Archive for January 2009
With ten Academy Award nominations, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is poised to win a bunch of Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. Almost all the media coverage, and many of the people who see the movie, recognize Boyle as director of some powerful and dark films, including Trainspotting and 28 Days Later.
Lost in the shuffle is Millions, a gem that Boyle directed in 2004. It shares some of the same themes as the latest movie, but received less attention, at the box office and from critics.
Millions, like Slumdog, is a little movie with big ideas. The main character is a child, seven-year-old Damian, who with his older brother Anthony stumbles upon stolen money – a bag of British pounds – only to discover that the deadline for converting pounds to Euros is approaching. Right around Christmas, the money will be worthless. So the money must be given away, spent, saved, exchanged, destroyed – all the complications that surround money, but things that are still less complicated than the people who have it or want it or need it.
Damian is obsessed with saints, and along the way his adventures include cameo appearances by St. Peter, St. Clare, St. Francis, St. Nicholas, and St. Joseph (at a school Christmas pageant). Yes, this is a Christmas movie, in the best way possible. It asks in a light-hearted, funny and heartbreaking way for us to think about the real value of people and money, about faith and religion, and about love and miracles.
Near the end of the movie, Damian dreams about talking with his dead mother. In a world full of movies with such conversations between the dead and living, this one is as touching as any:
Damian: I know you’re only a dream. But I don’t care. It’s nice to see you. Even if you’re just a dream.…The money just makes everything worse.…I’ve got something for you. From Readers Digest. Here. You may have already won ten thousand pounds.…Please will you talk to me?
Mum: Five minutes. Okay?…Now, don’t interrupt. I’m dead. I know what I’m talking about, okay?…You need to use conditioner on your hair. Your dad won’t think of that, but it makes all the difference.….Me? You are not to worry about me. You have been worrying about me, haven’t you? I’m fine….Anthony. He seems to have taken it better than you. But he hasn’t. He’s got a good heart, he just…he doesn’t know where it is. Damian? He’s going to need you. Be good to him.
Damian: Dad doesn’t believe.
Mum: Doesn’t believe what?
Damian: Any of it. Anything. He mustn’t do or he wouldn’t. Couldn’t you talk to him?
Mum: He can’t see me.
Damian: Oh….Is it because of the money?
Mum: In a way. The money makes it harder to see what’s what. You know that already….Never really win with those things anyway. You just end up with books about the American railways…It’s her isn’t it? Your dad and her? Damian. You know how complicated the money was? Well, people are even more complicated. You need to remember that there is nearly always enough good around to be going on with. You’ve just got to have a bit of faith, you know. And if you’ve got faith in people that makes them stronger. And you, you’ve got enough to sort all three of you out….Hey? That’s why
I’m counting on you.
Damian: I haven’t really been worried about you. I’ve just been missing you.
Mum: That’s allowed.
Damian: Are you really a saint?
Mum: Well, the criteria’s very strict. It’s not just a case of doing good and all that. You do have to do an actual miracle.
Mum: I’m in there. Course I am.
Damian: What was your miracle?
Mum: Don’t you know? It was you.
So if you like Slumdog Millionaire, and are wondering what else Danny Boyle has done, Millions is certainly the place to start.
During Inaugural week, CNN announced that it was going to show Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety, which it claimed was big deal. This surprised me, but it turns out to be true. The King estate has been very aggressive in protecting a broad range of rights to the man and his work. The estate has, for example, sued newspapers (USA Today) for reprinting the speech without permission, and networks (CBS) for broadcasting it. In 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found in Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. Inc. v. CBS, Inc. (194 F.3d 1211) that the speech was indeed subject to copyright.
Also part of the Inaugural week was an endless variety of merchandise, some of it about Obama, but some of it naturally linking him with MLK and The Dream. As expected, since the election the King estate has objected to unauthorized T-shirts depicting MLK and Obama together. As reported in The New York Times:
Isaac Newton Farris Jr., a nephew of Dr. King and president of the King Center in Atlanta, said the family was considering several options, including lawsuits against sellers of unauthorized merchandise linking Mr. Obama and Dr. King under slogans like “The Dream Is Reality.”
“It’s not about the money,” Mr. Farris said. “The law says that if you don’t assert and protect the right to an image, you can lose that right.” But he added, “We do feel that if somebody’s out there making a dollar, we should make a dime.”
This is just one more example of how copyright and related rights are occupying a growing part of our media and culture, in ways expected and unexpected. So here are just a couple of resources to help guide you through the more adventurous pathways of early 21st century copyright.
Creative Commons and Lawrence Lessig
If the digital world is the informational Wild West, Lawrence Lessig may be the frontier marshal trying to bring a new kind of justice to it.
Lessig is a law professor at Stanford who for a number of years he has been writing and speaking about the importance of crafting a system of copyright that fits the times and encourages the creativity unleashed by all these digital possibilities. His most recent book is Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy:
Lessig is also the founder of Creative Commons, which describes itself this way:
Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.
We provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.
Center for the Study of the Public Domain
Center for the Study of the Public Domain is focused on intellectual property that is not protected by law. Or as CSPD puts it, “the other side of the picture”:
The public domain is the realm of material—ideas, images, sounds, discoveries, facts, texts—that is unprotected by intellectual property rights and free for all to use or build upon. Our economy, culture and technology depend on a delicate balance between that which is, and is not, protected by exclusive intellectual property rights. Both the incentives provided by intellectual property and the freedom provided by the public domain are crucial to the balance. But most contemporary attention has gone to the realm of the protected.
The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School is the first university center in the world devoted to the other side of the picture. Founded in September of 2002, as part of the school’s wider intellectual property program, its mission is to promote research and scholarship on the contributions of the public domain to speech, culture, science and innovation, to promote debate about the balance needed in our intellectual property system and to translate academic research into public policy solutions.
Of the all the valuable cutting edge work that CSPD does, none is as fascinating as the comic book Bound by Law: Tales from the Public Domain. Yes, a comic book, but more than that, very likely the best comic book ever created to explain a complex, significant and dynamic issue of law (we need more of them!). Here’s how Brandt Goldstein describes it in the Wall Street Journal:
Bound By Law stars Akiko, a curvaceous, muscular filmmaker (think Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft with spiky hair) planning to shoot a documentary about a day in the life of New York City…[It] translates law into plain English and abstract ideas into ‘visual metaphors.’ So the comic’s heroine, Akiko, brandishes a laser gun as she fends off a cyclopean ‘Rights Monster’ – all the while learning copyright law basics, including the line between fair use and copyright infringement.
Bound by Law should not be missed by media creators or media consumers. The best part is that CSPD has made the comic available for download under a Creative Commons Attribution, allowing for appropriate use and distribution. (In fact, some members of the CSPD faculty played a major role in setting up Creative Commons.)