EngageMedia wants to show you what you might never have seen. There is a body of video work that is largely ignored by commercial and government media institutions and that cannot get access to traditional distribution channels. EngageMedia formed to provide a new outlet for this kind of video. It is a video-sharing website for media about social justice and environmental issues in Australia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
They want to harness the potential of digital tools such as peer-to-peer networks and increased bandwidth to create a distribution platform for high-resolution video that is free from “the control of big media conglomerates.”
EngageMedia require users to choose a Creative Commons licence while uploading their film. This is a way of rights managing the distribution of the uploaded content to enhance the intention of the site
Elliott Bledsoe from Creative Commons Australia spoke with Anna Helme about how EngageMedia is finding using CC.
Elliott Bledsoe (Creative Commons Australia): So Anna, tell us a bit about the project. Why do we need EngageMedia?
Anna Helme (EngageMedia): Well EngageMedia hosts user-uploaded video from the Australian, Southeast Asian and Pacific regions concerning social justice and environmental issues. Many of these videos address concerns that are largely ignored by other funding and distribution outlets. The EngageMedia website encourages users to download and share video, rather than simply streaming the video. We want people to be able to save the videos and re-distribute them. The need to open up other channels of distributing this kind of work is clear and encouraging the sharing of work on the internet by removing restrictive copyright will open up these channels.
CC: What do you mean by restrictive copyright?
EM: Well as you know Elliott, when a creative work is created, default “all rights reserved” copyright applies, and downloading that video is making a copy of that work, which is prohibited under national copyright law. Without a system whereby users can establish the grounds on which other users may re-distribute or re-use that work, the concept of the site would not work at all.
CC: And CC was the answer?
EM: For us we found that Creative Commons provides a very usable framework for filmmakers wishing to use open content licenses. They can allow reproduction and distribution while preserving some rights that leaves open the potential to recoup production funds through commercial distribution of their work.
CC: In a practical sense, what makes it useful to filmmakers wanting to upload their video on EngageMedia?
EM: Many filmmakers whose work is showcased on EngageMedia see themselves as activists as well as filmmakers, and are involved in the campaigns, social movements and issues they are examining in their work. The message rather than the profit tends to be the primary motive in this kind of independent production, but filmmakers are often interested in attaining mainstream distribution to reach mainstream audiences, in recouping funds and in building a reputation to further their career in film and video production. Video activists are also often interested in having some control over the context in which their video is distributed. This means that producers are less likely to wish to release their work into the public domain. They would prefer to make choices about which rights they wish to reserve, which is where Creative Commons is especially useful.
There was some discussion initially within our collective about the adoption of Creative Commons as our open-licensing model. CC has been criticised by some as not being driven by the same strong sense of ethics as the Free Software Movement and other Copyleft initiatives, and is argued to be not as effective a political tool for creating open knowledge.
CC: Is this the experience you’ve been having with EngageMedia?
EM: Well I think those are interesting arguments but I think clearly CC has proved itself to be a very effective social tool as evidenced by its large and growing popularity. It’s really important for open content licenses to have a critical mass of people using them and CC has achieved this very quickly. For me CC is both a practical framework for us to deal with restrictive copyright, enabling us to provide the service we set out to provide, and in terms of its political approach it is an interesting and positive example of a legal framework built by lawyers but based on social movements and cultural realities. It also differs from other approaches to copyright management such as waiting for law reform or disregarding the law entirely and embracing video piracy as an ethic itself.
CC: So you see CC as being able to help foster the community aims of EngageMedia?
EM: Well, it is a series of pro forma contracts that, once being standardised by mass usage in the community, are like an extra bit of law tacked on to our existing copyright laws, that enable these laws to be used in quite different ways from the intentions of the legislation itself. In this sense it is both an interesting and radical community-led approach to the law and to copyright. Providing a legal framework for people to contract themselves out of restrictive copyright laws and the popularisation of this will both facilitate cultural shifts around the concept of intellectual property and help our legal system adapt to these changes.
CC: What’s one thing that makes CC valuable to EngageMedia?
EM: The fact that people can simply come to the site, watch a video and read the CC license which explains the terms in which the filmmaker has chosen to allow their work to be used, without a lengthy period of negotiation between ourselves, the producers and the re-distributors of the work.
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