Holy Copyright Infringement, Batman!

I believe I've mentioned in past blog posts that most characters can't be copyrighted unless they possess some very specific and unique traits that distinguish them from all others.  Batman would be one such character.

But what about the Caped Crusader's wheels?  I'm talking about the Batmobile.  Can a non-human, non-living piece of machinery qualify as a character for the purposes of copyright?

Yes, says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In a case involving a man who sold unauthorized replica kits allowing people to make their cars look like the Batmobile (either the 1960s TV series version or the 1980s movie version), the Court ruled that the replicas constituted copyright infringement on a "character" that belongs to DC Comics.  According to the ruling, depictions of the Batmobile -- with its many miraculous crime-fighting operations -- make it a character in the stories, even though it's not a thinking character.

The More Things Change...

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

It wasn't long ago that the United States declared it was going to try to re-establish diplomatic relations with the long disassociated nation of Cuba.  Why?  Well, fifty years of boycotting didn't bring about the downfall of the communist island country, and one might say there was the perception of a more mellow leadership now that Fidel Castro has stepped down.

But Cuba's government wasn't feeling mellow when it stepped in and shut down performance artist Tania Bruguera as she attempted to stage an artistic demonstration dedicated to free speech.  The piece, called Tatlin?s Whisper #6, was supposed to take place in Havana?s Revolution Square near the end of 2014.  The concept was that Ms. Bruguera would invite members of the public to stand at a podium and express themselves freely for a minute.

The Cuban government detained Ms. Bruguera, confiscated her passport, and has charges pending against her.  If Cuba's feeling a bit more friendly toward America these days, apparently that feeling doesn't fully extend to the sentiments of America's First Amendment.

As a matter of fact, there are more than a few artists who aren't all that sure that America always embraces its constitutional freedom of speech guarantees.  So, in the spirit of solidarity, artists in New York recently restaged Ms. Bruguera's performance work in Times Square.  According to an ArtNews article, the comments in New York focused more on American speech suppressions rather than Cuban.

In This Play, the Writing's on the Wall

What is theater if not an opportunity to raise consciousness and sometime stir up controversy?

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre's young adult program produced a play titled This Is Modern Art (Based on True Events), by Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin.  The "art" to which the title refers is graffiti.

Granted, graffiti isn't everyone's idea of art.  The fact is, there's so much in the way of different styles of art that it's difficult to say any one of them will appeal to everyone on an equal basis.  One man's Picasso is another man's poorly drawn woman.

However, with graffiti we're talking about something that isn't just a matter of artistic taste.  We're also talking about something that's, from a technical standpoint, illegal when, uninvited, it's applied to public and private property.  Some term it street art.  Others call it vandalism.

That's the thing that irked two of Chicago's major newspaper's theater critics, both of whom commented in their reviews that the play romanticized graffiti--something they considered to be not a good message for the Windy City's youth.

According to a story in the Washington Post, within hours the theaters and their youthful supporters were online villifying the critics for their comments about the show's message.  The article further says that, although the show has closed, the controversy continues online.

Museums Tell Visitors to Stick to Stickless Selfies

Art museums don't seem to mind when people take self photos--"selfies"--in front of the works on display.  A selfie on someone's Facebook page or Twitter post is free publicity for the museum.

However, it may be a whole different story when the visitors bring on the camera positioning extender known as a "selfie stick."  The wand-like apparatus, designed to get the photo-taking device far enough away to include a little extra background in the framing, has museum officials concerned that people wielding these sticks might accidentally clunk another visitor or even damage the art with an unfortunate swipe through the air.

According to a New York Times article, the museums don't want to have to put all their art under glass, and so, instead, some are simply banning the sticks.  According to the Times, Washington's Hirshhorn Museum already has the ban in place, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is about to require its patrons go stickless.

I Have a Drea...er, uh...Make That a Vision

Some of the 20th Century's most stirring speeches came from the lips of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  So how come none of his words are in the King biopic movie, Selma?

Answer: Copyright.  That and the possibly perceived threat of litigation.

The copyights on Dr. King's speeches are in the possession of his surviving family--long known to be quite litigious when it comes to production companies plopping portions of those speeches into films and TV programs.  According to reports, the King heirs have already licensed the use of those speeches to other companies for an as yet unmade movie.

The producers of Selma might have been able to use small portions of the speeches anyway under the Fair Use Doctrine of the Copyright Act.  However, how much is too much is a pretty gray area in that respect.  So even limited appropriation could still land the producers in court on charges of copyright infringement.

Of course, just because someone claims infringement doesn't mean a court will automatically see it that way.  But, if the court does, and if the movie has already been released with the "infringing" material contained in it, that could be a disaster for the motion picture people.  As such, in this case the producers of Selma went the safer route and paraphrased Dr. King rather than quoting him directly.