Screening No More

Earlier this year the Carnegie Museum announced it would close one of Pittsburgh’s oldest and most renowned screening series and shut down the museum’s film and video department, the result of a $4 million budget cut for 2003. In addition to dropping the film and video program, Carnegie Museum is eliminating seventeen full-time and four part-time employees.

The CMA Cinema series was a major outlet for independent and, particularly, international film. Last year, 120 films were screened at the museum, attracting more than 11,000 viewers. Because of the focus on international film, CMA Cinema attracted large audiences and a great deal of support from the city’s ethnic communities. “It was the only thing in town [where] afterwards you could walk out and hear extensive discourse in Farsi,” former Carnegie curator Bill Judson says. He also notes that the Polish community raised money to bring Polish films and filmmakers to the museum.

In a press release, Carnegie Museum of Art Director Richard Armstrong cites “greatly reduced endowment income” and the existence of several other venues for independent film in Pittsburgh, such as Pittsburgh Filmmakers, as reasons for the cutbacks. But Judson is quick to point out that CMA Cinema’s focus on feature films from abroad, rather than American independent and popular foreign films, made the museum’s series unique to the area.

Kilolo Luckett, director of marketing and public relations at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, lists Almodóvar’s Talk To Her and François Ozon’s 8 Women as examples of the type of international films that screen at that venue. “The wonderful thing about the Carnegie’s film and video program,” she says, “was its ability to dedicate a solid run of foreign cultural films from places like Japan, Africa, [and] Kazakhstan. This unique programming really embodied the many different ethnic and cultural communities that shape Pittsburgh.”

Even Armstrong admits that CMA Cinema’s shoes won’t be easy to fill. “To say that [a series like CMA Cinema] could happen elsewhere is very naive and disingenuous,” he says. “I only said it in the press release to soften the blow.”

Armstrong, who describes cutting the program as “an extremely painful decision,” expresses hope that “someday, we can reconstitute the film program.” But the Carnegie Museums do not foresee any change in their income stream for the next thirty-five months. “We are struggling daily to find out how something could be salvaged,” he says.

The Carnegie Art Museum will continue to exhibit film and video artworks. Christian Jankowski’s video work Puppet Conference opened in the museum’s Forum Gallery in January. “[Film and video] should be a crucial part of any art museum’s program,” Armstrong says. “Film is the most attractive way to increase visual literacy.”

Recent CMA Cinema programs featured films from Central Asia, such as Ardak Amirkulov’s The Fall of Otrar. This year’s screenings, now canceled, included programs of new Brazilian and Slovakian films, including Carlos Diegues’s Orfeu and Martin Sulík’s Slovakian hit The Garden.

“[M]usems have a responsibility to the immediate communities they serve and to the larger [culture] of the country to understand film and video as artistic, creative, expressive endeavors, beyond the kind of thing which gets funded and consumed within [the] art world,” Judson says. “A museum needs to understand that because it doesn’t live in the economy and consumption of the art world, it doesn’t mean that it’s not equally valid as part of a larger cultural fabric.”

Supreme Court backs Copyright Extensions

by Charlie Sweitzer

The Supreme Court recently ruled seven to two to uphold the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, which many in the media arts world opposed because it delays work from passing into the public domain for so long. The act extended the maximum term of copyright from fifty to seventy-five years for individuals, and seventy-five to ninety-five years for corporations. Its constitutionality was questioned in a suit filed by internet publisher Eric Eldred, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, and others, on grounds that Congress had overstepped the Constitution’s grant of “limited times” to artists and inventors for exclusive rights to their own works.

In the decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, “The wisdom of Congress’s action . . . is not within our province to second guess,” noting, “It is Congress that has been assigned the task of defining the scope of the limited monopoly that should be granted to authors.”

The two dissenting votes were cast by Stephen G. Breyer and John Paul Stevens. Said Stevens, “[T]he Court has stated that Congress’ actions . . . are, for all intents and purposes, judicially unreviewable. It is not hyperbole to recall the trenchant words of Chief Justice John Marshall: ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’”

Of special concern to the plaintiffs is that the act affects anything that is currently held under copyright, not only works created after the law was passed. In his opening statements Lessig said, “When [Congress] legislates retrospectively, it is, in effect, looking at particular authors and estates of authors who are before Congress asking for this extension, and it’s choosing between these particular authors and the public at large.”

