Archive for the ‘Copyright & wrong’ Category

Nijntje/Miffy may sniff cocaine and be a terrorist has said a Dutch judge today in a courtcase where the creator of ‘Nijntje het copyright konijntje’ (Miffy the copyright rabbit) Dick Bruna (1927 -) had asked the court to forbid several Nijntje impersonations on the web. Dirk Bruna – for decades – is the Dutch champion and pioneer of licensing and royalties, censoring whatever urban culture derivation of his creation. Thus he has for long become the  terminator of the offspring of his own drawing board creation, or,  was it the late designer and founder of the merciless copyright exploitation bureau Mercis B.V., Pieter Brattinga (1931 – 2004) that has aborted most of the unwanted progeny of this imaginary rabbit? Pencil and eraser are often held in one hand.

You can find the full text of  the court decision on-line in PDF format  (in Dutch) on this link. After the formal pages of  this court case that has been dragging on since January 2010, there is a very instructive discourse on ‘auteursrecht’ (author rights), ‘merkrecht’ (trade mark rights) en ‘persoonijkheidsrechten’ (moral rights). Three levels of complaints ranging from the commercial to the moral have been scrutinised by the judges. The defence of the internet provider claiming that the exception in author law that allows for parody, caricature and pastiche should be honoured over the commercial and moral claims, won out in the end. The ‘moral ownership rights’ claimed by Dick Bruna summarised in his statement to the court “Nijntje is van de kinderen en daar moet je van afblijven” (Miffy is of the children and one should stay away of that), did not find a willing ear with the judges as they concluded that Dick Bruna to them appeared as someone “who does not at all  tolerate any parody on his creation (literary the text says his  ‘brain child’).” [page 16 of the Court Decision of September 13 2011]. There is no doubt that the imaginative world Bruna has been designing for most of his live is a world without conflicts, a peaceful world where life is pleasant and light. His worldwide success with this creation is a testimony of how much such a harmless environment is appreciated.

Venturing into the world with such a set of intentions does not guarantee that his books and other products will be always read in the way he has intended. Bruna may have the legal rights to his creation but these do not include the rights to other peoples minds. This court decision points out to Dick Bruna that characters of fiction in order to be communicated need an action by a reader to be reproduced. No writer, visual artist, designer, architect, musician name it, will be able to fully control how that second part of all our mediated communications, will be handled by the reader, the listener, the audience … The only full control is to keep one’s creation to oneself and even that may prove at one moment or another,  not a complete safe undertaking. There are many examples of dissatisfied artists that have destroyed their own creation before even communicating them to the world outside. A creation that is communicated will necessarily be open to different interpretations and caricature, persiflage, pastiche and parody are part of that. The Socratic dictum of the defenceless text and artwork even holds for his creation of little rabbit Nijntje:

For this, I conceive, Phaedrus, is the evil of writing, and herein it closely resembles painting. The creatures of the latter art stand before you as if they were alive, but if you ask them a question, they look very solemn, and say not a word. And so it is with written dis courses. You could fancy they speak as though  they were possessed of sense, but if you wish to understand something they say, and question them about it, you find them ever repeating but one and the self-same story. Moreover, every discourse, once written, is tossed about from hand to hand, equally among those who understand it, and those for whom it is in no wise fitted ; and it does not know to whom it ought, and to whom it ought not, to speak. And when misunderstood and unjustly attacked, it always needs its father to help it ; for, unaided, it can neither retaliate, nor defend itself.  [The Phaedrus in the 188 edition as can be found on the Internet Archive]

So in Socratic sense Dick Bruna – as the father – stood up in court and defended his Nijntje, called upon the state to acknowledge his ownership of this created figurine, which the court did without hesitation, but as Nijntje is not a real living person that can claim to have been insulted, and as Nijntje is just a figurine that has been reproduced a millionfold, the judges concluded that  the creator must as a consequence of this commercial, social and cultural embedding of his brainchild, also be able to accommodate forms of social and cultural intercourse that lay outside of his intentions. This is how I read the court’s decision. If there had been commercial intentions of making and selling unauthorised copies of whatever Nijntje product, the decision of the court would have been a different one.

Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Tintin, Suske and Wiske (Belgian comic book figures), Asterix and Obelix, Fritz the Cat and so on,  they have all been appropriated and a good international bibliography of pastiche comics will be a fat book indeed. On the other hand one can say that mythical figures as communicated in a process of constant change, coming down to us in millennia through lore and narration have been exploited and usurped by the modern media industry with hardly anybody standing up and defending the original intentions of these human heritage beings.

The Dutch web site “Mijndomein  – owned by punt.nl B.V. – was the one that resisted the threats of the lawyers operating in the name of the Miffy creator to take away parodies using the Miffy rabbit or face court.  Today they had a web page rejoicing their success in court: “Mijndomein wint hoger beroep: Parodieën op Nijntje zijn toegestaan”  (MyDomain wins appeal case in court, parodies of Nijntje are allowed). On their web site one can find some picture examples of deviating Nijntjes, like the “nijn eleven” cartoon that twists the Dutch name of Miffy – Nijntje – via its stem ‘Nijn’ that when pronounced in Dutch sounds like the English ‘nine’.

Contested picture number 7 in the court documents. The TinEye image search engine that checks out on the internet automatically images and parts of images that are the same, finds 7 instances of this image on the web, whereby one link (non functional anymore) is a Japanese web site with a castle and Miffy and a friend in a small airplane approaching a castle. A little more reserach learns me is, that the picture must be from the booklet “Nijntje vliegt” (Miffy flies). Google Image search comes with more results, many ‘Nijntje vliegt’ are associated by their computer with the contested ‘nijn – eleven (9/11)’, but the computer algorithm rightly concludes that the pastiche ‘nijn – eleven’ and ‘Nijntje vliegt’ pages are NOT the same.

The cartoon,  in Dick Bruna style,  shows a small airplane with two rabbits approaching a building. Whether one likes these ‘detournements’ (twisted images) or finds them bad taste, is not the question here. What is at stake is massive multiplication of imagery of an imagined being (Nijnjte) on the one hand, and, on the other, the attempted prohibition to have such a being – that became part of popular culture – function in any other form as sanctioned by the creator and copyright holder. In the case of Dick Bruna the protection of his copyright, which has often been exercised in an understandable way, did not know where stop. He and his lawyers failed to notice that they had moved from the domain of property rights into the domain of censorship, driven there both by intolerance and commercial interest.

As a part of a complex of historical museums in Utrecht, the town where the designer of Miffy, Dick Bruna, lives, there is a Dick Bruna Museum House and I remember visiting this one dimensional non-historical representation of the work of Bruna. It is like a show case of some multinational, no attempt at explaining or comparing  the mechanisms of branded mass production of children books and toys now-a-days with what was before. The golden Miffy statue with a big red letter ‘C’ in the museum almost seems a self-critical note, but I am not sure that it has been intended as such. The ‘C’ does not stand for ‘copyright’ and its relation with a golden rabbit statue, but for C of Centraal Museum Utrecht, the historical museum that hosts Dick Bruna’s museum. For the many Japanese visitors the figure of a rabbit has a whole different dimension, with the rabbit as a symbol of the moon, who is often depicted in children books and toys a making the festive mid autumn moon cakes (geppei).

The town of Utrecht has even a Dick Bruna Museum, a Nijntje Square and a Nijntje statute. The imagined figurine of Dick Bruna has moved into public space in such a way, that it should be open to interventions of the same public that has been exposed to it. Pure passive consumption of entertaining figurines can not be enforced. People may see these fancies in their own way, quiet different from the intentions of their creator and copyright holder. The operations of the copyright owner of a children’s fancy may have some resemblance with the institution of the Catholic Church that defines and protects the stature of all “their” holly figures. Canonising religious symbols is a strong human trait, also in the practice of other religions or political ideologies. Papal councils have fought for centuries over how The Lord, Angels and Saints should be depicted. Iconoclasts have ravaged temples and churches to prove their point, but replicating similar strategies for a rabbit intended for children and those who like to linger on to their childhood, seems to be out of proportion. Dick Bruna’s best defence would be to act as most politicians have learned to do, be honoured to be mocked, imitated, persiflaged, take a pride into the caricature of his own creation, made by others.

Mijntje Pleintje (Little Miffy Square) in Utrecht with statute

Nobody seems to be out to pull down the statute of Nijntje in Utrecht and many would enjoy the Dick Bruna Museum more when it would included also well documented cases of  the commercial contracts he made, court cases he fought and a whole series of contextualised examples of the abuse of Nijntje. Only then Nijntje would start to speak – to say it with Socrates – as though  she were possessed of some sort of sense.

