Sharing isn’t Stealing

In a recent column in the New York Times, Nick Bilton asks “Can your Camera Phone Turn You Into a Pirate?” He describes photographing images from a number of home design books to share with a contractor. Concerned that his behavior, Bilton seeks answers from several copyright experts and gets a mixed set of responses. (Most seemed to feel it bordered on infringement.)

For example, Charles Nesson, the Weld professor of law at Harvard said, “If people are taking a picture of a picture to take with them [their cell phones], then is it is exactly like the MP3 issue.”

Stan Liebowitz, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Dallas, also felt that cell phone photography was closer to piracy than not – “In the 1970s, everyone didn’t have a photocopier sitting in their home. Now everyone has a cellphone in their pocket that can easily copy anything.”

I’m certainly not a legal scholar but would it be a problem if I took the books out of the library and showed the pictures to my contractor? Or if I photocopied images? (The article goes into length on the role of photocopiers in copyright law during the 1970s.) What if I invited my contractor to join me at the bookstore to look at the images together without paying for the book? Would that be piracy?

Somehow, to me, this doesn’t make much sense. Is it a problem to take a book out of the library to show someone a photograph on a page? If it isn’t, then how is it a problem to take a photograph of that same photograph and show it to someone for the same purpose? I agree that the wholesale duplication and distribution of copyrighter materials isn’t OK but what Bilton describes sounds like it’s a long way from piracy.

Enough with the HD

The other day I was talking with a colleague about a video project we were working on. There’d been some technical discussions previously about equipment and whatnot – but now – less than two days before taping he told me they were thinking about doing the whole thing in HD.

HD? Why HD? I was going to shoot a few interviews at a conference – just talking heads. Would HD be doing *anyone* any favors? Certainly it isn’t going to be flattering for most people – and who wants to see every one of an other person’s flaws or blemish.

It may seem a bit disingenuous of me to be saying this – given my focus on faces – but there’s something different between the frozen moment of a photography and the incessant ubiquity of the face in video. The static face is an expression that can be explored while the moving face can’t be explored in the same way – only accepted.

Maureen Dowd wrote about this issue today, from a different point of view but the column’s points are excellent – and sad:

Don Malot, a top L.A. makeup artist who works with television and movie stars, says that high-def is turning Tinseltown topsy-turvy.

“People who thought they looked younger on camera than in real life see themselves in high-def and say, ‘Oh my God!’ ” he said. “We can’t use the heavy makeup that used to cover flaws like a drinker’s broken capillaries any more.”

He said that television actresses in their 40s and over are starting to insist that their contracts say they have to be shot slightly out of focus.

“It’s getting rarer to see tight shots of a woman’s face,” he said. “Now the camera guys shoot from the waist up.”

In a photograph, flaws and blemishes can convey personality and character – it isn’t the same with video. I think it’s because we have different expectations of perfection – expectations that are constantly being raised by new technology.

In the arms race between image and appearance you eventually run up against an unavoidable fact – people aren’t perfect. And no amount of anything is going to change that. So what can we do?

I think it’s worth saying “enough with the HD” sometimes. I do totally love HD in a lot of situations – but I don’t think it needs to be used all the time for every situation. It isn’t flattering and it doesn’t add value to storytelling – in fact, it can be a distraction or a detriment as you notice things you never had in the past; things you would have been happy to have been unaware of.

As HD technology continues to become less expensive we’ll continue to see more and more unflattering content being produced. Things can go one of two ways as this happens: first, we could become more accepting of the reality of people or two, we could have a shrinking pool of people that are considered attractive. I hope for the former but expect the later.

In the end, I ended up shooting in standard definition and I think everyone looked great.