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Posts Tagged ‘copyright’

Lionsgate and the use of DMCA notices

January 12, 2013 4 comments

As the best way to start off the 2013, Google sent me a Notice of DMCA removal on the 3rd January (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=740729). It seemed that within minutes of my publishing the review of Arbitrage, Lionsgate had asserted an infringement of copyright at https://opionator.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/arbitrage-2012/ (a page address that has now been removed from the cache). I was surprised because, in my view, the display of the poster and three stills from the film was a fair use of digital images under US law but, because I prefer the line of least resistance, I copied the low-resolution image of the poster used on Wikipedia and put that up at a new address. Naturally, I asked Google to remove the old page from its cache and to reinstate the page after review.

On the 8th January, Google sent me a second notice (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=745715). It seems Lionsgate had specifically taken issue with https://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/alphabetical-listing-of-books-k-to-z/. As you will understand, this was even more surprising than the first notice. There are no images used on this page. This signalled a loss of good faith. If the take-down process was being used properly, it would allege that a page with an image was used in breach of copyright. To allege a page to be an infringement, there must be an image copyrighted by a third party or there must be some other clear breach of IP protected work. Insofar as titles can be copyrighted, I compile a continuous listing of the reviews on this site. So this page is my work and labour. Consequently, I own the copyright in the list. Again, I filed a notice with Google, alleging an “error” by Lionsgate. For the record, there are more than 800 reviews and considerably more than one million words on this site.

On the 9th January, Google writes again (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=748810). Not concerned with legal niceties like a probable fair use defence, Lionsgate has gone generic in objecting to
https://opionator.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/arbitrage-2012/arbitrage/, i.e. despite clearly identifying the source of the poster image used on the page and claiming justification, Lionsgate preferred the page to disappear — it’s a review unfavourable to its film Arbitrage. I therefore removed the poster image.

On the 10th January, Google writes again — it was getting into a nice daily rhythm (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=751478). This time, Lionsgate thought the photographs of the stars of Arbitrage were improperly used. https://opionator.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/arbitrage-2012/photography-by-myles-aronowitz/ Again, all the photographs on the page had been copied from Wikipedia and were used within the fair use boundaries. However, to keep the peace, I removed all the images from the page. I now hold the exclusive copyright to the textual content published on the page.

On the 11th January, Google writes again (http://www.chillingeffects.org/notice.cgi?sID=752414). This time, Lionsgate had objected to the page https://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/great-north-road-by-peter-f-hamilton/. To avoid doubt, I have used the low-resolution version of the image from Wikipedia and clearly state the legal justification as the description of the image. Again, I have sent a notice to Google. The comment section to the Great North review drew my attention to http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/buffy-vs-edward-remix-is-back-online-but-no-fallout-for-lionsgate/. It seems Lionsgate is notorious for attempting to stifle free speech.

Life is never dull.

You may also be interested in reading:
Lionsgate continues its bad faith sequence of DMCA notices
Lionsgate continues its bad faith campaign over the review of Arbitrage
Lionsgate’s malicious campaign now apparently defeated

Elementary: Season 1, Episode 1. Pilot (2012)

November 2, 2012 8 comments

Elementary poster

Well here we go with one of these series transplanting a British idea to the American screen, filtering the whole thing through the sensibilities of new scriptwriters. The process is supposed to tweak the idea so that it more comfortably matches the cultural expectations of the average American viewer. It seems the average American viewer finds it impossible to accept “foreign” drama invading the couch space — particularly if this would involve the use of subtitles (yes, even some British English has to be written down because American ears are not attuned to deciphering meaning in strange accents). So the American networks looked upon the British series Sherlock and thought it was good. Indeed, they thought a new take on Sherlock Holmes would sell ad space to big brand names at high rates, so quickly put together a team to do the writing. Now we should be clear about the legalities of all this. Elementary is commissioned by CBS but it has not sought a licence from Hartswood Films that produced the British Sherlock. All the content by Arthur Conan Doyle is in the public domain and so not protected by copyright. Indeed, for years, we’ve been bombarded by different variations on the theme of Sherlock Holmes with comic dwarves, updated to fighting undercover spies during World War II, and even transplanted into the future. As if that’s not enough variety, we have him in a Japanese anime trapped in the body of a young boy. So when CBS looked upon the British show, it simply thought it was a terrific idea to bring the hero into our contemporary world and, as every good lawyer knows, there’s no copyright in an idea. Elementary therefore has Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) as a youngish Brit in New York. He’s teamed up with Dr Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) and, as a pair, they are thrown together with Captain Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) of the NYPD.

Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller weighing each other up

So the CBS show is different because it’s set in New York, Sherlock is paired with a woman, albeit a doctor (well, a surgeon), his rich father is still alive and worries about him, he’s just coming out of rehabilitation for a drug problem and, so far, there’s no obvious link between these episodes and the stories adapted for the screen by the Brits. Hmmm. This is going to be interesting. As long as the scripts avoid overlapping the detail of any situations included in the British episodes, I suspect CBS will emerge legally unscathed.

Anyway, putting the potential legal problems to one side, this show has well-known stars in the leading roles and, in the opening couple of episodes, there seems to be reasonably good, albeit transitory, chemistry between them. Having withdrawn from her practice as a surgeon because a patient died under her care, Joan Watson is now acting as a “sobriety partner” although, in this case, Holmes was supposedly addicted to drugs rather than alcohol. This means he’s edgy because he’s only just through the withdrawal process, and her patience is tested because he’s rather more weird than she’s used to. Their first meeting comes when he’s broken out of the rehab centre on the day he was due for release — he thought it would be fun to show them how useless their security system was. He does his usual quick look and spiels out a lot of her background. So far, this is following the formula.

Tobias Gregson (Aidan Quinn) wearing a British flat cap

We’re then immediately moved into their first case which, not surprisingly, is a murder. I like this plot by Robert Doherty. It has some really nice features with Sherlock first finding the body in a hidden panic room (thankfully it’s not locked from inside otherwise the rolling of the marble would be a failure) and then agonising as to why the victim should have had such extensive plastic surgery. She was beautiful and, more importantly, not at all embarrassed by the mole on her face. After the treatment which, inter alia, did remove the mole, she was merely different and no less beautiful than before. Moving independently, both our emerging dynamic duo and the police identify a possible serial killer. When the police break down the door, they find an apparent suicide. There’s no doubt this was the killer of at least two women. He has photographs and trophies. His shoes match the marks on the floor and door at the murder scene, and he was allowed into the home of his latest victim because his job was delivering flower arrangements. Sherlock is extravagantly petulant at one point, which is an interesting departure from the usual character, and it’s the female Watson who points out the anomaly (which is not at all what you would imagine when you hear “allergy” and “bag of rice”).

So it’s good to see this Watson being slightly more than just a passive sidekick. She’s given some interestingly pointed lines with which to take down our Sherlock. Gregson is friendly but still a cypher whose main function is to call in the Great Detective whenever the script requires it. All in all this Pilot episode of Elementary is encouraging and I wait to see if the creative team can maintain the standard.

For the reviews of other episodes, see:
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 2. While You Were Sleeping
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 3. Child Predator (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 4. The Rat Race (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 5. Lesser Evils (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 6. Flight Risk (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 7. One Way to Get Off (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 8. The Long Fuse (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 9. You Do It To Yourself (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 10. The Leviathan (2012)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 11. Dirty Laundry (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 12. M (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 13. The Red Team (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 14. The Deductionist (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 15. A Giant Gun, Filled With Drugs (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 16. Details (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 17. Possibility Two. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 18. Déjà Vu All Over Again. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 19. Snow Angel. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 20. Dead Man’s Switch. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 21. A Landmark Story. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episode 22. Risk Management. (2013)
Elementary: Season 1, Episodes 23 & 24. The Woman and Heroine. (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 1. Step Nine. (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 2. Solve For X (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 3. We Are Everyone (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 4. Poison Pen (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 5. Ancient History (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 6. An Unnatural Arrangement (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 7. The Marchioness (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 8. Blood Is Thicker (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 9. On the Line (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 10. Tremors (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 11. Internal Audit (2013)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 12. The Diabolical Kind (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 13. All in the Family (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 14. Dead Clade Walking (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 15. Corps de Ballet (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 16. One Percent Solution (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 17. Ears to You (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 18. The Hound of the Cancer Cells (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 19. The Many Mouths of Andrew Colville (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 20. No Lack of Void (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 21. The Man With the Twisted Lip (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 22. Paint It Black (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 23. Art in the Blood (2014)
Elementary: Season 2, Episode 24. The Great Experiment (2014).

The Bone Key by Sarah Monette

Instead of starting with an autobiographical note, I thought I’d kick this review off with a number of definitions. Let’s start with “original”. This is a word we routinely see applied to the latest offerings in all media. Whether you’re talking about the latest blockbuster down at the multiplex, the next bestseller in bookshops or the newest release from the top group, the prime virtue is that the work is something fresh. Rather than recycle or derive ideas from another source, the creator has produced something sufficiently unique that it will be copied by others. Yet when you look at the millions of words and images that are hyped for our attention, and then multiply that across several centuries of effort, you realise how difficult it is to produce something that is not to some degree derivative of, or copied from, the works of others.

