Monday, 26 January 2009

Mirror, Mirror; On the Wall

George Bush is gone, but tens of thousands of photographs remain. In the case of a modern head of state, these photographs are carefully orchestrated, but for the moments that the cameras are present, and from the angles where shooters are allowed, there is still a range of events and expressions to capture.

In his Zoom column in yesterday’s New York Times, Errol Morris interviewed the photo editors of the three main wire services that have covered the Bush White House. Each of the three selected their top picks from those eight years and discussed them with Morris. I found it fascinating and would suggest that anyone who shoots people, in any context, would be well-rewarded by taking ten minutes to read this piece.

The three editors were Vincent Amalvy (Agence France-Presse), Santiago Lyon (The Associated Press) and Jim Bourg (Reuters).

If I Were King, I probably wouldn’t have much chance to be behind the camera, but as I am not king, I enjoyed this immensely.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

COPA Finally Dead

The Child Online Protection Act finally died yesterday. The bill, signed late in 1998 by Bill Clinton, made it illegal to put sexually explicit materials on a website seeking commercial gain, but never went into effect. The bill made it to the Supreme Court in 2004 but was remanded to the US appellate court at Philadelphia. As Mukasey vs ACLU it was dismissed Wednesday without comment.

Although we are certain that participating in creating pornography is likely to be damaging to children, we are skeptical that seeing it has any effect at all. Even if it did, any damage that could be done by exposure to pornography is insignificant compared to the damage of raising children in an environment where censorship is practiced.

If I Were King, the government would not have pressed this case.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Orphan Works

There are creative people, and then there are exploiters. On behalf of two senators, and presumably their corporate sponsors, the Copyright Office has drafted what’s known as the Orphan Works Bill so that when someone wants to publish something that includes a piece of art that he did not create he can proceed without fear of being sued for damages. I believe that the duration of copyrights, as dramatically expanded by our congresscritters at the behest of the likes of Disney in the last century, is a travesty, but I don’t think eliminating all protection for individual artists is the way to address the problem.

There are bills in both the Senate and House, currently in the Committee on the Judiciary at this point. None of the Washington delegation is on the committees currently considering the bills, but I wanted my views known before a bill is reported out. In past years, most of the creative community was opposed to the bills, now at least one photographic trade group is willing to accept the House version. It is better than the Senate version, but that is to damn with faint praise. (Imagine, if you will, a law that allowed murder by firearms compared to one that allowed it unless the gun was of small caliber and very high rate of fire.) Specifically, the House version does not exempt infringement in the case of purloined creations involving “infringements resulting from fixation of a work in or on a useful article”. That is, you couldn’t take advantage of the new rules to put the stolen art on a coffee mug. Therefore, one section of my broadside needs to be changed depending on whether it is going to my representative or one of my senators.

The two bills, with links to the full text on Thomas:
Senate: Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008, S.2913
House: Orphan Works Act of 2008, H.R.5889

Feel free to adopt as much or as little of the text below to communicate with your congresscritters, particularly if they are not the same as mine. (Rick Larsen, Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell)

I am writing today to urge you to vote against (insert name of bill), and to communicate your opposition to the Judiciary Committee through personal contact or your staff as seems appropriate.

I believe that a thriving society depends to a great extent on its creative community: authors, artists, and inventors. The framers certainly were of like mind, and were clearly aware of the contract between society and its creative members when they wrote Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”.

This contract exists to encourage as much creative effort as possible to be exerted, with the results entering the public domain for all to use after allowing the creative person the right to first commercial rewards. Although I think the current copyright terms have been stretched far beyond any reasonable interpretation of “limited Times”, the Orphan Works Bill would go too far in the other direction, eliminating all copyright protection for many artists.

The Berne Convention, by establishing copyright at the moment of creation without requiring the individual artist to take specific legal action, extended this protection to myriad individuals without the legal savvy, or legal budget, to go through the expensive and time-consuming steps of registration and eventual renewal. For commercial ventures, and for established artists, these steps are trivial. For those starting out, those who might hope to sell a photo for $25, a sketch for $100, or a small art quilt or oil painting for $300, the requirement of registering every piece was onerous and the terms of the Berne Convention welcome when the US became a signatory thereto in 1989.

Under the terms of the draft bill, artists would once again be required to register every creation with a central registry. The details of this registry are not clear, as none currently exists and the bill does not create one. Rather, the bill would leave that function to the private sector, which obviously means that the artists would be required to register their works and presumably pay a fee. Moreover, by not designating a single registry, this opens up the possibility that the artist would have to register each new work with multiple registrars for full protection. Even then, the technology of image recognition that would allow searches of these registries simply doesn’t exist today, although some vendors assert progress.


