Civil Rights X Copyright: Non Negotiable!

Traitor, ungrateful, miserable, bastard, etc. Those were a few names I was called since I decided to make public my positions regarding the on going “battle” between copyright warriors and digital libertarians. I guess many people got it very wrong from the start. The “libertarians” have written a Manifest and I support it without reserves.

What is being played here is something much deeper than a “cat chasing the mouse” fight in a small country like Spain that I guess more than half of humanity ignores where it is and a much larger percentage the history it carries back for more than 2,000 years. Yeah, two millenniums but cutting to the chase: back in 1936 a coup d’etat started a civil war in the country and Europe and the rest of the world turned their backs. It was Spain and it was not their problems. Thirty nine years of bloody dictatorship followed those events. Currently, Spain can and probably will be played as a “game-scenario” for the worst case scenario again. In 1936, Germany and Italy supported the fascists and bombarded the civil population in such bloodshed until then unknown by humankind. When in 1939, Hitler spread the fire through Europe and the world, the main powers already knew what to expect.

Guernica

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

After working many years in the entertainment industry, in many different positions, and also selling my blood for small (independent) companies in an idealistic stupid way, I gathered enough knowledge of all the tricks that can be played by every single player of the game in film and music productions: from the writer to the distributor, passing thru the producer and directors reaching down the secretary of production. I never saw a positive liquidation (final accounts where the remaining “profits” should hypothetically be paid to the producer), never at all! Even if there were cents left, the producing company would still “owe” the distributors. If there were profits, they would fall into expenses accounts and future developments. No profit, no income taxes to be paid. Reset to zero and everybody continued to be friends as always. That’s how the game is played. Producers feed writers and directors with bread crumbs, paying their mortgages, buying groceries and so they are on the leash and “grateful”. Buyers of TV stations are invited by producers to banquets, vacations in the Riviera and receive generous incentives such as loads of champagne boxes as Christmas gifts (totally legal) to allocate their resources to those friendly producers in their circle. The so acclaimed high level employment that the entertainment industry, specially film bring to the economy in general averages 4 to 5 employees (sometimes including the owner of the joint) earning 1,200 Euros per month without legal hours respected (40 hours/week in Spain) They should be “happy” because they are in their way to the glory. That’s their due to be paid to the industry before gaining the right to “really do something”. All the rest, when the subsidies fall in place, and when the TV purchases also combine, out they go hiring. There is literally an army of desperate people out there to get two months salaries (average production time). And they all fly in as mosquitoes in the jungle. It is marvellous to see and sad to realize that they also live out of dreams. That is to be respected, to live by a dream and side line with starvation the remaining half of the year.

Europe

This is Spanish, French, Italian and almost all Europe’s reality, let alone the US where I have friends earning the same since 1991, yes, correct, 18 years ago and the same weekly pay. This is only possible in Europe because there are special “social cushions” where the mass, the people who really make the film, can fall back in the work insurances and not turn into homelessness. This is the truth and I dare anyone to proof me the opposite hiring an independent research firm without conflicting interests in these industries.

So you should be guessing why am I “betraying” my people. What is my interest in that? My answer is: I want to see different people, new talent, new ideas springing and new ways of doing business. The mediocrity is produced by a system which was profitable until the means of reproduction were scarce. I loved to see what Arin Crumley did with “Four Eyed Monster” and hated when 10 days before principal photography my film had to be cancelled because one co-producer decided she was making me a favour co-signing the deal (allowing with that to advance the subsidies) and ordered me to relinquish all my rights to her. It was a brutal, it was stealing and it was a rape but I was strong enough to resist it and send her to hell. My film was not done but I look forward to the future and she looks to the gifts she must to give the local TV station managers these Holidays. I guess I’m better of than she is. Ever and forever! I play for the future and the rest struggle to retain petty privileges.

I guess talent is to be nurtured, embraced, and cared for. Italy had one of the most vibrant filmmaking scenes of the entire world and is reduced to rubble. One Italian actor told me once: “The old ones, as brilliant as they were, didn’t allow space for a new generation and now we have mediocrity or rare exceptions”. That is not the future I want for Spain, for Europe and as a matter of fact for nowhere.

