Public airing of your multimedia compositions could land you in hot water

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 09/90 item 01 - scanned

For some months now we 'industry observers' have all been harping on about the wonders of multimedia, especially the interactive variety. And we've been right. The potential benefits to users are absolutely huge. For once they are in control of the sequence of their education, entertainment, presentations or whatever. They have the freedom to dive around, change direction, revisit misunderstood sections and so on. The trouble with all this is that they need special equipment to do it and few have yet made the investment. Commodore has decided to give a helping hand by bringing out its CDTV compact disc player. They hope it will sell by the million and give everyone a multimedia player in rather the same way the video tape recorder is now a commonplace item. The fact is that the Commodore machine costs money. I can't remember how much, but it is probably around a thousand quid. And multimedia titles are not yet that thick on the ground, so £1000 for something you can't really use yet requires a considerable act of faith on the part of the buyer.

If you build the interactive multimedia system around your Macintosh, then you need to buy a CD player and/or a video disc player. And a colour monitor of some description is really essential if you want to get the full benefit of multimedia publications. So, once again, the cash is starting to pour out for something which, despite the hype, has not really taken off yet. If you're a multimedia developer, you'd have no qualms about investing in this equipment. You'll have a jolly good time creating your multimedia works and, in all probability, you'll either use the end results within your company or community, or you'll pump them onto videotape for wider use. Of course, videotape means it's no longer interactive multimedia, but it is a handy way of disseminating a mix of text, graphics, sound, video, stills and animation. Multimedia development systems allow you to produce either kind of result.

At this year's Boston MacWorld, a lot of manufacturers and publishers decided to focus their attention on videotape as a multimedia delivery vehicle. They figured, quite correctly, that since most people had access to video recorders and television, this would ensure the swiftest take up of their products. I saw several editing programs (on Mac IIs, by the way) which allow you to display inputs from video, from a live television feed, from an animation on the hard disk, or whatever, in one part of the screen while building a video sequence of the relevant components in another window. I saw extracts from the Wizard of Oz being resequenced and enhanced with animation and new sounds. I saw a Tina Turner concert being rummaged for the best shots and then being panned, zoomed, cropped, rotated, squeezed and stretched. The thing that troubled me about these soon-to-be-very-popular hardware and software combinations, was the degree to which they allow you to breach copyright. It's not like copying a video, a record or a piece of software. With those, you know you are committing an illegal act, even if you do justify it as a backup, a copy for the car, or whatever. With these new technologies, the opportunity to deprive artists and writers of their just rewards is huge.

The Tina Turner multimedia presentation, for example, took quite a long time to show - maybe ten or fifteen minutes. It was most entertaining and a very skilful interpretation of the multimedia maker's art. She was put in different shaped boxes and twirled around the screen. She was made to look short and fat. She was made to look tall and spindly. The editor took a lot of interest in the frantically waving fringe of her very short dress.

The video was overlaid with all sorts of meaningful sales text, most of which we missed because the Tina Turner bits were far more interesting. I wonder how Tina Turner would have felt about having selected parts of her body taken from one (authorised) video and then prominently used in another? I wonder if she wants to be portrayed as short and fat, or tall and spindly? I wonder if the makers of the second video even gave a thought to sending a royalty cheque off to Ms Turner?

No-one has the right to exploit another's work without paying for it, unless it has been deliberately placed in the public domain. Like copying software, copying cassette tapes or filming off the television, it's unpoliceable if done as a private activity. But start making it public and earning money from it and the writs will start to fly.

Performing rights people and lawmakers need to get together as a matter of urgency to frame laws which ensure that copyright holders receive fair rewards from the industry's multimedia makers.