2003 July 23; #2

(entry last updated: 2003-07-23 17:59:46)

  • From the NYTimes APWire: House Votes, 400-21, to Block Media Rule by the F.C.C. [pdf]

    By a 400-21 vote, lawmakers approved a spending bill with language blocking a Federal Communications Commission decision to let companies own TV stations serving up to 45 percent of the country’s viewers. The current ceiling is 35 percent.

    Despite GOP control of the White House, Congress and the FCC, the House vote set the stage for what may ultimately be an unraveling of a regulatory policy that the party strongly favors. The fight now moves to the Senate, where several lawmakers of both parties want to include a similar provision in their version of the bill.

    Top Republicans are hoping that, with leverage from the threat of a first-ever veto by President Bush, the final House-Senate compromise bill later this year will drop the provision thwarting the FCC.

    […] The House bill affected only part of the FCC’s decision.

    By 254-174, the chamber rejected an amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., to kill the entire FCC ruling, which he said would impede local media control. The June 2 ruling also would make it easier for companies to own newspapers and broadcast stations in the same community, and to own more than one broadcast outlet in a market.

    This Salon headline on their writeup of the controversy is now quite appropriate: Congress to Big Media: Not so fast

  • Larry Lessig points out the Newsweek writeup of the movie adaptation [pdf] of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. As he’s mentioned before, the comic reflects the benefits of having a public domain from which new creations can be made; the writeup discusses the problem within the context of the movie:

    At the same time, the film illustrates how modern copyrights restrict the use of established cultural texts that should be in the public domain. For American audiences, Tom Sawyer is added to the mix, but evidently Fox couldn’t clear his film rights, so he’s referred to only as “agent Sawyer.” A friend of mine walked out of the movie having no idea Mark Twain’s rambunctious kid was all grown up and inexplicably sneaking about London with a shotgun.

    Then there’s the film’s generic invisible man. Though H. G. Well’s lunatic scientist, Hawley Griffin, was available to Moore for the comic book, Universal made “The Invisible Man” in the ’30s and still owns film rights. So this is an invisible man named Rodney Skinner, and his awkward origin story, explained early in the movie, brings the momentum crashing to a halt. A better script could have fixed these flaws, but someone didn’t love the film enough to care.

    Here’s a disclaimer: my wife, Jennifer Granick, and her boss at Stanford Law School, Larry Lessig, spend a lot of time worrying about how Hollywood bigfoots like Disney successfully lobby Congress to extend the copyright term and keep works out of the public domain….

    “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” both the comic and the film, demonstrate why ordinary people should care about Lessig’s cause. A rich public domain enables creative geniuses like Alan Moore to reach into society’s collective memory and produce complex, fun and socially valuable works. The existence of the “League” comic doesn’t harm the original creators, it directs a new generation of fans back to the source material that continues to inspire pop fiction today. Meanwhile, the film shows how ridiculous copyright restrictions have become. Fox probably could have used Wells’s original invisible man but didn’t want to risk an expensive legal skirmish with Universal. Just the existence of onerous copyright law has a chilling effect on creators.

    The public-domain possibilities that Moore demonstrates are endless. What about a League of Extraordinary 20th-Century Gentlemen? Tom Swift joins with Doc Savage, the Shadow and Nancy Drew. Folks would pay a lot of money to see or read that story. But it couldn’t happen. Those heroes are all locked up under copyright.