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<nettime> Putting Eyeballs on Copyright Law,1283,66550,00.html

Wired News

February 9, 2005

Putting Eyeballs on Copyright Law 

By Katie Dean

BERKELEY, California -- Civil rights activists and copyright 
reformers convened for a screening of the first installment 
of the landmark documentary Eyes on the Prize Tuesday night 
to send the message that it is "morally wrong" to deny 
people access to information and history.

Many of the 30 people (a handful of reporters among them) 
who crowded into attorney Don Jelinek's living room here 
worked in Mississippi and Alabama during the civil rights 
movement themselves -- registering black voters, staging 
sit-ins and marching, as well as getting harassed, shot at 
and jailed. These members of Bay Area Veterans of the Civil 
Rights Movement meet monthly and decided to screen an 
illegal digital copy of the film when they learned that it 
was currently unavailable for broadcast or on DVD.

As Wired News first reported, Eyes on the Prize, which 
debuted on PBS in 1987, can no longer be broadcast on 
television and has never been released on DVD due to a 
tangle of licensing issues. When the film was first made, 
each piece of newsreel footage, photograph and song used in 
the 14-part series had to be licensed from its copyright 
holder. Due to limited funding, the filmmakers could only 
afford to buy rights to the material for a certain number of 
years, and now those rights have expired.

The unavailability of Eyes on the Prize prompted activist 
group Downhill Battle to organize screenings of the film 
across the country. About 100 screenings were planned for 
Tuesday in honor of Black History Month, according to the 

In Berkeley, Eyes on the Prize: Awakenings, covering 1954 to 
1956, was screened on a large PC monitor to the rapt 
attention of everyone squeezed into the living room. The 
film covered significant events in the beginning of the 
civil rights movement like the murder of Emmett Till and the 
Montgomery bus boycott.

"The events, images, narratives and songs of Eyes on the 
Prize were not written, created or performed by the 
corporations who now have the copyrights under their lock 
and key," said Bruce Hartford, reading from a statement 
signed by the 20-plus members of the Bay Area Veterans of 
the Civil Rights Movement group.

"These folks are burying our history," said Jelinek, who 
spent three years in the South working for the Student 
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, spending some of that 
time ducking gunfire. "Copyright law was never meant to 
interfere with the public's right to know. We expected that 
the experiences would be in the public domain.... The people 
who are barring this will have to pay a price."

Because only limited VHS copies of the series were available 
through libraries and schools, Downhill Battle directed 
people to download digital versions of the film (made by an 
anonymous group called Common Sense Releasers) using a 
peer-to-peer application -- that is, until a lawyer for 
Blackside (the production company that created the series) 
asked the group to remove links to the film from its 

The setback didn't stop the screenings. Many hosts checked 
tapes out of the libraries and Tom Hunt, one of the co-hosts 
for the showing in Berkeley, downloaded the first film in 
the series before Downhill Battle took down the links.

Before the film, Hunt read a portion of Article 1, Section 8 
of the U.S. Constitution, which gives authors and inventors 
ownership rights for a limited time "to promote the progress 
of science and useful arts." Then he gave a brief overview 
of how the length of copyright ownership has been extended 
many times over, making it difficult for documentary 
filmmakers to "do history."

Like people in the film, which highlights ordinary citizens 
who worked alongside leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. in 
the movement, former civil rights workers in attendance 
spent the evening sharing their stories. Wazir Peacock, 
whose father worked on a cotton plantation as a 
sharecropper, talked about how he gave up a career in 
medicine to work in the Mississippi Delta registering blacks 
to vote. Peacock said he got involved in the civil rights 
movement after being outraged that grown black men were 
still treated like little boys by racist southern whites.

"It hurt me to my very soul," Peacock said.

Jimmy Rogers became involved in the movement while he was a 
student at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). He 
described witnessing the murder of white seminarian Jonathan 
Daniels in Alabama. Daniels' murderer was acquitted. He also 
worked alongside Sam Young, another student at Tuskegee 
involved in the civil rights movement, who was murdered at a 
gas station.

Blackside and other filmmakers who lent their talents to 
Eyes on the Prize are currently working to assess the costs 
of re-clearing rights. An estimate of such costs is expected 
within weeks. Blackside's attorney said the company wants to 
make the series available again.

Hunt said he was very pleased with the turnout and the 
message that the screening sent.

"It's showing how dysfunctional the current copyright system 
is," Hunt said. "It's in the way of the artists and their 

Copyright (c) 2005, Lycos, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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