Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Copyright...or copywrong?

Like it or not, file-sharing is just as prevalent as ever, and many industries are paying the price as a result. On the video gaming side, it came as no surprise that major player Capcom refused to release Super Street Fighter 4 for PC considering the previous iteration was pirated nearly two million times in less than a year. Similarly, developer Crytek was shocked to learn that 90% of the computers running their game Crysis were running pirated copies, costing the developers money not only because of all the lost sales, but also to maintain the servers these pirates use for multiplayer matches.

To use an even more extreme example, the entire anime industry in America has been running on piracy since the beginning. In the early days, shows were spread via a few low-quality VHS copies subtitled by fans, and the only way you could watch was if you "knew a guy". Today, thanks to the internet, it's all too easy to quickly copy and share high-quality fansubs, with most becoming available only a few days after their Japanese airdate and months (perhaps even years) before their official English-language release. This has cost anime distributors massive amounts of money over the years, and forced more than a few to cut back on their releases or even close up shop for good. While several have attempted to combat this via officially-sanctioned same-day streams, some of the more entitled fans have gone so far as to hack the distributors' official website and start sharing the episode even before the Japanese airdate, causing conflict to arise between the American distributor and the Japanese client.

I could continue to go on a long rant about the evils of piracy and how stealing is bad and isn't acceptable under any circumstances, but doing so would likely only serve to paint me as the biggest hypocrite on earth.

You see, I currently produce a series called Sonic F, a parody of the Sonic X animated series that re-purposes episodes of the latter into more comedic, satirical takes on the material.

To illustrate, here's the fifth episode of Sonic X, "Cracking Knuckles", alternatively titled "Clash! Sonic vs. Knuckles" in its original Japanese broadcast.

Now, in contrast, here's the fifth episode of Sonic F, "Clash! Knuckles vs. Crippling Stupidity".

Note that the music is different, the script is heavily altered, and the voices have all been re-recorded. The only thing retained from the original episode is the footage, and even then, not all of the original work is featured, and many clips are shown out of order or spliced up to fit the new dialogue. By this point, it's more or less become its own unique work almost completely independent of its source material, save for following a similar plot and reusing some footage. So at that point, does it really qualify as copyright infringement?

Apparently, no. A recent revision of the DMCA states the following to be one of six new "exemptions from the statute’s prohibition against circumvention of technology that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work":

Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:
(i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
(ii) Documentary filmmaking;
(iii) Noncommercial videos

Under this revision, because my videos are transformative works that differ enough from the original material to be unmistakably recognized as mmine, as well the fact that I obtain all my footage from legally-purchased DVDs and don't use them as a means of profit, Sonic F is technically protected from being auto-flagged as infringing copyright.

Plenty of others use copyrighted material for their own creative purposes, and plenty of new and interesting things have appeared as a result. However, companies are all too quick to attempt and take these things down out of a belief that any unpermitted use of their material is completely unlawful no matter the purpose. While I agree that piracy as a whole is a serious issue, not every person who uses sample clips for something is a pirate. Full unrestricted use of someone else's material risks damaging various industries, but at the same time, a total crackdown would only lead to a lot of creative minds being silenced. There needs to be more guidelines as to what constitutes theft and what doesn't so that the copyright holders are protected but the remixers are free to express themselves. It's certainly not a question that I think is going to get answered any time soon, but I know that for me personally, as long as there's an audience, I plan to continue making videos, regardless of who thinks otherwise.

1 comment:

  1. I liked your mention of Capcom and Crytek having problems with piracy in the PC gaming market. Personally, if I were to pirate a game its because I had no intention of buying it in the first place. Crysis is a perfect example- I highly doubt I would pay my money or have somebody else pay their money to buy me a copy of this game. I just don't have enough interest in it. However, if a free copy were to come my way I would check it out, and why not? I'll see what people are talking about, even though I don't necessarily care.

    I could have pirated Street Fighter the second it came out, or perhaps before that. But I bought a copy (though not for PC) because I support Capcom, their work, and the beautiful work they did on updating the series.