Digital have changed the scenario forever and there is no coming back. They, “artists” have the social cushion where to fall (and some have multimillions in banks and property); let them lay in peace there. It’s not acceptable to even discuss neither negotiate civil rights giving in to the defence of copyright. Let alone when the copyrighted material was paid with public money. The architect charges the project of a bridge, he is paid by the government or whoever, but he doesn’t retain the right to charge everybody who crosses that bridge. Point Period. It’s also a given that nobody can copy the project, construct the same bridge design elsewhere and say it is their own creation. The right to have your credits in the making of a film, music or theatre play are not in discussion. Your merit was to create them and you were paid for it. You screenwriters and directors: how many of you begged producers to give you a chance? How many of you waived salaries? Give me a break! If anyone copy the authorship of my writing and publish it without even naming me, I will sue in the courts of law. If my name is mentioned, please go ahead! You are welcome to reproduce anywhere! Creative Commons, some rights reserved, namely authorship is reserved. Reproduction? Do it yourself with some clicks!

What about music then? Music Companies paid dearly radio stations, TV programmers, etc. to play your music in order to have your music reaching the public. That was also the reality. Just a few years ago. So, let’s drop the masks! Kids would win a luxury car; the multinational would make tonnes of money.

And in the most physical side of the matter: it is not possible to control what you are doing thru your broadband. Simply as that! The USA has developed and distributed sophisticated software which scrambles outgoing and incoming IP address to give away to Iranian people surpass the censorship of the Ayatollah’s. The only way around, and even so, it would be hard as hell, would be a Chinese cyber patrol model.

Civil Rights Movement

NON NEGOTIABLE CIVIL RIGHTS

So, my friends, Sarkozy did whatever he pleased (except place the “Prince” in the EPAD) and people talked but didn’t care too much about the Hadopi. Anyway there is a way around. Good and dearly respected French friends of mine have written that response to me these last days and made me reflect why the Spaniards are so different: because the mere idea of the government censoring our acts is beyond any acceptance. The memoir of the dictatorship is in the DNA perhaps and we cannot trade the civil rights for an obsolete copyright law, flawed from the beginning to the end. Again, Spain is a laboratory of freedom in Europe. Hopefully this time, people will join us and take this task as if it was the defeat of the National Socialism 70 years ago and not turn their backs in indifference. What happens here, if successful, will spread. At least in Europe and Latin America; such a proposal in the USA, well… that is for another book.

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Promiscuity, Parasites and Beer

Simply Arianna Huffington has once more shot several vultures with only one shot. Congratulations Arianna! This time she has spelled out the ridiculous arguments from Murdoch News Corp. and some of the NYT arguments as well in a terrific post today in the Huffington Post.

Arianna Huffington

I understand the NYT out of desperation is trying everything, all mad magic potions in order to keep its grandeur of last century. It’s a pool of professionals which deserve all my respects.

But as Arianna has brilliantly exposed in her post today, Murdoch calls everybody “thieves” while he and his companies practice it severely without any shame or apologies: citing the article of Techdirt.com, the post shows that “The Wall Street Journal has a tech section that’s nothing more than a parasite — uh, I mean, aggregator — of outside content. FoxNews.com has a Politics Buzztracker that bloodsucks — uh, I mean aggregates and links to — stories from a variety of different sources, including the NY Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and others.
AllThingsD has a section called Voices that not only aggregates headlines, but also takes a nice chunk of text — and puts the links out at the bottom of the story.
And Murdoch’s News Corp. also owns IGN, which has a variety of web properties, including the Rotten Tomatoes movie review aggregation site — which is entirely made up of movie reviews pulled together from other places. Did someone say “stealing”?

When “people” of the kind of Murdoch decide to do something against a given situation we can predict all sort of dirty, scummy and filthiness coming along the way. Those kinds of “people” simply don’t know the concept of fairness. The only understand of the world they have is their OWN POWER which, all things considered, will not remain as it is nowadays for much longer.

