Images in a Changing World

Monday is my day to post a blog.  I failed to post on time this week because I was trying to come to terms with copyright law, use permissions, and the failed concept of public domain works of art.  (I'm happy to report I'm that far along with both my high quality video productions and my book.)

Most of my readers are decent and upright citizens, and may not be aware of terms like copyright nazis. Consider this.  If one were to re-record a recording of a piece of music by, for example, by putting a microphone in front of a speaker, most people would not consider this a new piece of art.  It certainly wouldn't be copyrightable.  But, in fact, if one takes a purely technical photograph of a photograph, that is considered a new work of art.  Even if a photograph is very old, and is clearly now in the public domain, a person or a corporation, or a museum can take a new picture of it and restart the copyright.  These works can be owned too, creating some incomprehensible process by which I, or you, can be required to pay for permission to use them.  You need to be a lawyer to understand it.

A painting, say from the 13th century, which has been in the public domain for hundreds of years, is technically owned by the Smithsonian, for example.  Which, as a citizen, I own.  But the museum has decided that they want to make money off of anyone who might want to reproduce the image.  So they claim copyright of a documentary photograph they took of it.  And since they can take a photo anytime they please, they claim copyright forever.  Even though these works of art are often available online in high quality resolutions, the rights to publish them in a book or use them in a video have to be licensed for a fee.  If an artist, like me, wants to use a substantial number of images, it costs thousands of dollars and takes months of negotiations. There is a concept called fair use, but this blog for instance, even though I've hardly made any money from it, is a form of marketing and might or might not be considered "fair use."  A judge would have to decide, and that would cost thousands of dollars even if I won.  

Perhaps readers have heard of wiki commons, or Creative Commons licensing agreements.  At first I was excited about this as a possible solution.  Some of the images have been put on Wiki Commons by museums. That is fantastic.  But a great many images are still questionable.  The Creative Commons license isn't a warranty.  You, or I, could still be sued for using them.  And of course in the case of videos, Youtube will simply take the video down if there is a challenge, they don't even care whether the claim is false or not.  

Now I'm seeing the world differently.  When I look at a book I consider whether it would benefit from a few black and white images.  With modern printing, black and white images cost the same as words to print.  Yet, most books which would benefit hugely from a few historic or culturally relevant images have none.  This is a form of censorship.  It is just too much of a hassle to get permissions and figure out copyrights, so most books forgo images. 

Guan Gong--image found in the trash in San Francisco China town--donated to SFPALM

Guan Gong--image found in the trash in San Francisco China town--donated to SFPALM

This image is clearly old enough to be in the public domain.  The museum who "owns" it charges for high resolution digital files. In economic terms that is call Rent Seeking.  But I was warned that publishers probably will not reproduce it because it is part of the May's Studio Collection which was "dumped" at the museum and there is still a remote possibility that someone will try to make a copyright or ownership claim.  Rant over.


This is the new Martial Arts Studies Book series, which promises to be awesome.  I'm thinking about proposing an alternative history of Baguazhang.


Nunchucks were a portable torture device.  In China and Japan, all criminals had to confess.  The final judgement always required a confession.  So it was standard to torture people until they confessed.  Nunchucks were used to slowly crush bones during interrogations.  They can also be used for minimal force arrests. So I was delighted to see some police departments are adopting them. 


I thought we should try this a few years ago.  It is Brave New World stuff.  Imagine being declared oxytocin-deficient.  At work.  Or by your family.  Or in jail.  Also imagine the creep potential.  "My husband wasn't being nice, so I started putting oxytocin in his Bud Lite and now he loves me...more."


And this is some big news out of China.  


Also, I'm hoping that my blog will become Mobile Compliant soon, stay tuned, and thanks for reading!