Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Singularity of Intellectual Property

Intellectual properties – copyrighted  or patented works or ideas – are unusual goods, because their supply is becoming virtually unlimited. With digital technology, you can distribute text, videos, music, pictures or other kinds of content to billions of screens around the world.

If supply were truly unlimited, then all of that content would be free. If one website tried to charge for streaming media, people would simply go to another site. Under these circumstances, authors of content would have a tough time making a profit.

People create for all kinds of reasons – because they enjoy being creative, because they want to share, because they want recognition, etc. But often, they hope to make money, too. IP (Intellectual Property) Law exists so that people can make money by being inventive.

This blog is chiefly concerned with copyrighted works. If a work is copyrighted, no one except the copyright holder can distribute it without permission. This means that the supply is no longer unlimited: it is limited exactly as much as the copyright holder chooses to limit it. 

The problem with giving someone exclusive rights to their work, as I see it, is that intellectual properties are unique. This is less true of goods like sunglasses or bread. If one brand of sunglasses is unavailable, I can buy another brand. If no one will sell me bread, I can make my own. There is no acceptable substitute for The Sopranos. Another series won't do just as well, and I can’t make something like it at home. 

So to my mind, IP Law gives copyright holders too much control. It gives them a monopoly. They can restrict access to a good that nobody else has – by raising the price, or by choosing not to distribute that good at all.

As I say, legally, copyright holders have too much control. But in practice, they may have too little. Copyright infringement is rampant on the Web. In order to keep their content exclusive, authors have to spend more and more time and money policing sites that host content.

I think it's a broken system. Which raises the question, what should be done about it? 

I'm not sure, but I know that I would like to see a) widely accessible, affordable content and b) authors making a profit.

Fortunately, The Sopranos is not especially difficult to obtain:

The Sopranos (1999) Highest Recommendation

Creative Commons License
Starring Ginger Rogers by Rosa Frank is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why Ginger Rogers? Part 2

Call me crazy, but what I love best about Ginger Rogers is neither her dancing nor her acting. I like to hear her sing. I fell in love with Ms. Rogers after seeing the movie Swing Time, the fifth movie she made with Fred Astaire. Watch the scene where she sings "A Fine Romance." Gets me every time. She sings the song very straight and mostly on the beat, which makes it sound plaintive, yet she has a kind of wised-up, jazzy sound.

The second, and simpler explanation for why this blog is named after Ginger Rogers, is that she is The Actor I Have Seen in the Most Movies. Forty-one. She edges out Meryl Streep by one movie for this distinguished title. Why did I watch her in so many movies? Well, as I say, I was in love. But that is usual for me. I am always crushing on some actor or other. The real reason is because there were so many movies I could watch her in online. On Youtube, mostly. Ms. Rogers has some hardcore fans out there, and they were very busy posting her movies for others to watch -- keeping her stardom alive.

Now, I am aware that it is illegal for people to post these movies, unless they own the rights or have permission from the copyright holder, or unless the work is in the public domain. I am in an ethical quandary about whether or not it is acceptable to watch movies and television illegally online. I will discuss this further in other posts. However, what fascinates me is that people are willing to spend their time posting movies online. I mean, it takes a while, or so I understand (I’ve never done it). And they don’t get paid, except sometimes in thanks from grateful viewers. The only explanation is that they feel a powerful urge to share the movies they love with other people.

If you are 21, like me, it is sometimes hard to find people in life who want to talk to you about Ginger Rogers. But it is easy to find them online. All over the Internet, there is evidence of this urge to share and connect with total strangers. The urge to find other people who love the things we love, so that we can take turns rhapsodizing and agreeing with each other. This is perhaps why people are so upset by trolling. They sit at their computers seeking the validation that comes from knowing other people share their tastes, and feel as if they have been slapped when instead they find slurs directed at the movies and actors they adore.

Obviously, I have the urge to share as much as the next person. That is why I am blogging.

Watch What I'm Watching:

Swing Time (1936) Highest Recommendation
@ The Internet Movie Database
@ Amazon Instant Video

Creative Commons License
Starring Ginger Rogers by Rosa Frank is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Ginger Rogers? Part 1

Why Ginger Rogers? Well, the explanation is very silly. Three years ago, I watched a trailer for the 1937 movie Stage Door and got a kick out of the old-time-y voiceover. The gentleman who provided the voiceover pronounced “starring Ginger Rogers” in chipper, snooty tones, dropping his Rs. Ever since, whenever something said in casual conversation sounds like a plausible title for a movie or play, I repeat the expression and add the subtitle, “Starring Ginger Rogers.” Here is a hypothetical dialogue that could occur in my house:

MY DAD: Would you like a grapefruit, E?
MY BROTHER ETHAN: Nah. I don’t like grapefruits because I always get juice in my eye.
MY DAD: Yeah, I had a grapefruit incident this morning, actually.
ME [in a snooty, old time-y accent]: The Grapefruit Incident. Starring Ginger Rogers… as The Grapefruit.

I try to remember to speak under my breath, since I realize the joke is not funny after the first few times. At least, not to other people. To me, it is funny every time.

It is funny because the casting of Ms. Rogers in a play about a grapefruit sounds especially outrageous... without sounding utterly incredible. She is probably not my favorite Old Hollywood actor, but I do admire her exceedingly. She was known for polished dancing and snappy line readings. She could cut a glamorous figure in a glittering dress and whirl around a dance floor, or she could run amok in overalls, cracking her gum and blowing bubbles. On screen, she came off as a little more refined than her friend Lucille Ball, but a little more meat-and-potatoes than say, Irene Dunne, her costar in Roberta. I'm not running down Ms. Ball or Ms. Dunne – they were both wonderful comediennes, too. But this is why I enjoy picturing Ms. Rogers playing the Grapefruit. It’s improbable, because she was too classy, and because old time stars didn’t go that far out on limbs (the studios didn’t let them). But it’s not impossible to imagine, if you’ve seen the kind of high jinks she pulled in movies like The Major and the Minor or Monkey Business. Ms. Rogers could have puffed up her cheeks and played a grapefruit with great good humor.  Unluckily, the lady died in 1995, so she’s lost her opportunity.

Watch what I’m watching:

Stage Door (1937) Highest Recommendation

Roberta (1935) Highly Recommended

The Major and the Minor (1942) Highly Recommended

Monkey Business (1952) Recommended

Creative Commons License
Starring Ginger Rogers by Rosa Frank is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.