Fair Use in Scholarship

I’ve been involved in a few disturbing conversations the last couple of days.

Fair Use has a vital role in copyright law- it allows the use of copyrighted material without permission for what are essentially societal benefits. Criticism, scholarship, teaching and research are specifically mentioned in the text of the law as examples of the kinds of work that should be fair. Fair use is necessary for scholars.

I’m interested in a wide variety of subjects that don’t directly involve copyright- much like the field if Information, looking at copyright often involves looking at the areas that copyright touches, and much like the field of Information, those areas can be just about anything. So, for example, I look at how copyright affects the practices of libraries and archives, or K-12 education, or other subjects.

One of the things that got me interested in copyright in the first place were the practices of fans, because I am a fan and copyright seemed to bring up interesting and problematic questions for fan activities. In the anime fan world, for example, the practice of fansubbing- that is, groups of fan subtitling and distributing anime that hasn’t been released in the U.S.- used to be, and still is, relatively common. Anime club showings, where people get together and show anime, are also common. I have doubts that the anime industry would exist if these practices hadn’t occurred, but they certainly bring up copyright challenges. Anime itself has become a serious subject of study, and I’m on a few related mailing lists.

I recently gave a presentation about copyright to a group of archivists and educators from different universities in the U.S. One of the topics that came up was working with attorneys. At UT, we’re very fortunate to have strong copyright scholarship advocates like Georgia Harper. I know some other universities also have advocates in that area- Kevin Smith at Duke, for example. But one thing that really struck me from that meeting was that not all groups in other universities have that kind of support. A couple of people described how risk-averse their counsel is when it comes to copyright issues. That’s a problem. There’s too much going on in the world for fear to win those copyright arguments in education.

A related discussion popped up on one of the scholarly anime mailing lists I mentioned. One student working on a dissertation was told that he was required to get permission for every thumbnail or image he had intended to include in his work- well more than a hundred. A few people chimed in about how such a requirement seemed excessive, but many who contributed to that conversation said they had to work under that same restriction: “No permission, no dissertation, no graduation.” Some flat out said that they were told to just avoid such use altogether- don’t even plan on using images at all. If you had planned to, change your plans. Write about something else.

That’s terrible. Even when the law is likely on your side, your institutional situation can put you in a position where you’re not allowed to assert your rights and do the type of research that could contribute certain types of understanding. And when universities take this type of attitude and base their practice on this attitude, it affects the rights of scholars everywhere. Looking at actual practice is part of evaluating fair use. Making your practices so very restrictive is not only detrimental to your researchers, but to everyone doing research.

We, the scholarly community, need to be fair use advocates. We can’t let fear rule our decisions.

Nebula Awards: Anime and Creative Commons represented

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have released the 2007 Nebula Awards (seen on BoingBoing and Scriveners Error). Again, lots of my interests have converged, especially being an SF/F fan all of my life.

First, Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt screenplay adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle won best script. Miyazaki, of course, is the head of Studio Ghibli, and is one of Japan’s most respected directors. Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki brought us movies such as Our Neighbor Totoro, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away as well as many others, all of which are worth watching. Howl’s Moving Castle was a beautiful and enjoyable film. The script got a bit muddled in the end, and the themes diverged quite a bit from the teen book it’s based on, but it was still an enjoyable movie. We bought the DVD as soon as it was released in the US.

James Patrick Kelly’s Burn received the award for Best Novella. Burn was available as a Creative Commons License podcast, and Kelly freely made .doc, .rtf, .pdf, and .li (Microsoft Reader) copies of the work available from his website.

Suzumiya Haruhi dance in Akihabara!

http://www.tokyomango.com/tokyo_mango/2007/04/video_cosplayer.html

A group people do the ending dance from one of my favorite anime shows, the Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, on a street in Akihabara. The people apparently planned this event on the Japanese forum site, 2Channel. A couple of policemen show up and everyone scatters. Fun, though. ^_^

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (Spoilerific Wikipedia Entry) was one of my wife’s and my favorite shows of this past year. It’s unique in a lot of ways- from it’s play on traditional anime themes to it’s interesting use of chronology. Plus, it’s hilarious.

The anime community has had a long tradition of making works available in countries outside of Japan before they’re released in the form of fansubs, copies that are subtitled and distributed by fans. The practice of fansubbing has evolved a great deal since the creation and increase in use of the Internet. At any rate, it’s one of the reasons anime is so popular in the U.S. now. Now, Japan has always had interesting practices regarding fan based works. I’ve mentioned some of them before in the Otakon thread. Basically, a lot of things go on that are technically copyright infringement- such as the creation and sale of derivative doujinshi (fan comics)- but for whatever reason, some companies don’t enforce their copyrights. Even in the US, different companies have been known to appreciate fansubs. The fansubbing community has it’s own ethical standards as well- once a work is licensed in the U.S., distribution generally stops.

