Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Price of Content Security: The Disappearance of Fair Use in Digital Media Bites Back

The New York Times noted earlier this week the struggles of a professor from the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication who put together a 20-minute collage of multimedia materials for presentation on a CD-ROM at a conference ironically entitled "Knowledge Held Hostage: Scholarly Versus Corporate Rights in the Digital Age." Months of haggling with rights holders - sometimes just trying to locate them was a huge hassle - and USD 17,000 in royalty fees later, the professor had his brief montage of clips from old TV shows, songs and texts. It's a brilliant illustration of the problems of employing fair use of content being encountered with digital sources, underscored by the draconian and occasionally nonsensical provisions of the U.S. Digital Millenium Copyright Act that make it all the more compelling in many instances to forego trying to do the right thing with content rights. Understanding the value of content and being able to capitalize on it effectively is certainly a valid commercial goal, but oftentimes rights holders are not responsible in making either fair use applicable in even very sensible and useful non-commercial settings such as a simple thought provoking piece for a highly limited audience. The time is coming for DMCA to be modified to put more onus on rights holders to make enabling reasonable compliance for researchers as easy for users to pursue as it is for the rights holders to pursue users. Otherwise, the realities of everyday economics make "finders keepers" a stance that courts are more likely to approve of at some foreseeable juncture for instances such as this.
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