pushing daisies, amelie and ip claims

I don’t watch much TV at all but by coincidence caught part of this new show, called Pushing Daisies. Overall, I liked what I saw – interesting premise, well told plot, good acting, and keen attention to pacing, cinematography (if one can use that term for a TV show), music, colour, etc.

But something struck me within the first 10 minutes of watching it – something oddly familiar. Not the stories, but rather, the whole look and feel of how it was presented – like: the sometimes oddly surrealistic but realistic presentation of scenes (exaggerated or bright colours, quirky but cute interiors (and exteriors); unusual and repeated focus on otherwise insignificant details (ages down to the hour of each character – oh and also by an omnipresent unknown third party voice over storyteller); oddly familiar patterns of speech – sometimes quick and rapid bursts of somewhat deadpan humour; curious static shots of people or things with some sort of special effect, like zooming away or seeing through something; oddly familiar patterns of music; eccentric but lovable characters like Chuck’s two aunts; eccentric backstories of characters (Chuck’s aunts again – who had wonderful careers as synchonized swimmers until devastingly felled by contaminated kitter litter); oh, and of course, oddly tragic (albeit someone humourous) events that people undergo (see the aunts) as well as oddly humourous but sometimes well-deserved deaths (like that of a rather fat thieving undertaker).

And then I suddenly realized that what I was watching was a show that, for lack of a better word, had (intentionally or unintentionally) “borrowed” the entire look and feel of “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain”. Not the story, mind you, not that at all. But rather a multitude of little bits and pieces that all go into how a story is told.

I marvelled, for a moment, at what a great job the creators of the show had done in transposing the look and feel of that movie into the series, and wondered how much effort (if any) went into deliberately attempting to create or invoke the look, feel and mood of Amélie (which, by the way, they do quite well). Then, needless to say (given my profession), I ruminated about which intellectual property laws, if any, could the owners of Amélie used to protect the “look and feel” of their film. Certainly most people (even non-lawyers) are familiar with the Apple v. Microsoft look and feel case back in the 90s (which tried to base a claim in copyright and didn’t get very far if I recall correctly). It would be interesting to see how that would play out in the context of something like a movie or similar work. Not that I’d like to see that happen to Pushing Daisies – its already tough enough to find decent shows…

Fair Use and the DMCA

An article in Wired News with the dramatic title of “Lawmakers Tout DMCA Killer” describes the most recent attempt to: (a) water down the protections afforded to content owners by the DMCA; (b) ensure the preservation of fair use rights on the part of users. As is usual, each side has its own rhetoric to describe what is happening, so in fairness I took the liberty of offering to readers of this blog the two alternative descriptions above. The nub:

The Boucher and Doolittle bill (.pdf), called the Fair Use Act of 2007, would free consumers to circumvent digital locks on media under six special circumstances.

Librarians would be allowed to bypass DRM technology to update or preserve their collections. Journalists, researchers and educators could do the same in pursuit of their work. Everyday consumers would get to “transmit work over a home or personal network” so long as movies, music and other personal media didn’t find their way on to the internet for distribution.

And then of course on the other side:

“The suggestion that fair use and technological innovation is endangered is ignoring reality,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. “This is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Osterberg pointed to a study the U.S. Copyright Office conducts every three years to determine whether fair use is being adversely affected. “The balance that Congress built into the DMCA is working.” The danger, Osterberg said, is in attempting to “enshrine exemptions” to copyright law.

To suggest that content owners have the right to be paid for their work is, for me, a  no-brainer. That being said, I wonder whether the DMCA and increasingly more complex and invasive DRM schemes will ultimately backfire – sure they protect the content, but they sure as heck are a pain in the ass – just my personal take on it. For example, I’d love to buy digital music, but having experienced the controls that iTunes imposes and suddenly having all my tracks disappear, I just don’t bother with it now. Not to mention the incredible hoops one needs to go through to display, say, Blu-ray on a computer – at least in its original, non-downgraded resolution – why bother with all of that at all?

I wonder whether this is, in a way, history repeating itself in a way. I am old enough to remember the early days of software protection – virtually every high-end game or application used fairly sophisticated techniques (like writing non-standard tracks on floppies in between standard tracks) in attempting to prevent piracy. Granted, these have never gone away altogether, particularly for super high end software that needs dongles and and the like, and of course recently there has been a resurgence in the levels of protection that have been layered on in Windows, but after the initial, almost universal lockdown of software long ago, there came a period where it seemed many (if not most) software developers just stopped using such measures.  At least that’s what seemed to happen. I’m not quite sure why, but I wonder if this same pattern will repeat with content rather than software. I suspect not. But hey, you never know.

In the meantime, off I go, reluctantly, in the cold, cold winter, to the nearest record shop to buy music the old fashioned way…