The Public Domain Shrinks

The song in this cartoon is no longer in the public domain.
From the SCOTUS blog:
 In a historic ruling on Congress’s power to give authors and composers monopoly power over their creations, the Supreme Court on Wednesday broadly upheld the national legislature’s authority to withdraw works from the public domain and put them back under a copyright shield.   While the ruling at several points stressed that it was a narrow embrace of Congress’s authority simply to harmonize U.S. law with the practice of other nations, the decision’s treatment of works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. produced a far more sweeping outcome.
No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.  Any legal rights that exist belong only to the author or composer, the ruling said.  If anyone wants to resume the use or performance of a work after it regains copyright, they must pay for the privilege, the decision made clear.
The 6-2 decision (with Justice Elena Kagan not taking part) came in the case of Golan, et al., v. Holder (docket 10-545), involving a wide-ranging constitutional challenge to a federal law passed in 1994 to implement global agreements worked out in trade negotiations — the so-called Uruguay Round Agreement.  The challenge, however, failed on all points: the law does not violate the Constitution’s Copyright Clause, it does not violate the First Amendment rights of anyone who previously had free access to creative works, and it does not deviate from any long-standing historical practice or perception, according to the decision.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion.  Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.   The main opinion relied very heavily upon a prior opinion written by Ginsburg — the Court’s 2003 decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft, upholding Congress’s power to lengthen the terms of copyrights while they were still in force.   The new case was different, involving the grant of copyright to works never protected previously under U.S. law, and thus not previously restricted on use or performance in this country.   The Court majority, however, insisted that the guiding constitutional principles were not different.
The dissenters pointed out:
  that the new regime puts on those who would use or perform an old work that has become an “orphan” — that is, its ownership is unknown or uncertain — the considerable task of trying to find the owner.   The Court’s opinion responded by saying that dealing with “orphan works” is something that should be left to Congress, to take into account more influencing factors than a Court can consider in a lawsuit.
The Breyer dissent, joined by Justice Alito, dwelled mainly on what they argued was the highly unusual move by Congress to withdraw creative works from the public domain.  While that was not unprecedented, the dissenters said it had been done rarely, and only in truly novel circumstances — such as during wartime.   The dissenters also contended, as a constitutional principle, that the 1994 law does not satisfy the Copyright Clause because it did not encourage the creation of new works, but simply provided added compensation to works created decades before.
Take note, filmmakers!  You must search the records and be ready to pay, even if the source is old and foreign.


SOPA Defeat Reax

As you know by now SOPA/PIPA was recently defeated.  From the BBC
The US Congress has halted debate on two contested anti-online piracy bills.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed a vote on the Protect IP Act (Pipa) scheduled for Tuesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith then said his panel would not consider the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) until a compromise was reached.  The decisions follow protests by online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, and thousands of other websites, which went "dark" in protest for 24 hours earlier this week.  "In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday's vote on the PROTECT IP Act," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat,said in a statement on Friday. 
Paul Hartsock points out that: 
The bills are backed mainly by large content providers -- movie studios, record labels and other big-time media producers. They're designed to be a way to keep digital piracy in check. For example, under SOPA, if a rights holder has a copyright bone to pick with a foreign website, the rights holder can take steps to shut that site off from several vital channels -- search engines, ad networks, even Internet service providers. That stuff's like food and water to the survival of most sites, so in other words, under SOPA, a rights holder could basically starve the offending site out of existence.
But SOPA's and PIPA's opponents aren't just a bunch of piracy fanatics who can't bear the thought of having to pay a few bucks to see "Iron Man 2" instead of torrenting. A lot of them are actually against piracy. What worries critics about SOPA is what they see as a lack of oversight. They say it makes it way too easy to simply snuff out a supposedly offending site just by writing a strongly worded letter. There's also concern that SOPA would overburden legitimate sites with a huge new set of legal obligations and leave a door open for Internet blacklists that threaten the freedom of expression.
Those opponents have been getting their message through with info campaigns and lawmaker briefings, but Wednesday was the day of the big online protest, and it seems to have had some real results. U.S. lawmakers' websites were reportedly inundated with messages from constituents, Google delivered a 4-million-name petition against SOPA, and several erstwhile SOPA-loving legislators jumped the fence on the issue. The weekend before, President Obama revealed that he doesn't care for SOPA either.
Despite SOPA's defeat, Eric Gardner argues that Hollywood can still get its way with the cooperation of federal/international law enforcement agencies and sympathetic judges.

C. Stephen Weaver still supports SOPA and thinks that the public was sold a pack of lies.

And if you want, you can read the actual proposed legislation here.


The Key to A Successful Sitcom: Make 'Em Laugh

It's a no-brainer that a funny tv show will survive and thrive on the air.  The elements of a funny tv show are still what they've always been; a talented cast, good writers and effective marketing.  Without those, you will not get a good laugh out of the audience.  But one subtle thing that many executives are inserting in their audiences to bring out the laughs is the professional laugher.

Joel Warner writes about this little known technique to get an edge with audiences by making them laugh with a secret ringer in the midst.  Why would they do this?
The humor stakes are so high around here that live-audience sitcoms are turning to laughter ringers, folks so good at guffawing they're planted the audience and get everyone else cackling at the right moment.
Unsurprisingly, there is an agency with a lock on the professional laugher business too.
To find those ringers, TV execs turn to Central Casting, the staffing company that's been LA's go-to place for extras and stand-ins since 1925. That's where we are right now, at Central Casting's giant warehouse-sized headquarters in Burbank, ready to meet with the woman who started it all: Lisette St. Claire.
To prove her folks are right for the job, St. Claire picks up her phone and dials one of her go-to laughers, one of the Group A hotshots. "Give me a laugh," she says, and puts him on speakerphone. Never mind it's 7:30 in the morning, that the man on the other end has just been woken up. A dramatic, spontaneous cackling erupts from the phone, causing the early-bird crew working around us in the casting office to look up and smile, and a few chuckle themselves.


Music Licensing Terms to Know

 The music industry and the film industry share many things in common despite their differences, so it pays to stay on top of both.
That said I came across a cool blog posting at DareDreamerMag.

The top 3 music licensing terms you can't ignore:
And ask questions too.

Starting the New Year...

...By knowing where you want to go.

I came across this cool chart on Hope For Film and I had to share it since it's basically all your distribution options in one image.  I think it's apropo to start the new year aware of all the places you want to end up in.

Happy Filmmaking in 2012!


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