Monday, October 03, 2005

COPYRIGHT: "Eyes on the Prize" -- why it's so hard to make a film

This article illustrates one of the consequences of current copyright law: if you want to make a so-called "derivative work" -- a work of art that is itself new, but contains its and pieces of other copyrighted work -- you generally need permission to use all those pieces. Some people -- such as Professor Larry Lessig, argue that this stifles free expression and the creation of new works. Especially, it may tend to interfer with the flourishing of "blogs" and other "wisdom of crowds" citizen-journalism
efforts. Why?

January 26, 2005
From: Aliza Dichter <>

Eyes on the Screen

"Eyes on the Prize", Civil Rights Documentary, To Be
Released Over the Internet Despite Copyright Disputes

A day of public screenings of the legendary documentary,
was to be organized for February 8th, 2005


According to some, it's illegal for makers of the civil rights documentary "Eyes on the Prize" to put it on DVD or show it in public. But at 8:00 PM on February during Black History Month, Downhill Battle ( is encouraging Americans to celebrate the struggle and triumph of the civil rights movement with screenings of "Eyes on the Prize" in homes and public places with the goal of having a screening in every major city in America. The campaign is called Eyes on the Screen.

"Eyes on the Prize" is the most comprehensive and revered civil rights documentary ever made. But the documentary has not been available for public viewing for the past 10 years because of unreasonable copyright laws that impose stifling restrictions on artists and filmmakers. In one instance, copyright holders believe they should receive licensing fees for the song "Happy Birthday," which appears in footage of a group of people singing to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"To celebrate Black History Month, we believe that "Eyes on the Prize" should be seen by as many people as possible," says Tiffiniy Cheng of Downhill Battle. "The civil rights movement is just too important for this invaluable resource to be denied to the public. So, we're going to help distribute "Eyes on the Prize" to a mass audience and communities can have screenings."

"Eyes on the Prize is one of the most effective documentaries ever put together that dealt with civic engagement," says civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot. "This is analogous to stopping the circulation of all the books about Martin Luther King, stopping the circulation of all the books about Malcolm X, stopping the circulation of books about the founding of America... I would call upon everyone who has access to 'Eyes on the Prize' to openly violate any and all laws regarding its showing."

"Eyes on the Prize" is an award-winning 14-volume documentary made by the late Henry Hampton, tracking the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1965. Clayborne Carson, a Stanford University history professor, has said, "It is the principal film account of the most important American social justice movement of the 20th century" (Wired News, 12/22/04).

"Eyes on the Prize" was the first introduction to the history of the Civil Rights Movement for millions of people," says Nicholas Reville of Downhill Battle, "But our corporatized copyright system is keeping it locked away."

"The situation of "Eyes on the Prize" is a perfect example of why copyright law isn't working for the public," says Cheng. "It's ridiculous that this documentary is languishing in copyright purgatory, instead of being shown in classrooms. "Eyes on the Screen" is a perfect example of how people can bring attention to bad copyright law and start turning the situation around."

For background, see this article:

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