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Piracy Good? Copyright Bad?

by Anthony Kaufman
October 12, 2011 5:07 AM
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Last week, the the Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments in Golan v. Holder, a case challenging the copyright provision of the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act. In a shrewd and well-argued editorial for the New York Times, film professor Peter DeCherney argues that stricter copyright laws actually stifle Hollywood rather than protect it, and that keeping major works in the public domain is valuable for the health and creativity of the industry.

"Filmmakers have consistently used public domain works to anchor artistic and technological innovation," he writes. "In the 1930s, when Walt Disney decided to make one of the first feature-length animated films, he turned to the Brothers Grimm’s version of the tale of Snow White. When asked why he chose that story, Disney explained that “it was well known.” He understood that “Snow White” was a trusted property, and because he knew that at least the story and characters would be familiar to audiences, he could take an artistic risk with the form."

On a slightly smaller scale, but one that has ramifications for the future of the business, I've written up a piece about piracy and indie film in indieWIRE today, which rests on a similar idea: free-access is better than no-access, and some indie filmmakers might find value in harnessing the vast audiences who use illegal downloading sites.

"Despite the conventional wisdom that BitTorrent websites and illegal downloading are destroying the fabric of entertainment industries, a number of advocates and activists believe that piracy can help independent filmmakers as both a distribution mechanism and promotional tool," I wrote.

Revenue generation may be another matter, but as “Ink” producer Kiowa Winans says, “The torrent community spread the film everywhere and helped build an audience more effectively than any decent-budget ad campaign could have.”

The full article: "Piracy May Be An Indie Filmmaker’s Best Friend: Discuss".

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