Tuesday, January 20, 2009

HBO gets on the other side of the sign

For those who like their irony applied with a fire hose:

HBO has claimed copyright control over all of its broadcast of inaugural festivities over the weekend, including the performance of "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That means all those internet sites that had put up clips from that programming (including p3) now have a black hole that looks like this:

Simply as a matter of mere dollars and cents, I find the logic of this to be pretty odd: Does HBO expect a lot of people to re-watch their entire weekend of pre-inaugural programming, either on cable/satellite or by DVD purchase, again? Maybe a highlight here and there, sure; but otherwise, anyone who wanted the whole thing for a keeper has probably long since recorded it and filed the disk away. All those clips were promoting HBO while costing them almost nothing.

But of course, it's not about--it was never about--the dribble of money HBO might bring in from a few people re-watching licensed copies of the pre-inaugural celebration. It's about the corporate hunger to extend intellectual property rights in all directions, to infinity. As an author who gets royalty money myself, I'm obviously fine with the idea that creators of intellectual property have the right to make a reasonable return for its publication. But this is just nuts.

I doubt if anyone's going to say it any better than Oliver Willis has:

I’m no copyright expert, but I really wish someone would go ahead and post clips on their blog or other website, then get HBO to defend the idea that they own a public concert given on federal property in the middle of the inauguration of America’s next president.

Exactly. This is simply the same corporate logic that has led to patenting human genes. As some of his commenters argue, there's certainly the case that can be made that HBO's position squares with our warped copyright law as it now stands. But I'd enjoy watching them make the argument publicly.

And the killer part of the story is that this now-banned clip features Woody, and a crowd of thousands stretching the length of the Mall in DC, singing:

As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tresspassin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Come to think of it, maybe HBO is primarily interested in suppressing proto-hippie thinking like that.

1 comment:

janinsanfran said...

It is readily available here:

German TV apparently. :-)