At South by Southwest, the March extravaganza in Austin, TX that brings together filmmakers, musicians and geeks, copyright issues are ever-present. Our panel, “Neither Pirates nor Moguls: Grey Areas in Music Distribution,”tackled media and music industry piracy claims. Jeff Ferrell, professor and performer, introduced the panel with the notion that all cultural creators make their work out of existing culture, and that the “grey areas” or “dirty areas” of copyright practice are also creative zones. “Let’s all play in the dirt!” he concluded. (Later I ran into Participatory Culture Foundation’s Dean Jansen in the hall, and he introduced me to Kirby Ferguson’s genius video series, “Everything is a Remix,” making the same point with pictures.)
My presentation focused on the importance of communities of practice asserting their rights to quote copyrighted material within the law. Heitor Alvelos showcased some ways that artists are making money on their work while also giving away their music. Alex Seago showed how musicians curating obscure music in clubs in Eastern Europe are reviving old sounds and even careers. And Sam Howard-Spink discussed the pioneering research on IP piracy conducted by the Social Science Research Council. The research shows that industry claims of piracy have no support in any data, and that what is driving illegal sales in emerging countries
is the refusal of media companies to price them appropriately for the national economies of the developing countries.
Throughout the festival, I ran into people—copyright holders all--who told me that they are using the codes of best practices in fair use facilitated by the Center, that they are teaching from it, and that they tell their friends about it. “It’s a lifesaver,” said Michael Chaney of the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Tuesday at SXSW has turned into copyright day, at least for some of us. Among the speakers were Julie Samuels of Electronic
Frontier Foundation, who discussed copyright troll behavior of Righthaven, a law firm that is buying up newspapers’ copyrights and pre-emptively suing bloggers. EFF has undertaken to defend two defendants, who have clear-cut fair use claims. We’ll be following the story closely.