So this brings us to “derivative” which, in principle, is the adaptation of someone else’s work. It applies most frequently in the shared universes where, with the permission or consent of the original copyright holders, new creators are allowed to continue the development of the storyline. These major franchises cover a multitude of sins from the Lovecraftian to the Star WarsStar Trek industries that churn out new works for the delight of their fans (most recently seeing the latest and most brilliant contribution to the Batman canon to hit the big screen as The Dark Knight). But there are more authors who quietly borrow concepts and ideas from their peers, modifying them sufficiently to avoid plagiarism. After all, the dynamics of plot are basically rooted in human relationships and, unless you come up with new ways for people to interact, you can only cover the same ground as everyone else — simply changing the factual context to avoid copyright infringement actions.

And then there are the “parodies” — the works that satirise or mock the work of others. In such works, the author clearly identifies the sources and then makes fun of them. At least that is the usual intention. Yet as cultures diversify, so it becomes more difficult for humour to cross boundaries. Thus, works that are intended to amuse often anger or annoy different groups. Such works avoid liability as copyright infringements because the creators invest enough of their own imagination and labour to justify separate copyright protection.

Which all neatly brings us to The Bone Key by Sarah Monette. This collection of linked short stories pays homage to the work of M.R. James and H.P. Lovecraft (although the latter’s contribution is more tangential than direct). Well, that proves me an unreliable narrator qua critic because I have immediately stepped outside the three definitions. But that is the word used by Monette in her introduction. In essence, a homage is a work that shows respect for the individual(s) named. It reflects the spirit of the original in very recognisable ways, but adds a contemporary commentary or gloss. To that extent, it is close to being a derivative work, but it does not need the express consent of the copyright holders because the author avoids any direct quotations or other borrowings. The work is original but deliberately reflects the spirit of the originals.

So does this collection (close to being a fix-up novel but avoiding it) genuinely show respect for her two nominated sources of inspiration? The style is very definitely Jamesean. It has the same dry, slightly deadpan tone. But it avoids the rather more hyperbolic excesses of Lovecraft. You will not find any of the Elder Gods wandering around the museum where her protagonist works, although we do have a parade of revenants and other supernatural beings which borrow something from the Lovecraftian canon. To that extent, she succeeds in creating a genuine sense of period writing. Is this a good thing? Well, being of an age to have read these works more than fifty years ago, I immediately recognise the understated quality of James whom I continue to think is a master of the genre. However, I am not sure how well this style travels in time. Modern readers are used to a more explicit approach to the horror and supernatural content. Retaining some of the sensibilities of writers working so long ago is a dangerous ploy.

To leaven the mix, Monette takes the slightly radical decision to make her male hero gay. As an aside, I note that the magic employed in the Doctrine of Labyrinths has a homoerotic side with Felix overtly gay. Thematically, Monette seems to find it easier to write about gay rather than straight male characters. In this instance, the homosexuality is a reasonably good fit because the hero, Kyle Murchison Booth, comes from a wealthy background, goes through private schooling and therefore fits the stereotype of the slightly effete, intellectually obsessed individuals who closeted themselves away in museums in the early part of the last century.

In this context, it certainly does bring the characterisation into the modern era. Too often, the writers of the last century focused on the plot and said little about the interior lives of their characters. It also poses all kinds of interesting questions as: does an incubus also sleep with men or is it the succubus that swings both ways? Nomenclature is always important to us critics.

The stories are of a reasonably even standard with The Wall of Clouds the most interesting and the new Listening to Bone the weakest. The stories are divided into two camps. The first, to a greater or lesser extent, illuminates our understanding of Booth by reviewing his early life and schooling. This helps to explain how and why he has become the man he is in the second group of stories representing the mid-period of his life.

Overall, I think Monette has avoided the dangers of pastiche (in the more pejorative sense of the word) and has created an interesting blend of older and modern sensibilities. Thus, accepting the derivative nature of the work, there is a sufficient overlay of original contemporary feelings and emotions to make the fusion work.

For my other reviews of work by Sarah Monette, see: CorambisA Companion to Wolves, The Tempering of Men (jointly with Elizabeth Bear), a joint review of Guild of Xenolinguists and The Bone Key and Somewhere Beneath Those Waves.