An old time friend of mine, in Germany, used to say “beer should not be sold but rented; anyway almost always you leave it in the bar you got it from”. And of course I couldn’t stop laughing when I read Arianna relating a discourse she had to hear in Monaco from a German tycoon named Mathias Döpfner, CEO of of the German publisher Axel Springer and creator of the German’s tabloid BILD (controlling 25% of the European Market in 32 countries and more than 150 newspapers and magazines) saying: “If it’s your business decision to offer beer cans for free, fine,” he said. “But don’t take our beer and offer it for free.

That caused a certain shock to our dear Arianna: “it struck me as a really bizarre metaphor. Information is hardly the same thing as a product that can only be consumed once by a single person. If you consume a news story, you might be one of millions. If you consume a beer, no one else can consume it.

Well, well, there are “people” with bizarre habits who maybe “recycle” their own beer in order to not share it with the germs of the toilets in the bars. Love for their “products”, maybe.

The two sides of the same coin

Lula, the self acclaimed “new third world leader” has warmly received against the will of the majority of the Brazilian people who has literacy enough to understand what and where Iran is, his “comrade” from Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“If Iran is an important actor in this discord, then it is important that someone sits with Iran, talks with Iran and tries to establish a balancing point, so that society returns to a certain normality in the Middle East,” said Lula according the NYT and all the international press.

So, finally, we can see how an ignorant, arrogant and definitely an opportunist low politician as Lula (yes, he sure is low and dirty with a legendary history of treason amongst his native “comrades) drops the mask of being “the guy”, acclaimed by the ingenuity of Obama in a G-20 Summit and shows that he has no limits to his ambitions of being a “world leader”.

Brazilians Protesting the Visit

The visit of Iran’s dictator is an embarrassment to millions of Brazilian women, homosexuals, Brazilian Jewish and all democrats in general but a chance to show that in the dirty game of power at any cost, Lula wins by far. By being a hypocrite, unscrupulous “comrade” who embraces one of the most sanguinary and disgusting person who ever lived? Hopefully, this will help to show the real nature of the beast.

Obama, please be careful before saying that anyone is “the guy” once again. Everybody, be aware that “the guy” has long knives as another Austrian popular politician who dominated Germany did have back in the 30’s and is no saint at all.

Lula, the pacifier! It’s laughable coming from the man who cannot pacify the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro.

PS: A person carrying the Rainbow Flag inside the conference hall where the Iranian dictator is staying has been arrested by the Brazilian Federal Police. The Jewish community has been barred from the press conferences. Supposedly due to the lack of security to the dictator, the conference was called off at 23:17 GMT. The Brazilian Presidency denied it but Lula reaffirmed the support for “pacific use” of nuclear energy by Iran.

Internet Content and Power

I had spent all night editing a short video and went to bed around 7:30 am. Less than 15 minutes later the sound of an SMS, just few minutes after another and another. The phone rings. I wanted to throw it against the wall. Anyway, I pick it up: “don’t you know yet?” Please, I’m dead for sleep let me sleep! “Atocha (Madrid’s Train Station) was attacked and thousands are wounded and dead.”

I freeze and jump out of bed. Television on. All channels broadcast live the horrific scenes of most violent and catastrophic terrorist attack in Europe after World War II. I knew and millions of other Spanish did too, that we had started to pay the price for the stupidity of the Aznar government and its support for the Iraq war. They soon get the official version blaming the “other side”: it was ETA (Basque terrorist group). Those who had BBC, CNN or the Internet were able to get the real versions of the facts and relay them via SMS to friends and relatives. At the end of March 11, 2004 throughout the country nobody believed the lies issued from the national media, driven by the Government of Spain (Aznar y cia.).

For who was in Spain during those days, I’m not saying anything new. For those who saw it from outside, I’ll never be able to express what it means to be in a supposedly democratic country where all information was manipulated so that the ruling party would win the elections which were to take place 2 days later.

