Alex Cox on the erosion of "fair use"

2 Mar

Repo Man, my favorite movie, has recently been reissued in a special hyper-deluxe collector’s edition of awesomeness which I MUST BUY, DAMN YOU MCA HOME VIDEO!

Ahem. Anyway, I decided to see what was up at director Alex Cox’s Web site. Turns out he’s living in the UK and, in late 2004, posted a good commentary about why “fair use” is very important to science and art and culture, and why its gradual destruction is a very bad thing.

You may not spend a lot of time pondering the concept of fair use, but it has (or has had) an enormous effect on the media environment we inhabit — the way we receive information, the kind of information we receive, and the way we’re educated. Fair use allows, or allowed, a text book writer to include a few lines from a Guardian review of another book, or of a film or play. It allowed Michael Moore to include footage of the World Trade Center burning in BOWLING FOR COLOMBINE, and footage of president Bush’s goat episode in FAHRENHEIT 911.

…New media are by definition new. No one can say what art forms will come out of them, nor what new income streams will be created. For Hollywood and Bertelsmann to lay claim to this new cultural territory on their own terms isn’t necessarily the best way to maximise profit, or make good art, or benefit the community. Another world is possible…

The things I’ve been reading lately about copyright and intellectual property law have had the added benefit of making me understand why the World Trade Organization can also be a very bad thing. As Cox explains, “fair use” was eliminated in the UK allegedly in order to harmonize its laws with the European Union. Because the United States and the EU are members of the WTO, in the interests of “free trade” we may have to abolish fair use here as well, in order to harmonize our practices with those of our trading partners.

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