Tag Archives: copyright

NHL can make history by opening up

This video is one of many, many parodies of the National Hockey League’s History Will Be Made ad campaign for the 2010 playoffs.

Some are hilarious. Some are awesome to watch. Some are head-scratchers. Some talk about the history that wasn’t made. Some are bitter (with reason). Some look like they’ll be killer until a monumental letdown at the punchline.

Some make fun of officiating. Some make fun of journalists. Some just make fun of Ryan O’Byrne.

As the playoffs come to an end, the NHL is tooting its own horn about the campaign, and specifically about the fan-produced videos, which are made possible mainly by the simplicity of the ads’ creation – just a piece of video with cheap old-movie-style effects, played backwards in slow-motion with a piece of instrumental music.

It’s a case study for the power of viral marketing, and how giving people the power to make their own media can be better than making it yourself.

But while these videos are all over the place, the NHL didn’t make it easy for people to use the source material, and the thing executives are heralding now could soon become illegal.

Digital locks

The Canadian government recently introduced a bill, Bill C-32, which would update the Copyright Act to reflect changes in the digital age. I won’t go too much into the details (feel free to read Michael Geist if you want to learn way too much about it), but there are two provisions that are pertinent here. One makes it legal to do mashups under certain circumstances (one being that it’s not done for profit), which is certainly welcome.

The other is a much-criticized provision that, put simply, says that you can’t circumvent a digital protection measure or “digital lock” on copyrighted content. That program you use to download DVDs to your hard drive? Illegal. That program or website that allows you to download YouTube videos? Illegal. It doesn’t matter how easy it is to circumvent the lock, as long as the copyright holder tries to lock something down, you’re not allowed to have access to it. And you can’t have access to the tool that circumvents that measure either.

Among the most protective copyright holders are sports leagues. Before live broadcasts, many of them include a reminder that videos, photos or even descriptions of the game (by this they usually mean radio play-by-play) cannot be retransmitted or republished without the express written permission of the league. Though the NHL isn’t as bad as Major League Baseball of the National Football League, those same conditions apply.

Except for recording off a TV, there is no easy, legal way of downloading video of these iconic (or just funny) NHL moments of history in order to create these mashups. Even buying a DVD wouldn’t make it legal under this new law because those DVDs have digital locks. Creators have to first get access to the videos through some grey or black market – or find a way to circumvent or break the digital lock – before they can create their mashup. Some methods are really low-tech (like pointing a video camera at a TV screen), while others are the result of what might be considered hacking.

Let the people create

Here’s a radical idea: The NHL should post short video clips of the greatest moments in hockey history in open formats and without any copy or access controls (UPDATE: They’ve already done this with the music used). Let them import the video directly into iMovie or Final Cut or Windows Movie Maker and have fun with them. Don’t force your fans to jump through hoops to participate in your marketing campaign.

Rather than cut into their profits, this could instead drive interest in the NHL. Seeing a 30-second clip of Bobby Orr scoring a Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal and flying through the air could lead to people wanting to watch the whole game, or at least wanting to buy tickets to the next Bruins match. Seeing a three-minute montage of great Orr moments would have a similar effect.

The same could be done for recent highlights. Thanks to Yahoo Sports, bloggers and others can post highlights of the previous night’s game and discuss them. But while those videos are embeddable – and that’s a pretty big step already -they’re not downloadable.

Where the NHL will make money is in ticket sales, merchandising, and exclusive broadcast deals for live games. It’s not in 30-second highlights of history that everyone can see on YouTube already anyway. It’s not like you’re getting compensation when those highlights appear on the nightly news.

Put it out there. Let your fans play with your golden moments. Like with the History Will Be Made campaign, you might be surprised how creative they can get with them.

All your eggs in one Scribd

This blog post at the Globe and Mail is kind of funny.

It started off innocent enough: the Globe wanted to embed a part of the auditor-general’s report into a news article, so it posted a chapter to a website called Scribd, which converts PDFs into embeddable Flash applications.

The auditor-general, however, apparently took exception to that move. It wasn’t because of copyright infringement – the report is freely available on the AG’s website. It was because, the office said, “On the Scribd website, it appears, or it makes it appear, that anyone using the document or accessing the document has an ability to adapt the content and use it in different ways.”