Well, Bandai has done something interesting now that they’ve licensed Suzumiya Haruhi.

http://www.asosbrigade.com/

First, they make a fan-like video with actors and actresses in the manner mirroring the show itself. They also thank fans who get the fansubs and buy DVDs, and specifically don’t thank people who get the fansubs and don’t buy the licensed DVDs. ^_^ They also make “mistakes-” like forgetting to subtitle the first video. (The “fixed” video is now up.) Fun. They’ve also got a MySpace page for the show.

Fans, YA Librarians: 1

I’m going to talk a little bit about anime fandom and briefly mention anime and manga in libraries. Next time I’ll look at the quiet demise of the University of Texas’s UTopia Project. Anime fans are an interesting bunch, and I’ll try to write more about fandom in the blog.

Holly and I were at HEB, a local grocery store chain. The largest version of the store carries books and DVDs, including an anime section. Holly stopped me when she noticed this last week, stopped me, and asked, “Could you have imagined that ten years ago we’d be seeing anime at HEB?”

I understood why she paused. A decade ago anime and manga were gaining in popularity, but nowhere near as ubiquitious as they are now. Back in ’94- and don’t I feel old now- some friends of mine and I started the anime club at Syracuse University. Anime was already making appearances in the U.S. and already had it’s first mainstream anime magazine (Animerica, in ’92) and was the topic of a few conventions, although a given college student might not know what the word meant. At the time, with a few American-released exceptions shows were still mainly obtained by sending tapes to fansubbers, who copied shows for people from their master copy (which still may have been a fuzzy 5th generation copy) and mailed them back for the cost of shipping. Fansubbing, in which fans subtitle the show, was a step up from the earlier method of sending tapes and obtaining scripts to read along with as the show played. There were ethical rules involved that still persist in modern fansubbing. They’re a topic for a later post, but at their heart was not to do harm to your community and industry. There were copyright discussions as the practice grew, but for the most part this became an established norm, and I believe helped to popularize the medium and several individual shows.

Anime and manga took off. The Internet was a huge part of this process, as it allowed communities of fans to find one another and made finding fansubbers and distributers much easier. The Anime Web Turnpike and the Big Anime and Manga Resource List provided links to fan pages with information about the show, however tangentially. At the time, you could write to the presidents of anime companies and expect a serious and prompt response. They were fans, too.

Things have changed, naturally, for the better and worse. Fandom has changed. A convention in 2006 looks very different from a convention in 1994. The conventions are bigger, the audience tends to be younger, and far more people cosplay (“costume play,” or dress in costume as various characters, a term popularized in Japan). (For a scary example of cosplay that has at least partly made public view, if you catch the “Who wants to be a Super Hero?” commercial for the reality television series, you can catch “Man-Faye,” a male dressed as the female character Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bepop. Most cosplay isn’t quite that disturbing.)

The companies have changed as well. They’re a great deal larger and many are far more impersonal. Some of them frown on the practice of fansubbing, some of them turn a blind eye. Some company representatives have reportedly said that fansubbing was all right when they were fans early on, but now that the market is established it should be discouraged (which really rings hollow to me). Some companies reportedly watch the activies and distribution of fansubbers to determine which licenses to acquire. Conventions have to worry about fanart and copyright infringement. Anime is also much, much easier to purchase and find online. New anime acquisitions are announced at by companies at conventions regularly, and P2P has played as big a role in the fansubbing realm as it has for other cultural exchanges.

HEB made us pause, but we’ve seen other signs of how popular these things are. Libraries appear to be playing a role. Viz media had a booth at the last Texas Library Association vendor room. The Houston Chronicle recently ran an interview with a Young Adult librarian, who noted the popularity of manga with the young adult crowd, mentioning Fruits Basket as popular with girls (a truly cute show involving the interactions between a girl and people who are possessed by animal spirits of the zodiac) and Fushigi Yuugi as popular with boys (an older title full of fantasy and magic, originally published in a girls’ comic in Japan. Shh.). Manga has also been challenged in libraries, and that’s a subject I’ll talk about later.

On Japan, the culture of used in

I find Japan’s treatment of new and old objects interesting. OK, that statement isn’t illuminating in any way; what do I mean?

Well, here’s one example. When I was studying authenticity, I noticed that different cultures will define “authentic” differently. Sure, that should be pretty obvious. But take a look at specifics: In the US, an “authentic” building usually means a building that was constructed at a certain point in time and hasn’t been renovated or changed beyond it’s original instantiation. In Japan, that’s not necessarily the case- many buildings have a far shorter lifespan then their western counterparts, and they were designed that way. Some temples are rebuilt regularly as part of their life-cycle, and that rebuilding is part of what makes the temple “authentic.”