Without Internet or mobile phones, maybe the official version would have passed as truth (which the terrorists would be from ETA) and the right’s liars who send the country to a war until today unsolved would remain in power.

Atocha (Madrid) and Memorial to the Victims


Mr. Zapatero was the first major beneficiary of the mobilizing power of the Internet and mobile communications. Obama, without taking away his merits, was a minor phenomenon in regard to a total electoral overthrow. A quarter of the Spanish population went to the streets screaming: « Before the vote, we demand the truth”. In proportion, that would mean 75 millions Americans and/or 15 millions French. Obama was elected by just over 69 millions votes.

I remember those days and it made me cringe to see the sad millionaire spectacle that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of Spain just sponsor (FICOD 09) where almost 100% of the speakers, shamelessly advocate some form of censorship of Internet content. These gentlemen (government officials) would not be sitting in their chairs without the key role that mobile telecommunications and Internet and played between 11 and 14 March 2004.

There is much to say about the policies of the current government of Spain. For now I will focus on intellectual fiasco (albeit palatial proportions) that just ended in the capital of the Kingdom.

However, do not forget President of Government, the same people that have put him in his chair can remove it. Just to give it away to technocrats even more unable than those currently occupying such positions.

Until "revolution" arrives…the paradise of subsidies

As I said clearly before I don’t believe in any revolution let alone in the global kingdom of inflated egos. It is not the nature of the beast to eat its own guts and everybody can rest in peace about it: filmmakers, actors, producers and all the involved in the entertainment business won’t suicide as they see revenues dropping and sinking bellow the red mark, way bellow. At least in all the countries where subsidies are in place, the ball will keeping going. The game is too good to quit and they will fight it fiercely,  with bravery and stop at no ethical limits (the large majority at least) even if that includes censorship.

My intention here is to map as extensively as possible the production of film around the world with a special emphasis over the subsidized countries.  The US has its own set of rules, small state funded incentives, etc.etc. and for the purpose of this series of articles is simply not fun to drag its dirty out yet. Not yet.

BRAZIL

Honoring the country which saw me coming to this world, I shall start with Brazil.  Yeah, I am Brazilian by birth (European National by option). Not equal, nobody in Brazil is born equal to anything (the law? no, specially not equal to the law) … Not easy, in the country easy is seen as weak so everybody poses a nasty attitude to life in general and to their “social-inferior-peers” in particular… AND everybody feels they have the supreme right to have all the benefits in the world, existent and to be invented, on all medias and in the whole universe. To whom is used to the language used in distribution rights contracts, doesn’t it sound terribly familiar?

That said I need to clarify somethings to the newcomers to the “Brazilian kingdom”. The country has a huge media oligopoly in place for the past 44 years called nothing less than GLOBO (globe) which produces an enormous amount of daily soap operas (four hours a day x 4 different shows x 6 days per week) and that is enough to keep an army of combatant soldiers (artists), well paid and living the glory of nationwide fame, happy and smiling all day long. To portrait the whole scenario would take a book and that is not the purpose of these articles so, keeping it short, they can have a mediocre production with some excellent talent but there is a huge fiction-drama production taking place in the country.

The GLOBO organizations (the media empire spreads to cable channels, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, cable networks, music publishing, etc.etc) were raised to a predominant position by the military dictatorship in the 60’s and never declined ever since.  The military regime went down but they kept their stake and pawns over the country, supporting rebrand right-wing politicians in a fake democratic state. Currently they support the center left government of Lula. Even if they say they do not support it, they do. It is their nature: always standing behind the factual powers.  And their dominant position has made that they bred inner-house talent, shaped to their aesthetic standards for generations (not unusual to find three generations of the same family working in the same company’s department) and that has spilled over to several other art forms: the cinema is made by the same actors and a great number of screenwriters and directors; the theatre is dominated by the same actors of the soap-operas; the music heard on the radio waves is the soundtrack of their programming, etc.etc. The “Global Production Standard”  which encompass a standardized mix of key elements such as same lighting, art direction, costume designers, set designers and 99% of poor camera angles composing the lower spectrum of visual (de) effects to keep audiences’ success and with rare exceptions is almost always the certainty of a mediocre product.

