Pop Art copyright

Pop Art Portraits is an exhibition currently at the National Portrait Gallery:

Apparently [the artists] cut up magazines, copied comic books, drew trademarked cartoon characters like Minnie Mouse, reproduced covers from Time magazine, made ironic use of a cartoon Charles Atlas, painted over iconic photos of James Dean and Elvis Presley – and that’s just in the first of seven rooms.

Be careful, though:

There is, however, another message about copyright in the National Portrait Gallery: it is implicit in the “No Photography” signs prominently displayed throughout its rooms, including one by the entrance to the Pop Art Portraits exhibition.

Cory Doctorow, writer of the above, thinks Andy Warhol would be turning in his grave. Hard to disagree.

Atonement preview screening

The local cinema had a very early preview of Atonement today, followed by a live-via-satellite question and answer session with its director: Joe Wright. Abi and I were there, and the following is spoiler-free…

The cinema was only half-full, and I was probably the only person in the room not to have read the book. It’s been heavily recommended by many people over the last few years, but after getting distracted two chapters in I never got around to carrying on – there’s nothing duller than re-reading for forgotten but necessary details1. It’s one of Abi’s favourite novels, and she was very concerned the story would be changed for the film. She’s not a purist, and shares my view that it’s unreasonable to expect what works on paper to work on-screen, but didn’t want the spirit altered, particularly in relation to the ending. We thought it would be interesting to see our differing reactions if this did happen, given that I didn’t know the story in advance.

Abi was very, very happy to find the film was almost completely faithful to the book, and she had no quarrel with the ending. She’ll have a review up shortly on her blog2, and will likely focus on this aspect, so I’ll stick to the non-book elements.

I enjoyed it. I liked the different, clever story, and thought it was well-structured. I was concerned for a while that it might wander off into Closer-like endless introspection, but it didn’t: this made me happy. I don’t think I’m as easily moved as I used to be3 but plenty around me were in tears for one reason or another, and I could see that it was touching at times. There was plenty for the filmmaking-geek in me to watch, too: interesting camerawork and filter effects, and one shot in particular was stunningly composed (waiting; outside; green dress; you’ll know it when you see it).

Joe Wright said afterwards that he felt Keira Knightley had grown into a woman since working with her in Pride and Prejudice, and I could see what he meant. She’s always had a girlish element – not a criticism, by the way – but here she was fully mature, and completely convincing. I couldn’t fault any of the acting – spot Brenda Blethyn, if you can – but she was the standout performer.

The Q&A session with the director was fascinating. He apparently read and completely rejected the original script, which changed the entire structure and major plot elements of the story, then worked with the same writer to fix it. That can’t be an easy conversation 🙂 He had some insights into working with actors, notably the trick of spotting and eradicating the ‘tick’ that actors default into when they don’t know what to do – for Miss Knightley, it’s apparently pouting. He also slagged off the ‘adolescent’ notion that happy endings are always trite, and had things to say about the stand-there-and-look-pretty portrayal of women in Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Los Angeles audience asked questions, which ranged from pretty vague ‘I love James McAvoy, please talk about him’ to specific questions on styles of camerawork, all of which were eloquently answered. Perhaps the most interesting was the woman who asked what he’d like to improve upon, which, to his credit, he answered honestly – he picked out a scene which doesn’t match the vision in his head. The session lasted perhaps 45 minutes, and although a little sycophantic was definitely worthwhile in my view.

I could have done with a little longer between the film and the Q&A to get my head around some of the themes. It doesn’t give anything away to say that the concept of storytelling has a major structural and thematic role, but I’d have felt more intellectually satisfied if I’d figured it out myself rather than had it explained to me. That’s my fault, though – I should have read it before 🙂

I personally can’t see anybody leaving the cinema and not thinking it time well spent. Even if you don’t like the story, it’s interesting enough to linger, and fun to analyse. Definitely recommended by me.

Incidentally, such an early screening prompted huge security from the cinema. A burly security guard on the door warned the queue that all mobile phones and recording devices must be switched off. This was reiterated once we were seated, and there was somebody sitting next to the screen throughout the film, watching the audience. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, I’m intrigued that cinemas are willing to do it, and wish they’d bother for enjoyment as opposed to copyright protection. I’d happily pay more to attend a cinema that has guards watching for people making noise – I’d say it’s a problem in 1/3 films.

