January 27, 2005

MPAA vs. Martin Luther King

by Nick Montfort · , 8:33 pm

Eyes on the Screen is a project encouraging you to download and watch Eyes on the Prize, “the most important documentary ever made about the Civil Rights Movement.” As The Globe and Mail explains, the video didn’t air on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and has been unavailable on TV or VHS, and was never released on DVD, because the makers of the documentary could only afford a time-limited license to use the archival footage that appears. So, the group Downhill Battle, working with Common Sense Culture, digitized the 10-part series and has made torrents available so that anyone can download it. (BitTorrent is required, but links and setup instructions are provided; At the moment, parts 1-3 are up.) Wired News calls this an act of civil disobedience – you gotta put something catchy in the lede – but Downhill Battle is more modest, taking the position that informing yourself about United States history by watching footage of historical events is “fair use” of copyrighted material, even if people happen to be singing “Happy Birthday” to Martin Luther King in some of that footage. They call, nevertheless, for a move back to the original purpose of copyright, so that other documentary filmmakers won’t be stifled in the future – and for widespread screenings of Part 1 of Eyes on the Prize on February 8, as part of Black History Month.