Since the court’s ruling, Lessig has suggested a $50 yearly tax on copyrights. He argues that this would prevent works with little or no commercial potential from needlessly staying out of print.

One of the strongest proponents of the 1998 act was the Walt Disney Company. Under the old laws, Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse would have begun to slip this year, when 1928’s Steamboat Willie would have passed into public domain. In 1998 Disney spent $475,602 on campaign contributions and $560,000 on lobbying, more than any other studio, network, or record label that year.

The court’s ruling has stirred up more public debate than might be anticipated from a bill that passed virtually unchallenged through Congress half a decade ago. Until now no one has questioned the constitutionality of any of the numerous extensions to copyright law which have been passed since 1831. The New York Times ran an entire page of coverage of the January 15 ruling, and Bill Moyers recently dedicated an episode of his PBS show NOW to copyright issues.

The publicity brought on by even an unsuccessful Supreme Court challenge may eventually affect the laws that Congress chooses to make. “Losing a Supreme Court case has often been the road to a successful political movement,” comments James Boyle, a Duke University law professor and member of the academic Advisory Board of the Electronic Privacy and Information Center. “Without [such a case], neither the public interest nor the public domain will get a hearing at the tables of power. . . . It used to be that intellectual property rights existed at a great distance from the public. Now most of us deal with intellectual property every day and realize that we are doing so . . . [I]t is hard to go through a day without copying, transforming, redistributing a mass of digital objects.”

New Copyright Contract

by Jason Guerrasio

Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization funded by the Center for the Public Domain and based at Stanford University, has developed a partial copyright license that allows creators to reserve some rights for themselves while granting others limited free use of their work. “Right now the choices are total copyright protection or just losing your stuff,” says Creative Commons Executive Director Glenn Otis Brown. “What we’re proposing is essentially recognizing what’s in the public domain and what’s fully owned.”

The Licensing Project offers free web-based contracts with four levels of copyright protection:

1. Attribution—Permits anyone to copy, distribute, or display works based upon your work if they give you credit.

2. Noncommercial—Permits the above attribution rights, but only for noncommercial purposes.

3. No Derivative Works—Permits anyone to copy, distribute or display your work if they give you credit, but they may not use it for derivative works.

4. Share Alike—Permits others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.

The copyright also has machine readability, which means search engines can sort results by how material can be used. “You essentially label what is free to use and what’s not,” says Brown.

The idea of a copyright license with different levels of protection was originally examined in 1999, when faculty and students at Harvard Law School and MIT explored the possibilities of a copyright which allowed creators to mix and match consent. Heading the program was law professor Lawrence Lessig (now chairman of Creative Commons) who argued the recent Supreme Court case against the copyright extention act. Lessig took the project with him when he left the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard to join the faculty of Stanford University’s law school, where Creative Commons currently is housed. Creative Commons hopes the end result of Licensing Project will be a document that’s sturdy enough to hold up in court and simple enough to be understood by nonlawyers.

To start the process, log on to the Creative Commons’ website ( and answer some basic questions designed to decipher what type of copyright you want. Once that procedure is complete, the copyright license is transferred to your website. A small Creative Commons logo will be located at the bottom of your web page, which, if clicked on; will display the specifics of the copyright. “Essentially we’re recognizing that copyright is about these fine-grain steps,” Brown says. “Copyright is made up of a bundle of distinct rights like the right to distribute, to copy, to make derivative works. We’re basically helping people fine-tune all these little rights.”

Along with the Licensing Project, Creative Commons also launched the Founders Copyright, that allows the licenser to put their material into the public domain fourteen years after they sign the contract.

Creative Commons does not archive or sort the material. “We’re offering these legal documents,” Brown says. “Archiving on top of being the tool provider . . . is just beyond what we can do.”

This spring, Creative Commons will launch the Conservancy Project, where they’ll take donated materials and make them available under the terms of the donation. This would be designed for content developers who do not want to retain full control of their work, but who want to limit its exploitation while it is in the public domain.

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About :

Charlie Sweitzer is a New York-based writer.