  1. I’m 2/3 through Saturday, my first Ian McEwan, atm []
  2. may not be spoiler-free []
  3. which annoys me, actually – I like dramatic emotional responses! []

Prosecuting fans who translate Harry Potter

Apparently the French version of Deathly Hallows won’t be available until late October. It’s a shame the publishers couldn’t arrange simultaneous releases, but I’m prepared to accept that’s a massive undertaking. Nevertheless, it must suck to know half the world has already read a novel you’re eagerly awaiting. As a result, some fans have quickly released their own translations. Bloomsbury aren’t happy.

I appreciate that J.K. Rowling / Bloomsbury have the intellectual property rights to Harry Potter. I appreciate that, flawed as the copyright system may be, the underlying concept of creators’ rights is just. But when a kid loves a novel enough to translate it into another language, for no commercial gain, prosecuting him seems a bit much. I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a realistic legal setup whereby the translations could be pulled but the kid not be guilty of anything. But it feels wrong.

Incidentally, anyone who’s finished the book might find this amusing. Don’t click if you haven’t.

Michael Meacher dropped out

Michael Meacher dropped out of the Labour leadership race. This is sad. It would have been fun:

Why weren’t fighter jets sent up? Why wasn’t the laptop examined? Why were the hijackers seen with stormtroopers only days before? Exactly the sort of person we want running the country, wouldn’t you say?

Incidentally John McDonnell appears to think that copyright protection should be extended from fifty years to ‘the whole of their life plus a further 70 years’. Not as bad as being a 9/11 conspiracy nut, nor quite so funny, but a bit 1985.

Somebody likes my dancing photos

A friend just emailed me to point out that the Fernlea Hotel, which was the location for a dancing weekend last October, has some familiar photos on their website’s dancing page. I’m happy they think the shots are good enough to promote their hotel, but it would have been nice to have been asked. The creative commons license doesn’t allow for commercial use without my permission, which I would have happily given. I’m sure it was through not thinking rather than anything malicious, and I’ve sent them an email asking for the photos to be linked to their respective Flickr pages. If they’re not willing to do that then I think it’s fair to request some kind of recompense.

Update: The hotel got back to me, apologised and said that they’ll upgrade me to a deluxe room when our dance group next visits them in October! Swish! I don’t know how this matches up to paying a proper photographer, but as it seems to be an oversight on their part I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

A fair system of copyright protection

I’m all for campaigns against Digital Rights Management – the systems which lock media to certain hardware with the aim of ‘protecting copyright’ – but I think that ‘activists’ need to do a better job of disassociating themselves from illegal behaviour.

The system being pushed for seems to be:

  • No DRM. If I’ve purchased a DVD, I can copy it to my computer and put it onto my iPod without a problem. I can use any portable video player out there to play it back.
  • Relaxed copyright. If I like a song, I can email it to some friends. I can lend people DVDs. I can swap the occasional CD and make a copy for myself.

Many people campaign on both of these issues, and on the whole I agree with them, but there’s a hint of anarchy that isn’t always clarified. I think it should be emphasised that the aim of removing DRM and relaxing copyright is not free media for all. People should still be prosecuted for public distribution of media, as they are now: it’s not fair for non-copyright-owners to put music/films online for anybody to download, just as it’s wrong to buy a DVD, make some copies and sell them for a profit. There’s a point at which sharing media is no longer reasonable, and although it’s difficult to define a particular boundary, I think that people roughly know where it lies. It’s ok to email the latest Oasis track to five friends, saying “have you heard this? It’s cool”, but it’s not ok to do the same to an office of 100 people (unless, say, you work for a music magazine).

For the above reasons I very much like the suggestions on this post, written in reaction to the half-baked movie downloads now offered by film studios. I was particularly drawn to this:

Skip the DRM limits. It’s called steganography [link mine – Andrew], people. I can’t believe this technology hasn’t caught up with video. For heaven’s sake, just embed a single-user license code somewhere into the video itself. If someone peers-to-peers it, look up the code and prosecute the guilty party. The code doesn’t have to permeate the entire video, just a few secret scenes will do it. Add this to the storefront fulfillment software and bob’s your uncle.

That seems like it would work well, and would allow for prosecution of unreasonable behaviour. Just as many current movies have occasional flashes of red dots that uniquely identify the film stock, and hence the cinema, a similar digital system would allow local distribution while helping to prosecute people who abuse the system. The copyright companies would have to monitor BitTorrent downloads and physical shipments as they always have, but my distributing five copies to friends isn’t going to sound any alarms. If my friend then puts it onto the internet for free then it wouldn’t be too hard for the authorities to track me, and then my ‘friend’, down.