Use one of these, not both:

House version:

Given the current quality of digital cameras, a firm that wanted to include in their product an artist’s work can simply walk up to the work, snap a picture, perhaps obscure the artist’s signature, and submit it to the image registry. If there is no match, they are free to go to market with the misappropriated art without fear of penalty. I fail to understand how this could be seen as a significant benefit to our society.

Senate version:

Given the current quality of digital cameras, a firm that wanted to sell coffee mugs or T-shirts featuring an artist’s work can simply walk up to the work, snap a picture, perhaps obscure the artist’s signature, and submit it to the image registry. If there is no match, they are free to go to market with the misappropriated art without fear of penalty. I fail to understand how this could be seen as a significant benefit to our society.


If an artist discovers an infringement, the limit of compensation is set at the amount a reasonable buyer and seller would have agreed to before the infringement occurred. Eliminating any penalty for innocent infringement may be an appealing feature, but the expense of discovering the infringement and the legal costs in securing relief are likely to be far greater than the actual value that would have been negotiated in advance. Thus the infringer has the a dramatic advantage over the individual artist. At least some infringers would become very casual about their “qualifying searches”, knowing that most artists would simply lack the resources to even attempt to claim their rightful compensation and none would be able to recover legal fees or damages.

It is my considered opinion that the benefits of the Orphan Works Bill, specifically the immediate release into the public domain of works that are truly abandoned by their creators, do not come close to equaling the costs that would be borne by the artistic community, and most specifically those that are young or otherwise new in their careers, or those not yet willing to step out and take up art as a full-time occupation.

Far better that those artists put the same money into promoting their work, filling their gas tanks, or buying a bag of groceries while they are protected by the current law.

(A signature to rival John Hancock’s will be affixed here, but without all that “your obedient servant” nonsense. I’m sending it to those who are pledged to be my public servants, after all.)

Friday, 21 December 2007

All Tied Down

Given the wireless mobile world we live in, it was a little anachronistic, but I had my first tethered shoot two nights ago and I think I like it. Last night I did a few more pieces and I’m liking it even more.

I’ve never been much into laptops, they’ve always seemed underwhelming in the extreme. When you’re used to multiple mirrored drives, two 19-inch monitors, and a couple of gigs of RAM, the average laptop is sort of like the average dancing bear: It’s impressive that the bear dances, but you don’t focus on how well he dances. The same goes for the laptop: Yes, you can wander around with it easily, but it just doesn’t do what a real computer does. However, I had a couple of offsite shoots this past year and having a laptop to run LightRoom and unload images from the CompactFlash cards was a real help.

Well, it turns out that my camera has a FireWire port on it. A year after I bought it, it finally filtered into my stubborn brain that I could get a FireWire card for the laptop and give it a try. I’d had a tethered camera once before, but could never get it to work. The workflow was intriguing anyway.

My normal digital workflow is just like my argentic workflow, only moreso. Shooting sheet film is a whole different game, but in 35mm I get good shots by burning through a whole lot of film. Bracket like crazy. If in doubt, refocus and shoot all the brackets again. Was it lined up perfectly? If in doubt, get out the tape and measure everything, then shoot all the brackets again. A roll of Astia costs me $5.00 at Adorama, the chemistry and slide mounts each add about a buck, so one exposed frame costs about twenty cents out of pocket. Therefore, if in doubt, shoot it again. With digital, it’s even cheaper.

Shooting tethered is different. To start with, although the camera had sprouted a couple of new cables, I didn’t bother to connect the remote shutter release. (In addition to the FireWire cable, I figured I might as well use the AC power adapter and not worry about the battery.) A lot of it was just like any other shoot. The old reliable Bogen/Manfrotto 3021 tripod with 3047 head held the camera. The MicroNikkor 60mm/f2.8 was mounted. I had the Vivitar 285HV setup to bounce off a grey card, both for a little front light to pick up highlights and to trigger the strobes. But once I had the shot framed, I stepped back to the laptop and clicked on Take Picture. Too light? Okay, step back to the camera and close the lens a notch or two and try it again. Still getting a nasty reflection off that shiny part? Slap on a polarizer, open up a stop, and shoot it again. If there’s anything less than ideal, fix it and shoot again. When you get to the point where you can’t see anything else to change, and only then, hit the Save button. Then move the tripod in for a closeup or two. Those are probably perfect, given that the exposure is all set by then, but you don’t hit the Save button until you’re satisfied.

Sorry, no images from the shoot yet, I haven’t run a network cable down to the studio and my laptop only has one PC-CARD slot, so I can’t run FireWire and WiFi at the same time. But with over 20 pieces to shoot this week, I’m discovering that being tied down is not necessarily a disadvantage.