To further understand the GLOBO system is necessary to clarify that even the communists and left-wingers were incorporated and assimilated by the predominant standard. Exceptions can be counted within two hands, maximum.

Yet, as an oligopoly there was no need to invest in feature films neither there was a legal obligation to do so, as it is the case in many European countries. When the GLOBO organizations raised Mr. Collor de Mello to the presidency of the nation, he called to an abrupt end of the state funded film organism (Embrafilme) and the small feature film production halted completely. From 1990 to 1994 no long feature film was produced in the country.

The demand for financial instruments able to finance a film industry was always a major drag for the cultural elites and the government had in place an instrument that in fact was quite successful to reach the small goals of those “brilliant minds”: tax exemption for companies investing in film productions. Slowly but surely, the system started to work out.

The basics of it are: a director/writer comes up with a project. Usually they are not alone and have producers attached which will package the project, attach the talent (Globo actors) and register the project with the state organization for clearance (i.e. authorization to raise money). The project is then filed in the Stock Exchange (yeah, never underestimate the capacity for grandeur that the Brazilian elite’s have!) and then out they go for the money hunt. After that, it is all up to the Marketing Manager of big corporations to decide according to their own agenda’s which film to support or not.

BUT, and there is always a big but, the “investing” companies will not invest the so-called “good money”. Nay, nay!!! They will “invest” bad money, rotten money and whatever other disgusting name they come up with in the production of film or theatre or a ballet. It’s the same from the marketing director’s perspective and the money leaves from the same pot: the corporate taxes due to the nation’s Treasure. Needless to say there is no investment whatsoever. They take up to 4% of the corporate due tax and put it in one, two, how many productions they see fit and that amount is levied by the Treasure Department. So, every single production in the country departs fully paid even before pre-production. There is no risk attached to the producers, writers and directors. All salaries paid in full at rates that when compared to the European films are quite high. If a director writes and also produces the film (not unusual at all) the net profit of this “artist” is often 30% of the entire budget. Average budget of Brazilian features? Currently averages US$ 4 million. Some reach 8/10 million US dollars. Basically it’s all ” Global Production Standard” values. Not too different from  watching a soap-opera episode but in the “magical dark room” in a brand new Multiplex Cinemark. Rare exceptions, mediocrity is the standard.

If the film fails flatly in the box office? Who loses it? Nobody. It’s fully paid. Paid by the Brazilian State and ultimately by the Brazilian poor population who does not have health care, nor decent public services let alone the right to complain about another gigantic inequality of the rich up and coming world power player championed by the blue-collar president.

It’s worth to remark that the former Minister of Culture, singer Gilberto Gil, has received also subsidy money shortly after leaving the ministry for more than US$ 200,00 guess for what? To produce his music DVD! If Caetano Veloso wants to make a show with tickets costing US$ 100 per head, he demands subsidies as well. If any problems or complaints arise from the fact that one of the richest singers in the country gets subsidies, he himself will call the seating Minister of Culture and the rules will bend to accomodate his needs.

Is there any strategy in the works regarding the digital “revolution”? Yeah, Walkiria Barbosa, director of Festival do Rio has recently declared that it’s necessary to combine “education + punishment + alternatives”. As an old school Stalinist,  she has it all squared out. She and all the rest! To talk about the real alternatives in Brazil is to cast yourself out of the picture, I know! I’m doing it as I write these pages. Don’t think outside the dark room with a projector running a 35 mm print otherwise you are not cultivated enough at best. If it comes to worst you are a criminal and point period. End of discussion. Someone will find a way to punish you.

AT THE END OF THE DAY, it is an investment, done by a legal entity into another legal entity. If the product is good and has returns, the “investor” will receive the principal plus profits. The taxes the company owed? Forget it, nobody will ever recall that minor detail, for god’s sake!

Woody Allen and Rio

The bad news? It is all reserved to Brazilian nationals but if you are Woody Allen governments will line up to pay for your production. Bastardy is a highly appraised art in the country.