Katie Dean of Wired News has been on top of the Eyes on the Prize licensing story from the beginning, and today she filed this excellent report on Downhill Battle’s campaign to distribute the series via P2P. (For more on this story, see my post here.)
I did a little digging yesterday to see whether Blackside, the production company that made Eyes in the 80s and early 90s, even still exists. It does, but in substantially diminshed form. Henry Hampton, its founder and leader, died in 1998, leaving his last series, This Far By Faith, unfinished. The company has not, as far as I can tell, produced any substantial programs since finishing Faith. It passed in Hampton’s will to his sisters, Veva Zimmerman and Judy Hampton, carrying with it substantial debts, but substantial goodwill among documentary and minority filmmakers. This article describes some of the anger surrounding the decline of Blackside, during which reports indicate much of Blackside’s goodwill was squandered.
The Wired News article quotes a lawyer representing Blackside in its attempt to relicense the footage in Eyes:
But Sandy Forman, a lawyer for Blackside and director of the project to re-license the lapsed footage, said Downhill Battle has “no fair-use claim to do this whatsoever.”
“We are going to pursue any and all legal remedies available to stop this as soon as possible,” Forman said. “Clearly we agree that it’s very important to have (Eyes on the Prize) out there but certainly the way these people are going about it is completely unacceptable and illegal.”
She said Blackside does not endorse what Downhill Battle is doing, and the late Henry Hampton — the filmmaker who founded Blackside and produced Eyes on the Prize — “would absolutely not support this.”
This puts Blackside in a tough spot, but so far they’re making the wrong move. From what I can gather, Blackside is trying to gather enough money to pay off its debts by getting Eyes on the Prize back on PBS and in video distribution. The real money is going to come from PBS and PBS Video. PBS Video is going to be selling primarily to schools and libraries. P2P distribution and exhibition of Eyes is not going to make it less likely for PBS to broadcast the series, and won’t keep schools and libraries from buying copies. What this will do is raise the profile of the effort to relicense all of the footage in the series and get it on PBS faster.
A kneejerk “quit infringing” reaction is understandable, but probably not the smartest long-term strategy.
UPDATE: So it turns out Henry Hampton’s nephew is a blogger who’s well-informed about both the copyfight and the internals of what remains of Blackside. His take is here and here.