The main focus of this blog is copyright, it’s origin, original intent and how it relates to our modern world, specifically with new technology.
Now before your eyes glaze over and you completely tune me out, stay with me, because I am also going to talk about Independent film, creativity and how copyright directly affects you. .
As a writer and Independent filmmaker, I have always been fascinated by copyright and how it is used in the entertainment world. About 10 years ago, I really became interested in Criminal copyright infringement, and there have been three major cases since then, that I want to talk about in detail, but that is for a future Blog entry.
In the early 1990s, I was involved in the creation of a low budget, cable public TV show called Dark Currents. It was completely derivative of (though I prefer the phrase, Inspired by) Dark Shadows and Twin Peaks, in fact that is how I would describe the show to others. Except I also threw in the “Adventure-type” storylines of the daytime afternoon soap operas with the pacing of Looney Tunes Cartoons. I told co-creator, Frank Welch, we would just toss in any storyline, no matter how ridiculous or how much of a “rip off” of other material it was. The other important aspect of the project to me, was to keep IT going. No matter what else happens, just keep making episodes. Now, more than 25 years later, my only regret with Dark Currents is that we didn’t keep it going.
We got lots of local attention with Dark Currents. Remember this was the pre-youtube days, pre-wide use Internet days, pre-everyone staring at their cell phone days. Yes, it was a different world. Many other writers sent me story ideas, stories and full scripts. One in particular was a full length feature script that mostly revolved around a pool hall. I talked to the writer a lot, mostly through email for years. He really wanted us to make his script into a movie. Finally, I told him, I like your script but it’s not really the type of stuff we do and our plate is kind of full at the moment as we had just started working on our own full-length feature. But I encouraged him to make his own script into a movie. He said he didn’t technically know how to do it and I thought that was the end.
Flash-forward about six months, we’re shooting after the beep… and we happened to be shooting some scenes at Miami North in Bangor. Which was, you guessed it, a pool hall. The production was on the local news and radio. It was still pre-Internet, so many people showed up. We shot mostly “cut aways” because with all the people there, shooting actual dialogue was impossible. I noticed this guy among the crowd who was staring at me and appeared to be getting frustrated that we weren’t running any dialogue scenes. Finally, this twitchy acting Dude came up to me and introduced himself. It was the same guy who had sent me the pool hall script. I had never met him in person...until now.
He said, “Can I see the script you are shooting from?”
My head was swimming with about 100 other production thoughts/problems and I said, “I don’t know if we have any right now… We’re just shooting cutaways---”
He said again, more adamant, “CAN I SEE YOUR SCRIPT!”
Now, I probably should have to told him to get bent and flake to fuck off, I mean, can you imagine this happening on a big-time movie set? Security would have been hauling his ass out of there. But all edge productions were about as far from the “Big-Time” as you could get and I was kind of shocked. I had a hard enough time getting the actors to read the script before the shoots. No stranger had ever walked off the street and demanded to read the working scripts. But I gave him one and as he was standing there rifling through the pages, I realized what was going on. He thought we were shooting his script!
That’s really the end of my story. He tossed the script on a nearby pool table and walked away. I never heard from him again. But I have always wondered; What would he have done, if we were shooting his script? Would he have “taken over” the production, or called the copyright police, shut the show down and have us all arrested, or at least me?
I used to be one of those writers, afraid someone was going to “Steal” my fantastic story and go make a million dollars with it. Then I grew up. If someone does “steal” your idea and make a successful product out of it, all that proves is that it was a good idea. Is it the only one you are ever going to have? Do it again, write a better idea and use the knowledge of how they made your product a success. Copy their success. You already have an important element that made their success. The ability to create a good story. Everything else is a learning process. Everything.
In my opinion, Creativity and Copyright have very little in common. Maybe the original intent of the copyright law did inspire creativity. But the way Corporate Hollywood has twisted that law and then used their bulldog enforcement agency, the DOJ, to enforce it actually stifles Innovation and Creativity. That again, is a future blog entry, maybe several.
To be continued...A WORK IN PROGRESS.