Copyright, copyleft and film-makers in the digital age

In my post on 1 April, Have you made your million dollars yet?, I wrote:

Many development film-makers like to decry our society’s obsession with money, consumerism and greed. Some would make films that passionately promote sharing ideas and resources at community level, and advocate common property resources over private ownership.

But when it comes to rights of their own film/s, these very film-makers would become extremely possessive: they want to restrict it in every conceivable way.

This came up during a session at the OUR Media 6 conference in Sydney yesterday.

Andrew Lowenthal, from EngageMedia in Australia, talked on ‘Online video for social action’ and presented what his non-profit organisation is doing.

As their website says:
EngageMedia is a website and a network for distributing social justice and environmental video from South East Asia, Australia and the Pacific. It is a space for critical documentary, fiction, artistic and experimental works that challenge the one-way communication model of the mainstream media.

Andrew said they currently host around 120 videos online, all offered for free public access at the moment. They are keen to add more titles to this collection, to build an online, engaged community of film makers and film viewers.

But as we discussed, many film makers aren’t yet ready or willing to give their films to be placed online.

“Some of them freak out at the very mention of being placed online. They ask how their copyright can be safeguarded, and how they can make money,” Andrew noted.

Fred Noronha, who has campaigned for a long time for Indian documentary makers to open up and share their films, agreed. “Many film-makers are apprehensive. They aren’t broadcasting, or webcasting their productions. They just show it at a few film festivals. Many films don’t go out to the wider public.”

At TVE Asia Pacific, we come across this all the time. As a non-commercial, non-exclusive distributor, we ask film-makers to share distribution rights while copyright stays firmly with them. Even then, many are not convinced.

Of course, each creative professional is entitled to the full returns of their investment of time, effort and creativity. But let’s not forget: many films, especially those on development issues (which covers health, education, environment, ICT, science in development and human rights, among others), are made with development funding or philanthropic grants. Which means the production costs are largely or entirely paid for.

Yet when such films are made, their creators would rather hang on to them than let them go. Copyright is one concern they cite. ‘Returns on investment’ is another. (Hmmm…if a film has been paid for by public/donor funds, returns to whom?)

Creative Commons offers a good way forward, and we had a presentation from CC Australia on this during the session. More about that later.

Go to:
Engage Media
Creative Commons

Moving images moving heart first, mind next

“Film is a lousy medium to communicate information. It works best at the emotional level.”

Bruce Moir, one of Australia’s seniormost film professionals made this remark soon after I had presented TVE Asia Pacific’s Children of Tsunami experience to OUR Media 6 conference in Sydney last afternoon.

After more than 35 years in documentary and feature film production for both cinematic and broadcast industries, in different parts of the English speaking world, Bruce knows a thing or two about moving people with moving images.

I was delighted and privileged to have Bruce join my presentation. He’d come at my invitation to the conference happening in his city.

“We’ve got to remember that film appeals to people’s hearts more than their minds,” Bruce explained. “The way to people’s heads is through their hearts, from the chest upwards — and not the other way round.”

I hope this was an ‘Aha!’ moment to at least some in our audience. I’ve personally heard Bruce say this before, but it bears repetition – because many film professionals tend to overlook this. Especially those who are trying to ‘communicate messages’.

Even a few weeks ago, I quoted him in a review as saying: “Our fundamental job is to tell a story – one that holds an audience’s interest and moves their heart, regardless of language, cultural context or subject….I have always believed that film achieves its optimal impact by aiming to ‘get at the audience’s head via their heart’ rather than the other way around.”

Bruce Moir

Without Bruce’s involvement, Children of Tsunami would have turned out to be very different. He was our Supervising Producer for the entire effort, advising and guiding our national film production teams tracking the progress of Tsunami survivor families in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand for one year afer the Asian Tsunami.

As Bruce recalled, the four teams came with different backgrounds, skill levels and film-making traditions of their own – ranging from television news and current affairs to development film-making, the type usually commissioned by UN agencies. Bringing them to be ‘on the same page’ was no easy task.

Film-makers are not particularly known for their patience or people-skills. Many I know have a ‘just-get-on-with-it-never-mind-the-niceties’ attitude. Bruce is one of the most patient persons I know: he would spend days and weeks relating to our production teams – usually by email or phone – gently nudging them in certain directions.

For sure, there’s no one right way to make a film. But there are some tried and tested principles in good story telling, which is what Bruce excels in. And which he willingly shares with others.

The year-long, 4-country and 8-location Children of Tsunami project was the biggest logistical operation TVE Asia Pacific has mounted in its 11 years of existence. (We’re in no great hurry to top that one!). Our production teams – operating from Bangkok, Colombo, Ubud (Indonesia) and Chennai – related to our regional production team based in two cities: Colombo, where TVEAP office is currently anchored, and Sydney, where Bruce lives.

We only came together face to face just once, in Bangkok, early on in the process. That meeting agreed on styles and formats, and also helped build the human relationships.

The rest of the time it was all through communications technologies. As you can imagine, lots of tapes moved around, as did many Gigabytes of video over the web. (DHL should have become a sponsor – they had lots of business from us!)


As I explained in my talk, Children of Tsunami was not just a film project. We published a monthly video report online on each of the eight families we were tracking, plus maintained a dedicated website with growing volumes of text, images and links. The monthly videos were edited and post-produced in the countries of filming, by our production teams themselves. It was distributed film-making, even if everyone worked to a common format.

With all that frenzy now behind us, the products of Children of Tsunami continue to be distributed, showcased and discussed at film festivals and conferences like OUR Media.

As I said yesterday to my predominantly academic audience: we’ve got a story telling and journalistic practice, and we now need a theory for it.

Related links:

Children of Tsunami: Documenting Asia’s longest year

Children of Tsunami revisited two years later

What’s in a name: My media, your media or OUR Media?

We’ve just finished the first day of OUR Media 6 conference in Sydney. A great deal was presented and discussed by over 150 participants from more than 30 countries. It will take a while to navigate through this mass of information, perspectives and opinions.

One thing we talked about was how to describe the kind of media that is emerging or consolidating in many countries outside the formal power structures and corporate/governmental controls.

Several names are being tossed up:
Community media?
Alternative media?
Tactical media?
Citizen media?
Social movement media?
People’s media?

Whatever label we apply, these media face formidable challenges. John D.H. Downing, Professor of International Communication and Founding Director, Global Media Research Center Southern Illinois University, USA, started off the conference with a wide-ranging, insightful discussion of the key challenges.

His talk was full of ‘nuggets’ of practical wisdom, the kind that some academics never seem to produce or peddle:

Small is not always beautiful.

Community is not necessarily lovely.

Aha! I’m glad these statements were said upfront, because there’s a tendency to romanticise both at gatherings like this.

We’re off to a good start. Watch this space.

Grow, grow, grow your reef…

Coral reefs are sometimes called the rainforests of the sea. They are biologically rich and diverse.

But all over the tropical seas, coral reefs are under many pressures – from bad fishing practices to naturally occurring phenomena like the El Nino. Reefs are being damaged and destroyed faster than their natural recovery rate.

Unless a helping hand can be given, many coral reefs would soon be lost forever.

Giving Nature a helping hand is just what a Sri Lankan group of divers have been doing at the Rumassala coral reef on the island’s south coast.

coral-bleaching-a-major-concern.jpg generic6.jpg

TVE Asia Pacific’s international TV series, The Greenbelt Reports, has featured this effort in one episode. Watch it on TVEAP channel on YouTube

Read the story on TVEAP website: Regeneration – a new chance for coral reefs?

Photos courtesy TVE Asia Pacific, from The Greenbelt Reports TV series