A public Dutch web blog with family photographs shows the exposure to Nijntje in the Netherlands from a very early age onward. The parents describe how much their kid likes it and their own questions about the pedagogical value of the little protagonist: “that rabbit never does something that is not allowed or something wrong.” (*)

Neither the Dutch nor the English ‘news page’ of the official Nijntje web site had any news about the recent court case to protect Nijntje from deviating beyond the designer’s intend. Click screen shot taken on September 13th 2011 late afternoon to go to the offical Nijntje web site. and get a flavour of what the official world of Nijntje entails.

*) source of  strapped in kid in front of Nijntje on television screen = http://klausener.nl/fotos/nijntje-is-de-bom/

Read Full Post »

A good format for recycling older texts and illustrated studies seems to be there almost. After the PDF format navigation and presentation enhancements, there are now on-line readers which offer the same and more functionality. A disadvantage of the PDF format is that when it is not just a few pages, but many, or even hundreds or a thousand pages or more, one has to wait till the downloading of the remotely stored PDF file has finished before reading is possible. One is often not sure if a chosen PDF file is really interesting enough and the browsability  of web pages, the option to quickly scan an information object for it;s possible interest, is not there. I have tested now two systems that offer free posting of documents scribd.org and issuu.com and though the interface of issuu.com is more elegant, its lack of being able to add metadata (bibliographical information is the old term) to an ePublication (the term SCRIBD is using = iPaper) made me choose for scribd.org. The latest text I posted is a study from 2001 on literary psycho-geography of Edo/Tokyo…

I have implemented here a special embedded link to the software of my blog (WordPress) that ‘streams’ the rendered (scaled) pages directly into a WordPress blog. To see the full functionality it is better and click the link button to the SCRIBD site itself.

To my great surprise I discovered on scribd.org one of my favorite books on the enlightenment by Jonathan Israel “Enlightenment Contested- Philosophy, Modernity and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752”, a full thousand or so pages… which may be on the limits of what this ePublication service is intended for. Nevertheless the uploader states his postings of books “are intended for educational and familiarization purposes only” and calls people to buy the book when they really intend to use it (the selling price is between 55 and 70 dollars at the moment) and what we have here is a fully searchable version of the book; just try out the right hand corner search box of the neat and very fast scribd.org web interface and you can hop through the thousand pages guided by a simple search term; like I did with the name “van den enden” (Franciscus van den Enden 1602-1674, one of the inspirational masters for Spinoza who started his liofe in Antwerp and was hung for conspiracy against the French state in 1672 in Paris a very much undervalued radical thinker with his free comonwealth as described in “Vrye Politieke Stellingen” 1665 and similar proposals to establish a free community  in what was than called “Nieuw Nederlants” in 1665).
Have a try on it as long as this fabulous historical text can be searched at will and with such neatly contextual display of search results, something far beyond the old book and its paper index is on show. It is an interesting question whether authorship rights and copyright property of a publisher may be called in question by such free internet availability. In this case the content of the book frequently speaks about ways of common property, natural rights and equalitarian practices. Our new technologies of reproduction and distribution – as is shown concretely with the link below – do make it possible to freely share that what has only to be produced once (scientific and technological knowledge); it breaks down the barriers between a privileged academic class with its members only access to information and ‘free learners’ – like myself – that claim equal chances of being informed. For as long as it lasts, enjoy the book-link below here… and also you can even in this small format nicely do a search, that options is somewhat hidden so I add here a screendump with an explanation how to do all that..

Click on the arrow down icon, indicated by a red circle and enter there your search term.

Click on the arrow down icon, indicated by a red circle and enter there your search term.

Now see how neat such a search (even in a small window) can be accessed. The full screen version will show you the contextual search terms in a right hand column, as I have described in the text above.

A staff member of the firm edocr.com pointed me to their service for ePublication, so I registered and tested the same simple PDF of my psycho-geography research of 2001. They use FlashPaper a Macromedia software for conversion and display… I have embedded here the result (inserting the edocr embedding code in HTML editing mode of WordPress) and let me see how it looks & works… Oops WordPress blogger software in use here does not like this embedding code, which does not surprise me, though the edocr.com management page happily shows this:
edocr_embedSo they may need to write a more specific embedding piece of code than the one below?