What I particularly like about this is that it could be embraced by those who work to corrupt current protection systems. Rightly or wrongly, there’s a sense of fighting against authority and unreasonable restrictions that drives many to put huge amounts of effort into, for example, cracking the codes which prevent DVDs being copied to computers; these cracks are then put online for anybody to use. This shouldn’t happen to the same extent if you had a fair system. Sure, some people would try to find ways around it, but because this could only be for illegal (and unreasonable) purposes the perpetrators would be ostracised by the tech community. Hell, if you got it right there’d be plenty of people willing to create open-source systems of digital markers that could quickly adapt to any such attempts. I think most people would be happy with a ‘you play fair by us, we’ll play fair by you’ honour system, and would have no problem with punishing those who abuse it.

I think this could work for online downloads, anyway. I’m not sure whether it could be applied to DVDs – people would presumably have to supply their name and address when purchasing, which would send privacy campaigners into trademark fits of self-importance. Maybe you could configure it so people must register if they want to copy media – would that be acceptable?

What do you think? Does that make sense?

YouTube content on BBC local news

Local news yesterday told the story of a woman “whose life was saved by a rollercoaster”. It seems that the shaking dislodged a brain tumour, causing recognisable symptoms to develop. The rollercoaster in question was The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Studios, Florida, and footage of this ride was shown during the story. During this clip, though, there was a small disclaimer saying ‘youtube.com’. YouTube is a video-upload website similar to Flickr. Interesting. The terms and conditions are very clear in stating that the videos are for personal use only, and I’ve never seen any mention of Creative Commons licenses in relation to video content. Does local news count as commercial use? I can’t find the exact clip as they all tend to look the same (I love the shakycam and distorted sound of this one, though) but I wonder what YouTube think about it.

Bits and Bobs

Serenity PosterSerenity is #1 in the UK charts, and #2 in the US. Fantastic. My enthusiasm hasn’t waned since last Friday. The DVD is rumoured to be coming out on December 20th in the US, too. I don’t buy many DVDs these days, but that’s a certain purchase!

The Argos purchases arrived today, and they’re all boring. Well, not boring boring, just only as interesting as non-stick oven trays, ironing boards and pillows can be. I ordered two sets of plates by mistake, and rather than have crockery for 8 people who wouldn’t fit into the room all at once returned one via Argos’ 16-day no-quibble promise. Hell, this is riveting stuff.

I still haven’t heard anything about said flat. If the current owner pulls out now then, well, I’m screwed.

Daylight inspection of the damage from yesterday’s car prang has resulted in news both good and bad. The good is that my car is pretty much ok. There are a couple of patches where the paint’s gone, but nothing that can’t be filled in with touch-up paint, or a blue felt-tip pen. The Focus, however, is scratched more deeply. I’ll ask the local ford garage to take a look tomorrow, since they owe me a favour or two 🙂

Waxy points out today that the Cary Grant / Audrey Hepburn film Charade is now in the public domain due to a clerical error, and can be legally downloaded here. I haven’t seen it, but Miss Hepburn is always engaging imho.

Google Reader is now (almost) fully Opera compatible, although saying that it’s not actually loading for me atm.

I caught The Daily Show on more4 for the first time this evening. It’s a ballsy show to schedule, as it doesn’t really fit into the UK advert-break system. At one point there was an obvious jump-cut, and another time the title graphics appeared briefly. The NTSC av quality is noticably poorer, too. Thankfully, the content more than makes up for it. I don’t know how accessible it is to anybody without a rough knowledge of the US political system, but, frankly, I don’t much care 🙂 Extra digital channels are perfect for this kind of show.

Yesterday’s Daily Source Code had a particularly creepy moment when Adam played a listener’s audio comment about how to chat up women in the gym. Noting their exercise bike inputs of age, weight and stamina is apparently great because you can “see how long they’ll last in the sack”, as well as the best chat-up line to use – “you look slim” if they’re particularly overweight, for example. Ugh, sometimes it’s embarrassing to be male. Adam was also rather unimpressed. Then, though, one of the podcast promotional clips was from two young women clearly trying to attract a certain kind of audience – ‘we don’t know RSS feeds from our tight little asses!’ – and was similarly degrading. It was an interesting contrast.

Finally, my friend Lil is moving to Devon to live with her boyfriend, which makes them the first couple I know to move in together. Congratulations, Lil and Tom!