Rupert Murdoch takes on Google, fair-use guidelines

Every time I see an article about copyright laws, I usually gripe about how the discussion excludes fair-use guidelines — those loose rules that outline how people can legally use selections of copyrighted works in their own productions.
Well, my wish was granted, but in a fairly horrible way — News Corp. honcho Rupert Murdoch said he believes his company can challenge fair use and have the courts strike it down.
Murdoch was speaking with Sky News Australia, a segment of which is reposted in this Boing Boing article. The Boing Boing article is a pretty strident commentary.
BBC News also had a summary of Murdoch’s comments to Sky News. Apparently, he’s willing to pursue the matter slowly.

“There’s a doctrine called ‘fair use’, which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether,” Mr Murdoch told the TV channel. “But we’ll take that slowly.”

Murdoch also tilted toward the search engine windmill. He is still on a course to seek payments for News Corp. Web sites and may seek to have the sites’ information removed from Google and other search sites.
Many on the Internet (like Boing Boing) think that Murdoch’s moves may be folly. Although he thinks it unlikely to succeed, longtime tech writer Harry McCracken urges Murdoch to block Google.
Some of the criticism is wrapped up in a dislike of the political leanings of Murdoch’s holdings (the News Corp. umbrella includes the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, UK and U.S. tabloids, etc.).
Setting aside the party politics, it wouldn’t be wise to underestimate Murdoch. Some of his successes have changed the industry (including the dismantling of newspaper unions in England, launching the populist FOX TV network in the United States, etc.). Even his efforts that have come up short have been spectacular.
While Murdoch’s possible moves against Google may be getting the most ink, it’s the idea of gutting fair use that concerns me most. Having News Corp. block search engines only affects the one company (and those that may follow this decision). Eliminating fair use affects everyone.
Murdoch is willing to play the long game to strip the general public of a key component of copyright law. Scrapping fair use would be detrimental to research, news gatherers and the general public.
The fair-use guidelines aren’t perfect, but at least they set some ground rules for those wishing to be legit. If these guidelines are cut, there are at least two possible outcomes:

  • Someone approaches a copyright holder for a blessing anytime he wants to use even a scintilla of information. This would give the copyright holder direct control over who uses even a little bit of their content — like the Sky News quote used in the BBC News article and this blog post.
  • Someone uses content without permission and exposes himself to prosecution. Even under fair use, there is a possibility of prosecution if copyright is flagrantly disregarded. Without fair use, the consumer/producer would have little to no protection.

‘Glee’ success depends on how it’s sweetened

As “Glee” starts its first season tonight on FOX, I think a lot of the show’s success depends on how this fun show is developed.

The show’s creators have thrown in a lot of cane sugar — I enjoyed the story about high school students and their teacher working to revive a show choir. There’s something sincere about the effort to succeed in a harmless endeavor even if it isn’t popular or well regarded by other students.

On the other hand, the “Glee” chefs have also stirred in a ton of artificial corn syrup — including really blatant fake singing that detracts from the show’s impact. I’m not talking about normal dubbing, which I think happened in some of the songs from the pilot. I’m talking about fake singing on the scale of the “Nick & Jessica’s Family Christmas” special featuring Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey.

The show choir’s big number in the pilot — a performance of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” — sounded overdubbed and had way too many voices for what is supposed to be a group of six singers. The vocals from the male lead sounded like they were lightly processed by an auto-tuner. That definitely detracts from a character who is supposed to have great talent.

Plus, the backing music supposedly from a jazz band sounded like a synthesizer from the 1980s. As a former band-o, this is unforgivable.

Far better critics than I (like Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune) have noted how “Glee” is trying to strike a balance between sincerity and irony.

As the show gets launched tonight, I think that it will need to balance a lot of things. Yes, sincerity and irony but also providing a semi-real slice of high school while providing enough entertainment to keep viewers tuned in.

I hope they find their sweet spot because this is a show that I could be interested in.

‘Futurama’ cast, studio strike deal

Good news, everyone! Word came out Friday evening that the “Futurama” cast has signed on for the new season of the show.
It’s not clear what cleared the way toward a deal between the actors and the studio, but I’m glad they reached terms. I definitely wouldn’t want to see the actors be replaced.
The new season will begin airing next year.

Fox threat to recast ‘Futurama’ actors likely a folly

The future is in Futurama lunch boxes
Many fans of the resurrected TV series “Futurama” have gotten their dander up in recent weeks over the possibility that the show may go on without the original voice actors.

According to several sources (including this Kansas City Star blog), the actors haven’t been able to reach terms with 20th Century Fox over compensation for the new season of the show. Other parts of the show have apparently been scaled down as the series moved from the Fox TV network to DVD releases and, finally, to Comedy Central.

While I don’t know all the details about the contract negotiations, I can think of a few reasons why recasting the voice actors is a bad idea:

  • This isn’t like the old days where you could replace Darren on “Bewitched” and get away with it.
  • Recasting the actors will likely alienate the die-hard fans who stood by the show over the years. These are the fans that have willingly watched endless repeats, first on Adult Swim and later on Comedy Central. More importantly, they’ve voted with their wallets by paying for the DVD releases.
  • Fox has been getting a deal with its current voice actors. Billy West does the voices of one of major characters (Fry) and several others, including Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg and Zapp Brannigan. What do you think the odds are that the studio will be able to find one actor to do all those voices?

Threatening to recast the actors is a tactic Fox has tried before with Futurama’s sibling show, “The Simpsons.” I don’t know if Fox really benefited from the threat — all the actors were able to return, with better contracts IIRC.

Ultimately, Futurama is a show that has given me and its fans countless hours of entertainment, laughs, romance and a little bit of geeky brilliance. I hope there’s a resolution that allows this show to continue.