Their concern was people altering the document, and potentially making others believe the alterations were genuine.

Setting aside for the moment the AG office’s apparent misinterpretation of technology and the power people have to alter other people’s Scribd documents, not to mention the fact that this in no way prevents people from forging AG reports (is this really a big issue? Is there a huge auditor-general-report counterfeiting industry out there I don’t know about?), I suppose such a concern makes sense. And besides, all they were asking was to link to the report on the AG’s website instead, a small accommodation.

The Globe initially relented, replacing their embedded Scribd document with a link to the PDF on the AG’s website. But after the public (well, okay, noted copyright activist Michael Geist) objected, the Globe changed its mind and reposted the Scribd document.

The auditor-general, determined to push its case, then filed a copyright infringement claim with Scribd itself, and Scribd took the document down. The Globe responded by hosting a copy of the PDF on its server and pointing to that.

As Geist says, this is a clear case of government exploiting crown copyright against the media (unlike in the United States, government publications and works in Canada are subject to copyright, though it is rarely enforced). It also brings up questions about the Globe’s editorial processes and the auditor-general’s office wanting to control information.

But the last part of this story makes me wonder: Are we relying a bit too much on fly-by-night third-party free-as-in-beer services?

It’s one thing to use Google Analytics or WordPress or Linux, but Scribd? Twitter? CoverItLive? These services are young, run mainly out of venture capital financing (instead of a sustainable business model), and there’s no guarantee they won’t just close up shop tomorrow, taking all our data with them. (And unlike Linux or WordPress, they’re not open source, which means they control their software and your data.)

As the Scribd case showed the Globe, the service can unilaterally delete your data, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Twitter has periodic outages that nobody can control, yet some have already turned Twitter into a mission-critical component of their business model.

Just because it’s free – even to big media companies – doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

The power of the rings

(No, not really)

(No, not really)

It’s hard to think of an organization more anal-retentive about its trademarks than the International Olympic Committee (and, by extension, the organizing committees for the various Olympic Games). It’s bad enough nobody can use the word “Olympic” without getting angry letters from their lawyers, but now it seems they’re going a bit far, even by their own insane standards.

Take Richard Giles, who went to the Beijing Games last year and posted photos to Flickr under a Creative Commons license. That got a cease and desist letter from the IOC, who argued that the license was too generous, and allowed people to use his images for commercial purposes, which would violate the IOC’s copyrights. Even though he took the images, simply being at an Olympic event meant the IOC had a say in how he used his photos.

Or that Free Tibet protest video that was yanked off of YouTube because the group parodied the Olympic rings logo (in one case, using handcuffs). Or the Chicago Olympic bid logo that had to be changed because it contained a torch.

It’s not just the IOC. The City of Vancouver has raised the ire of civil liberties groups with a new bylaw that would make it easier for them to take down “illegal” signs (those that, say, use the Olympic logo without permission to cash in on the Games) and fine the perpetrators.

These things have already been subject to condemnation in editorials, but now it seems the message isn’t getting through.

The reason for all this, of course, is money. The Olympics are big business, TV networks spend hundred of millions of dollars on broadcast rights, and sponsors pay big money to be able to claim that they support our athletes.

That’s why there are a ridiculous amount of official suppliers for these Games. These include an official home improvement partner (Rona), an official lottery and gaming provider (B.C. Lottery Commission, who I guess aren’t concerned with how this might look), an official motor vehicle insurance company (ICBC), an official document solutions provider (Ricoh), an official medal metal supplier (Teck Resources, which is different from the official medal manufacturer, the Royal Canadian Mint), an official supplier of industrial safety and material handling equipment (Acklands Grainger), an official temperature control system supplier (Aggreko), an official hand sanitizer dispenser supplier (ALDA Pharmaceuticals), an official supplier of insulation materials and heat transfer fluids (Dow Canada), an official water management supplier (EPCOR), an official metal detector supplier (Garrett Metal Detectors), an official cereal supplier (General Mills), an official converged network equipment supplier (Nortel), an official network server supplier (Sun Microsystems of Canada), and an official natural gas pipeline operator (TransCanada).

