Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Concept of Copyright

Whenever you write anything, be it a sentence or a screenplay or a book, it is copyrighted. You don't have to pay to have it copyrighted and you don't have to do anything. It just happens.

Well, sort of. (there's always a "sort of") 

For example, if you sell a screenplay to a U.S. studio, they will inevitably sneak in a clause that says they own the copyright. In perpetuity. Throughout the known Universe. Really.

So what happened to that copyright that you own? You give it up by selling the screenplay. Hollywood learned a long time ago to grab up everything. A clause in their contracts says "work for hire" and just like that you lose your copyright.

Most other countries, like Canada, simply don't allow transfer of copyright.

But they try. 

I had a meeting over Christmas with a cable company representative in Calgary. It was about the video footage I got on Georgie Collins, an actress, now 86, who played a role in Ghostkeeper. I edited a version of it, 13 minutes long, and it can be seen on Youtube by clicking on Georgie under Materials in this blog.

I had thought about extending the Georgie video as she talks about her early years as a child and eventually going into the acting profession. She is the Grand Dame of Drama in Alberta and I thought I could extend the video to 30 minutes as a tribute to her.

I was turned down by some broadcasters but then had an opportunity to have it shown on a local cable station. A "cable station" in Canada is a specific channel that provides a full-scale broadcast studio for anyone who wants to put on a local show, gardening, local events, anything.

It's also known as a "local access channel".  It's there because the government makes them have this local access in exchange for allowing the broadcaster to sell his 150 regular channels.

The representative was very excited about this possibility (and yes, he did say he was "excited). My friend who introduced us thought this would be good too. I figured that while it's not a real broadcaster in the sense of TV shows and drama, it's more for someone who wants to do something in their neighborhood. Still an audience is an audience and right now nobody else wants Georgie's tribute.

Then, after a couple of weeks, an email arrived and they were still excited, and offered their needs and wants and --- copyright of the finished product.

It is customary to sell a program to television by license, in that you license them to have a certain amount of broadcasts (also referred to as plays) under specific rules.

I had suspected that they would ask for it for free, as they rarely pay for anything but I wasn't expecting a copyright issue.

Suddenly the game changed. I could not, nor would not give away any aspect of copyright for many reasons. My copyright on Ghostkeeper means that I own it. By giving away the copyright as is often done in the U.S. , I lose that right.

Meaning that the local access channel could say they own several minutes of Ghostkeeper. And that would make it very difficult to sell Ghostkeeper or any parts of it. In fact, impossible.

I emailed a few friends, all of whom agreed that giving copyright to the cable company was not going to happen. Rather a licence could be agreed on, giving very minimal and specific rights for a certain period of time. After all they're getting the Georgie video and specific scenes from Ghostkeeper itself, for nothing except a licence.

Say, they can show it 20 times over a period of 1 year. Local access/cable channels often repeat shows so that's a realistic start. Oh, and no copyright.

What this is about for me is Georgie. She is a wonderful lady and a great actress and at 86, more than worthy of a tribute and it's not right for her to be caught in a copyright catfight, in fact nobody knows this except me, 3 references, my friend and the very nice access representative. And you.

I sent the email today but the rep is out of town so I'll hear from him Friday or next week. And just in case, I'm making a few other calls, there might be someone out there in Alberta who wants to honor their homegrown star.

BTW the cable company that I'm dealing with made $1.2 billion in 2011 and paid $24 million to it's former CEO Jim Shaw.

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