Friday, October 14, 2005
'Snot Fair

Y'know, I like David Cross, I really do. He's a pretty funny guy, and who doesn't like Mr. Show? The last thing I want is for anyone to think I'm talking smack about him. But if anyone else has seen his stand-up tour film, Let America Laugh, you'll know about this little incident:

Prior to his performance, Mr. Cross purposely engaged Mr. Weber in front of the club in a conversation about the venue marquee and audience seating arrangements so that his cameraman could tape the conversation with a hidden camera. Mr. Cross and his production team wanted to recapture a previous conversation the two had had, which had not initially been videoed. Mr. Cross, upset by their conversation, ridiculed Mr. Weber and his managerial decisions during his stage performance. After the show, still upset with Mr. Weber, Mr. Cross and his video crew hid a camera in the club's green room and taunted and mocked Mr. Weber for 35 minutes, refusing to leave the Exit-In as it was closing time. Throughout the taping, Mr. Cross can be heard asking his cameraman whether the camera was on.

Now, when I saw the exchange -- which, incidentally, is one of the best bits in the film -- naturally I looked at the club owner and though, "what a flaming dickhead." And none of what I've read so far on the events following the release of the film has necessarily changed my position -- he may well still be a flaming dickhead. But increasingly it looks like he's a flaming dickhead with a damn good point:

Mr. Weber became first learned that he was featured on the CD and DVD on November 30, 2003. Learning that he was a prominent character in Mr. Cross' comedy video, and that it was being distributed worldwide without his consent or knowledge, he filed his federal complaint. Mr. Weber's suit seeks to establish that the Defendants knowingly and willfully taped and recorded for publication, sale, worldwide distribution, and then copyrighted Mr. Weber's likeness and voice without his authorization, knowledge or consent.


This case is important not only because of the unlawful use of Mr. Weber's actual likeness and voice for profit, but also to hold accountable an arrogant music industry which, itself, regularly sues individuals for downloading music and videos from the internet without paying for it and then claiming copyright infringement. The case seeks to establish that the entertainment industry cannot be allowed to conduct business in this manner and have it both ways.

On first reading, my reaction was, "puh-leeze, stop trying to make your little hissy fit about more than your own wounded ego." But, y'know, he's right... if he was included in the film without his consent, especially given that the footage was shot on private property, regardless of whether or not Cross himself had permission to be there, then he's got a valid complaint. The company that produced the film, of course, claims that the club owner DID give consent (whether explicitly or implicitly); if that's the case, they should be able to provide proof effortlessly. I mean, that's the first damn thing they taught us when I was coming up: always get the permission -- in writing if it's at all possible (and it's always possible), and at least a video record of a verbal agreement if it's not. Surely a well-financed commercial company would be following the same guidelines?

The point, though, is that the industry will use faux-fair use just as shamelessly as they will deny fair use to those of us outside the industry. At the end of the day, it really doesn't mean much if it says "SubPop" on the wrapper -- SubPop ain't very Sub anymore.

Truth be told, the club owner's website mostly won me over with the statements, "you're no Lenny Bruce, you're no Bill Hicks." Like I said, I like David Cross... but I can't argue with that.

As a side-note, I'm just finishing reading Milan Kundera's The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, which is one of those books that's been on my reading list for years and years but which I've only just finally gotten around to. It's a staggering piece of work, compelling and quite readable, but with immense hidden depth. It's the kind of book where the best lines could (and do) mean a dozen different things at once. Say what you want about the miseries of European communism, say what you want about political oppression -- they were both damn good for art. A lot of the most awe-inspiring film and literature I've ever seen came from Communist-era Eastern Europe and Soviet Russia. Maybe we can do some quality work in the US with another decade of economic and political desolation under our belts. Maybe that'll shake off the apathy, eh?
5:49 PM ::
Amy :: permalink