November 29, 2002
Censorship and Copyright

Columbia University's Journalism School a few days ago held a conference on free expression and the arts called The New Gatekeepers. A NY Times article reported on the conference discussion over the tension between copyright and censorship.

And Jed Rubenfeld in a Yale Law Journal article looks at the tensions between the First Amendment and Copyright in "The Freedom of Imagination: Copyright's Constitutionality." (PDF) He illustrates the point with examples such as The Wind Done Gone (he was counsel for the author) and the 1995 case where a former Church of Scientology member who posted some of their material on the internet as criticism, was then subject to a seven hour search by the police, assisted by a Church member, all in the name of copyright. He talks about the freedom to imagine, and whether copyright law is content based compared to speech restrictions based on content and viewpoint. "In the elaboration of these rules, the freedom of imagination ought to play the same role for copyright that the freedom of 'wide-open and robust debate' has played for libel."

From the conference online brochure: "Free-expression conflicts are increasingly fought over intellectual property and copyright. Today's artist is less likely to encounter the ire of a politician than a cease-and-desist order from a corporation's legal counsel. Entertainment companies defend their ownership of their products no less fervently than artists who proclaim their right to sample freely from an "intellectual commons" of existing creations. The stakes are enormous: Without a marketplace of sounds, words and images, the future of the information economy is potentially anarchic; but many feel that without open access to source material for artists to draw upon, creativity in our digital culture is cast in doubt."

NY Times article observations from the conference: "artists are more afraid of getting a cease-and-desist letter than of outright censorship" (Andras Szanto); the 1998 copyright 20-year extension law and aggressive enforcement by corporate copyright holders were compelling some artists to engage in self-censorship, and rather than risk a lawsuit, some hip-hop musicians have abandoned sampling, once the genre's signature technique (Gigi B. Sohn); it's easier to download a copy of "Steamboat Willie" from the internet than to rent a legal one, and "Copyright is stronger than ever, which experts say will plunge us into the Dark Ages. Copyright is weaker than ever, which experts say will plunge us into the Dark Ages. The confusing thing is that both statements happen to be true," (Charles C. Mann). Trilogy Studios also demoed Moviemask.

Posted by Mary Hodder at November 29, 2002 08:55 AM
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