The Silmarillion, or the absurdity of eternal copyright

illuminated-silmarillion John Tolkien started to write the Silmarillion one hundred (one HUNDRED!) years ago and continued to work on it until he died, 41 years ago.
Forty years later, an Illustration and Graphic Design student worked all by himself, for about one year, to produce a wonderful deluxe, hand-illuminated edition of the Silmarillion.

But he can’t publish it. Because other people, who are NOT those who wrote those texts, haven’t given permission (synthesis from the interview):

Q: Are you planning to put this book into publication, did you contact a publisher yet?

A: No. The rights are with the Tolkien Estate, and I would gladly work for them, but they didn´t answer my requests until now. I will keep on writing to them, until I can afford a travel to Great Britain and just put the book on their table.

Q: Did you have permission from the Tolkien Estate to make this book?

A: I made requests via the Tolkien Estate homepage, but didn´t receive any answer… But it is just a personal artistic work and I do not make any money with it.

The last answer, if I understand copyright law correctly, could be rephrased as:

Q: Do you know that what you have made, e.g. an unauthorized copy, may be illegal? I mean, theoretically, at least in some jurisdictions, you may get a Court order to destroy it and/or be fined.

A: Yes. I just hope they won’t sue my ass.

I DO know that we only have the Silmarillion in its current form because Tolkien’s son worked a lot to reorder and edit his father’s writings. But that, too, was almost forty ago.

I find really absurd, and harmful for both culture and the economy, that to reuse work by somebody who died decades ago one must ask for permission to somebody else. It’s ridiculous, really. This goes in the same league as:

Don t you dare to photograph that old chair in your living room!

The first entry for 2012 of my copyright madness gallery may be just behind (or below…) you in this very moment, in your own living room.

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as “Le Corbusier”, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand are the creators of a number of items among the “cult objects” of the 20th century, including an Armchair, an “easy-chair” and a Chaise-longue

Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand died respectively 46, 44 and 12 years ago. The three chairs mentioned above were designed at least 83 (eighty-three!) years ago. Today, copyright law is so absurd that you may not publish online pictures of those chairs. Even if they are your pictures, taken today, of “even a fraction of a Le Corbusier piece”, and even if that chair were yours, you may still be sued for those pictures, by people who didn’t design any of those objects and maybe weren’t even born when they were designed.

I am not kidding. The whole story, with links to the actual complaints filed in Court, is told here and also commented here

Please don’t let such a risk loom over your head! For your own peace of mind, please do burn today all the pieces of furniture that you bought, but for which you do not have an explicit “permission to photograph” from whoever designed them. Quick!

YouTube shuts down channel of Italian Consumers Association

unioneconsumatori Since this hasn’t probably got outside of Italy all the attention it deserves, here’s the story: ten days ago Unione Nazionale Consumatori (UNC) that is one of the biggest consumers associations of Italy, announced that YouTube has shutdown their official channel on YouTube.com (unioneconsumatori) for copyright violation. As you can see from the snapshot here, as of July 2, 2011, 1520 GMT, that account is still blocked.

From what UNC says, the only “violation” is that they had put on YouTube (among many completely original videos) short excerpts of… interviews to UNC representatives aired from the Mediaset and R.T.I networks, in order to “give some information about topics of general interest”.

That’s fair use if it ever existed, I’d say. It didn’t matter, the channel was suspended on April 29th 2011 after two complaints from R.T.I, says UNC. What now? I’m really curious to see how this story ends. As far as you are concerned…

Please do spread the word about this absurdity even outside Italy. If you want to know more, please read the formal complaint (in English) that UNC sent to YouTube.

Copyright madness goes to the moon

According to the Madisonian, astronaut Buzz Aldrin has sued a trading cards manufacturer that used his image and likeness without his permission. The problem is that, apparently, the fight is over photographs that are a) taken more than 40 years ago and b) have probably been in the public domain anyway since the day they were shot, being “a work of the US Government”. Copyright madness doesn’t live just in comics, it also travels in space now.

That absurd fight between the father and sister of Asterix

Albert Uderzo, the artist that together with Renè Goscinny created Asterix in 1959, is an 84 year old gentleman who (so the story goes) recently bought a real military fighter plane and a Pharaoh-like mansion, following the advice from his “plumber” (heck, who’s this guy, SuperMario?). Due to these and similar facts, Asterix’s sister, that is Uderzo’s daughter Sylvie, went to court to have her father declared mentally incompetent and to accuse the plumber to abuse of his influence on Uderzo. That’s what I read on Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. If this were all the story, it would be a tragic or comic family fight, of little actual interest for everybody else.

The real news here, that is the only thing that impacts on all of us whether we like it or not, is what originated both the abuses (if the court will confirm them) and Sylvie’s rage. The fight isn’t over controlling the money that Albert Uderzo already made in the past with his character, but those that will come from the same source in the future: “publishing rights from 10 to 15 millions of Euros per year, plus the profits of the Asterix theme park, plus the money from merchandising and copyright on future movies…”

Regardless of what some extremist think, personally I think that copyright still has a sense and a reason to exist today. This said, what surely does not make sense are the current excesses of copyright, starting from its ridiculous duration, from 50 to 70 years from the author’s death. The actual problem that a judge paid with public money will have to solve doesn’t exist because a daughter and a plumber are fighting (boy, doesn’t this sound like some third rate movie title…). The problem exist because those two people know one thing very well: thanks to the current copyright madness, whoever will win this case will be the only one to get millions of Euros every year, for several decades, even if he or she never personally created anything Asterix, and even if they couldn’t draw a straight line if their life depended on it.