There are also “media” suppliers, official partners that get to put the Olympic logo on their mastheads until the end of the Games. These include 19 official newspapers in Canada: the Globe and Mail is the official national print newspaper, the Canwest chain gets all 10 of its regional newspapers (including The Gazette) in the regional newspaper category, and Gesca gets its eight papers (including La Presse) in the French newspaper category.

I’m starting to think I should take down that image at the top of this post. VANOC will get mad at me for using the logos, and the category I’ve suggested might just be one that they were expecting bids for.

Montreal parties and copyright

The four major parties vying for control of Montreal city hall (yeah, let’s go ahead and include Louise O’Sullivan) all seemed to have embraced the new online trends. They all have Facebook and Twitter (though some use the latter more than others). The two top contenders also have YouTube channels and upload official candidate photos and campaign photos to Flickr.

But, I wondered, do they really have a firm grasp of social media? We’ll set aside the fact that none of the four websites is fully bilingual, and move on to the fine print: how do the four parties handle copyright?

Since these are campaign websites, one would expect they would want to encourage dissemination of their pictures, slogans and press releases as much as possible. But that’s not exactly the case.

  • Union Montreal is the only party to release its content (Union Montreal’s fine print is still French-only) under a Creative Commons license, though it is the most restrictive of such licenses. It does not allow commercial use of the content (which could conceivably mean not publishing candidate photos in commercial media), nor the creation of derivative works (which would prevent activists from creating mashups of those photos). Also, all the party’s photos uploaded to Flickr are still marked “all rights reserved”, which is the default copyright license.
  • Vision Montreal’s fine print (the only one available in English, ironically), is complete boilerplate legalese: “All content, including texts, articles, photos, images and illustrations, belongs to Vision Montréal or the appropriate authors. It is forbidden to modify, copy, distribute, broadcast, transmit, represent, reproduce, publish, concede under license, transfer or sell said content without prior authorization from Vision Montréal or its appropriate authors.”
  • Projet Montréal’s website has no fine print, no indication of a copyright notice, in either language.
  • Parti Montréal Ville-Marie (Louise O’Sullivan’s party) is vague about its copyright license, saying that use and reproduction of its content can be used only for journalistic and activist purposes.

If these parties want bloggers and others to promote them, especially online, they need to be a bit more permissive than that.

Olympics’ assault on fair use

Take a look at this clip from CTV News announcing our medal haul for today. Notice anything odd about it? The athletes look a bit stationary, don’t they?

This isn’t because of technical problems, or because a video editor got lazy, or even NBC’s controversial time-shifting of “live” broadcasts. It’s because of draconian rules about rebroadcasting of video from Olympic events.

Broadcasters pay a truckload of money in order to get rights to live Olympic events. That’s not so unusual. All the major sports leagues work the same way. The difference is that after the event is complete, other networks can rebroadcast clips from them in their news reports. It’s a gentleman’s agreement, but more importantly it’s the law. Fair use rules for copyright (“fair dealing” in Canada) allow broadcasters to show short clips from events as part of news reports about them.

But for the Olympics, that’s not the case. Even CBC, which has the rights to the Olympics, has to strip Olympic video from its National podcast because the latter is distributed out of the country.

The networks, including the U.S. ones like ABC and CBS, have tucked their tails between their legs and accepted these draconian rules. Instead, they awkwardly fudge their reports with still photos, file footage of practices or earlier events, or post-event press conferences.

It’s ridiculous. And someone needs to make it stop.

Jim Prentice doesn’t understand his own copyright bill

I’ve been following the brouhaha over the Conservative government’s new copyright bill, C-61, and specifically how the government has been responding to geeks who are finding holes in it and driving public opinion against the bill.

The more I follow it, the more I come to a rather stunning conclusion: Industry Minister Jim Prentice doesn’t understand his own copyright bill.

The big controversy, as the Globe’s Ivor Tossell explains, is over a provision about so-called digital locks (those software hacks they call Digital Rights Management, or DRM, that try to control how you access digital media). It says that users cannot bypass these locks, no matter how flimsy they are, even if what they’re trying to do with it is entirely legal.

