the issue of copyright was part of the discussion about publishing’s uncertain future. Many media companies are still clinging to traditional business models with dwindling profits. “If you’re giving something away for free, just how do you monetize it?” asks Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of Press+ who was past publisher of The Wall Street Journal and former executive vice president of Dow Jones. He says that if people go to a newsstand and pick up a print issue of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or the Financial Times, they expect to pay for the paper; they expect to pay for the news in that format. But for many newshounds who search for their content online, most of them expect the door to that content to be open and free.

Meanwhile, finding viable business models that work for media companies remains a challenge. “There’s no silver bullet here,” says Srinandan Kasi, vice president and general counsel and secretary at the Associated Press. Looking at the speed of change, “technology alone can’t solve the problem,” he says. It’s going to take collaboration and innovation.

Reshaping traditional thinking is paramount. Editors and writers have been disconnected from the way media makes money, says Crovitz. Does it make sense for every news source to adhere to copyright restrictions and rewrite their own version of a news story, or is it feasible to explore the concept of sharing the facts or rethinking the process of aggregation in an entirely new way?

“Disruptive technology is nothing new,” says Jim Griffin, managing director of OneHouse, LLC, citing the ongoing evolution of media from print to radio to television to internet. For those who care about copyright, the music industry has become the proverbial canary in the mine. “Creativity is moving from the center to the edge of the network,” he says, a movement that makes it difficult to monetize content and license it. “And what’s more, content doesn’t respect the edge of the network,” he says. Look at the emergence of technology in the mobile space. The iPhone wouldn’t exist today without the history of our music industry.

William Patry, senior copyright counsel at Google, thinks of “copyright as the yoke around innovation.” Much of this stems from confusion. Pointing to legal implications in sections 105, 107, 108, and 114 in the U.S. copyright law, “We just don’t understand each other’s rules,” says Lois Wasoff, copyright law and policy attorney and past chairman of the copyright committee of the Association of American Publishers.

In the solo session “Pogo: Rethinking Remix Culture,” artist Nick Bertke (aka Pogo) provided samples of his music videos that splice sound snippets and video clips of cartoon classics. His work Alice, based on Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, has generated more than 4 million hits on YouTube to date. While the 21-year-old from Perth, Australia, hasn’t made any money on his music, he is definitely building a reputation and a career out of “embracing remix culture.” But does his work infringe on copyright or is it a transformative?

Likewise, documentary filmmaker David Hoffman has worked through plenty of copyright dilemmas during his 35-year career. Sputnik Mania, Hoffman’s latest film, draws on sounds and clips that he spliced together from different sources to document the impact of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite on American life. Finding film clips and photography circa 1957 wasn’t easy and finding the legitimate owners of such media was even harder. When it comes to copyright and possession, he stands firm: “Everything is in the eyes of the beholder. Prove that you own it, and I’ll pay you for it.”