Copyrights in the Digital Age

Did you know that if you make a video workprint of a film, you own that video?

I don’t think that was the intention when the US Congress wrote the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They were thinking about video games and word processors. Then downloading happened.

Film archives don’t want to infringe on the copyrights of others. I don’t recommend it to anyone in any context. But that video workprint? Who has the rights to that?

Consult a copyright lawyer if you like but the answer will probably be a long one. It’s complicated. It’s getting more complicated all the time. A couple years ago I spoke on a panel addressing an assembly of copyright lawyers and government ambassadors from around the world. I stuck to what I know but the real surprise for me was how little anybody knows about what’s next. They’re working very hard and diligently to figure it out. One core problem is that the internet is global but copyrights are local, WIPO notwithstanding.

I don’t know what you want to do with this information. Copyrights are a fascinating subject. But that video workprint you made with your FI-16 isn’t a copy. It’s a new work. It’s video assembled from still photography aimed at a film. If you make a film copy of a film, copyrights cover that pretty clearly. If you digitize a film to make a digital copy of its content, decades of law practice cover that pretty clearly. But a video workprint made on a FI-16 isn’t the copyrighted movie. It’s photography of the plastic. It’s meant for the archivist, to help them do their work well.

What is that?