<object type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” data=”http://www.edocr.com/embed/79008bd66103083e99d51b2df33fdaef19b79454&#8243; width=”425″ height=”348″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.edocr.com/embed/79008bd66103083e99d51b2df33fdaef19b79454&#8243; /></object>

I also send my bitter sweet comments after uploading my first test file, the remarks can be found in the comments below this posting.
You may like to read also my other post related to this subject  on the “access privilege of the academic class” and the back door option of a USB stick at some university computers… This post has been noted also by a blog specialized in this subject: Free Our Books, which is highly recommended.

Read Full Post »

Volgens een onderzoek van de Europese Commissie willen de meeste internetgebruikers niet betalen voor online content schrijft Maraie-José Klaver in haar weblog over digitale zaken bij NRC/Handelsblad: “Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat de afgelopen 3 maanden minder dan 5 procent van de internetgebruikers in de Europese Unie betaald heeft voor digitale content. Slechts 20 procent van de internetgebruikers zouden willen betalen voor content als alle gratis opties verdwijnen.”

Dat deed mij denken aan de gratis papieren-informatie-opties die nu stilzwijgend aan het verdwijnen zijn:

Veel wetenschappelijke literatuur die vroeger voor een ieder die niet lui was te vinden was in publiek toegankelijke bibliothen met name die van de universiteiten, zijn nu enkel nog in digitale vorm – on-line – beschikbaar voor studenten en academici, die daarvoor een aparte inlogprocedure moeten doorlopen. De universiteiten hebben strenge contracten om deze exclusiviteit te bewaken. Vrije toegankelijkheid tot informatie (ooit vastgelegd in het culturele deel van de accoorden van Helsinki) als burgrerecht sijpelt zo met de dag weg. Sommige universiteiten hebben een sluiproute opengelaten voor buiten universitaire gebruikers in de vorm van het ter plekke on-line raadplegen met de mogelijkheid om via een USB stick de gewenste informatie over te nemen.

Academic resources, especially periodicals, are more and more published and subscribed to in digital format. This diminishes non-academic public access to these resources as such data sources tend to be closed to non-members of universities and the like. Freedom of information is thus declining in our area of ubiquitous electronic communication. One needs to a privileged member of the academic class to have access. This situation demands a reestablishment of the right to information for all citizens. Now commercial interests ban many people from scientific information sources.

Academic resources, especially periodicals, are more and more published and subscribed to in digital format. This diminishes non-academic public access to these resources as such data sources tend to be closed to non-members of universities and the like. Freedom of information is thus declining in our area of ubiquitous electronic communication. One needs to be a privileged member of the academic class to have access. This situation demands a reestablishment of the right to information for all citizens. Now commercial interests ban many people from scientific information sources. Some Dutch University Libraries have left open a backdoor for the knowledgeable general public, who can put their USB stick in some computers within the university to thus realize the traditional notion of freedom of access to the sciences for all.

Ook is er een tendens bij universiteiten om via pasjes de toegankelijkheid van hun instellingen voor buitenstaanders te beperken. Het ideaal van vrije toegankelijkheid van informatie ter stimulering en verheffing van de natie wordt hiermee verkwanseld.

Het oude idee van de openbare bibliotheken en universiteits bibliotheken als tempels van kennis waar een ieder die dat wenst van de bron kan drinken zou een nieuwe vorm dienen te krijgen in deze tijd van toenemende exploitatie van kennis. Het is ergerlijk dat de voorbeelden van de amusements-industrie en degenen die de producten daarvan gratis proberen te bemachtigen ook gebruikt wordt voor alle andere vormen van informatie. Overheidsarchieven hebben zich al sinds enige jaren geprofileerd als plaatjes uitmelkbedrijven, terwijl het materiaal dat zij brengen eigenlijk in het publiek domein geplaats zou moeten worden. Is het de historische Hollandse vrekkigheid die dit teweeg brengt? Wie weet wat er in de Verenigde Staten – op basis van de Jefferson traditie – aan archief materiaal vrij te vinden is, zal mijn afkeer van de Hollandse culturele zuinigheid beter kunnen begrijpen.

Read Full Post »