The used market is also interesting. My wife and I have been very interested in Japan and Japanese culture for some time- it’s how we met, and she even lived there for a year through the JET program. That was a great experience, and we’ve both been part of various Japanese lists for many many years. I got to visit her when she was there for about a month. And in our limited experience, confirmed by some of our Japanese friends, the used market in Japan is very different from the used market in the US. Used materials are valued differently. I’m not quite sure how differently, but I can say that since we are perfectly happy with used materials we came back with suitcases and boxes and boxes of manga, all dirt cheap, because people didn’t really buy that particular item all that often in her area. The used market did exist, but it wasn’t quite the same. To some extent, it’s been explained to me that this is partly the result of the good economy Japan had some time ago- when the economy had a downturn, the used market started gaining strength again. That makes sense to me, but at some point I’ll need to actually do some research in the area. ^_^ I’m sure Holly will correct me somehow if she ever takes a look at this as well. ^_-

I’ve been seeing various stories about the electrical applicances in Japan recently, first on Japanese-centric tech sites, then Engadget, then on Game Politics, and most recently on BoingBoing. I commented elsewhere, but I wanted to note that this isn’t really a new law or a total surprise- even the link from BoingBoing with the English text of the law shows that the law was passed in 2001- it’s the list of items that would be affected by the law that’s new. Mutant Frog probably has the best links and description about this situation, which isn’t quite as dire as people thought. I have a decided “eh” feeling about the subject- the law seems to have passed more as a consumer safety issue rather than a handout to corporate greed. Slashdot has a pretty good discussion on the Japanse law, in which commentors note that the consumer safety issues are real (in that electronics that don’t meet those standards could kill you), and that many other places have passed similar laws (like the EU).

To some extent, there’s a similar situation with automobiles in Japan. The older a car is, the more expensive it is to get it insured and pay for additional fees that are mandatory with cars, which include periodic checks (shaken). The older the vehicle is, the more shaken is, and these are not insignificant costs. That being said, their old cars tend to run really well. ^_^

Collected Responses to Otakon’s Artist Policy Announcement

The Anime News Network reported that sale of fan art based on properties that the artist does not own the copyright for or have a license to produce will not be permitted at the Otakon artists’ alley this year. The issue turned out to be not quite as broad as that. Here are my collected responses from forums (so I don’t lose ‘em).

(more…)

Hayao Miyazaki on TCM

This month, Turner Classic Movies will be showing Hayao Miyazaki films on Thursdays- for the most part, both the dubbed and subbed versions (Studio Ghibli films).

During the introduction, the commentator interviewing someone from Pixar said something I found strange- something along the lines of, ‘when you think of anime, of japanese cartoons, you don’t think of developed characters or plots,’ contrasting that “standard” thought to Miyazaki’s works.

That’s just bizarre. The whole reason I got into anime in the first place was because of the developed plots and characters- much more than I could expect from English equivalents for the most part. This isn’t to detract from Miyazaki- Ghibli’s works are awesome. We own many of the Japanese versions of the Ghibli films- if only Howl’s Moving Castle didn’t cost quite so much to import we’d have it now. ^_^

We’re watching Spirited Away right now- Holly is reminded of her time in Japan. In the beginning of the movie, the heroine and her family stumble upon an abandoned “theme park” of some sort. That can happen. ^_^

Bootlegs, Sacrifices

This past weekend Holly noticed that there was a flea market between Manor and Austin. She’d never been to a flea market before, so she wanted to take a look. Getting in and out was a pain, but there were a few interesting things there. I saw a store that sold video bootlegs, that were very authentic looking. If I hadn’t known how much the actual DVDs sold for, and that many of them were not sold in the US, I wouldn’t have known they were bootlegs. There were lots of anime and martial arts or SF Japanese videos- including Casshern and Azumi, which aren’t out in the US. They had copyright notices and everything. Very weird. The most surreal item I saw was in the last store we stepped in, in the toy section. There were action figures all in a single package. The package contained the father from the Incredibles, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, a Power Ranger, and the Incredible Hulk, with some Ninja Turtles box art thrown in. C’mon, Marvel and DC in one package? :P

Now that Fall is coming, we’re going to start having more time pressures. ^^; Alas, when my WoW account lapses this month, I’m not going to renew the subscription…

Early questions…

My personal major interest is intellectual property. I was introduced to some of the issues related to copyright from before I can really remember. One of the big things that concerned me early on in my college career was related to anime, as one of the founders of the Anime Club at Syracuse University. Did the anime club have the right to show episodes that were commercially released in the US? Could the anime club legally have showings of materials that were fan subtitled and not commercially available? What was the legal status of fansubs? What was the legal status of fandubs? What about fan transcripts? For that matter, what about fan fiction published on the Internet? What about…? etc.

I still think about these subjects often. ^_^