The consequence of this is that companies just put digital locks on everything, and through a loophole in the law can claim rights they shouldn’t have in the first place.

In the above video, Prentice and Heritage Minister Josée Verner are asked about this, and you can see them struggle to regurgitate the talking points they’ve been handed about the bill. (In Verner’s case, you might argue that language difficulties combined with an inability to hear the question might be an excuse.)

It’s also apparent in Prentice’s 10-minute interview with CBC’s Search Engine (its most popular podcast, which incidentally has been cancelled). Prentice calls common-sense hypotheticals about the law “arcane,” seems unclear about what would happen in certain cases, and hangs up on the interviewer to escape his questions.

But to me this isn’t just about a minister and a bill. It’s something that’s always bothered me about parliamentary politics: the idea that being an MP is all the expertise needed to run a federal department. You don’t need to be a doctor to manage doctors. You don’t need to have a PhD to manage universities. You don’t need to have a driver’s license to manage the transportation department. And you don’t need to understand computers to be in charge of a new copyright bill.

Of course, in many cases ministers are put in areas they would be more comfortable with. Ken Dryden being minister for sport makes sense. But cabinet shuffles being as routine as they are makes it seem as if running the military isn’t so different from foreign affairs or finance.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe being a minister is more about managing, appointing directors, making budgets, drafting legislation and shaking hands at ceremonial functions than it is about getting into the nitty-gritty.

But Prentice and the copyright bill show a clear problem with that premise.

The theme that wouldn’t die

After being dead, then maybe-not-dead, then absolutely positively dead (as I tried to explain previously), the Hockey Night in Canada theme is once again maybe-there’s-hope, as the CBC brings in a lawyer to maybe hammer out a new deal.

It shows, I think, that the CBC vastly underestimated people’s connection with the song, and wants to do everything it can to save it.

UPDATE: Looks like it’s closer to dead again. CBC negotiators aren’t very optimistic.

UPDATE: CTV has just announced it secured rights to the song and plans to use it on TSN (and RDS). Wow.

UPDATE (June 12): Thank you Stephen Colbert. (CTV owns the Canadian rights to the Colbert Report through the CTV and Comedy networks, so he’s actually being half-serious about licensing the song.)

End of an anthem


Sad. (UPDATE: Or not?)

(Need an emergency fix?)

The fact that politicians are getting involved in this (if only by commenting out loud) really gets me. Yeah, we’re emotionally attached to it, but it’s not as if the Parliamentary Library is burning down here.

UPDATE (June 6): It’s over. Negotiations have fallen through and CBC is launching a $100,000 contest to find a replacement. Good luck with that.

Some suggestions for replacement songs. Or, if you haven’t given up yet, the inevitable Facebook group. Or two. Or three. Or four. Or five. Or six. Or seven. Or eight. Or nine. Or ten. Or … holy crap! There are 204 other groups for this! Plus the HNIC fan page, and the petition to bring in that Stompin’ Tom song instead.

UPDATE (June 7): Really? CBC ices Hockey Night theme? The puck’s stopped here? These are the best headlines you could come up with?

TWIM: Gay religious types and copyright reform

For those of you who’ve missed my blog profiles, fear not. This week I profile The Evolution of Jeremiah, a very personal journal of a gay man studying to become a minister at Christ Church Cathedral:

“Among all the gay reads I have on my blogroll, I am the only one who writes about life and religion,” he says. “If I help change one life or I help a gay person come out and live to tell the tale, or I help an HIV-positive person live another year after diagnosis, then I say I have done my job.”


Also this week, another Bluffer’s Guide, this time about copyright reform going on in Ottawa. It’s as quick a summary of the situation as I could fit into 750 words (with lots of movie title puns that honestly were last-minute throw-ins). Those of you interested in it should check out Michael Geist’s blog.

It’s a tricky issue because nobody has actually seen the copyright reform bill that Industry Minister Jim Prentice is going to put forward next year. Most of the concerns are based on Bill C-60, an attempt by the Martin Liberals to amend copyright in 2005. It was heavily criticized as favouring the interests of big media companies instead of users, and was never passed. There are concerns this is a similar attempt, mostly because there has been no public consultation about the bill.

UPDATE: Geisted!