Neeru Paharia, October 1st, 2005
MediaRights.org is an innovative non-profit, based in New York, but accessible around the world via their website that helps to showcase important social issue documentaries and puts media makers, educators, librarians, nonprofits, and activists in contact with each other to enable the use of documentaries to generate discussion and encourage action on contemporary social issues. MediaRights.org offers, for free, four distinct toolkits: one for producers; one for educators and librarians; one for activists and non-profits; and, one for youth media producers and activists.
MediaRights.org co-ordinates an annual Media That Matters Film Festival. The MTM festival is designed to bring high-impact shorts and ‘Take Action tools’ to audiences throughout the United States and some international venues, all year long. The premiere of this year’s MTM festival takes place in New York on May 18, 2005, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music followed by an Awards Ceremony to be held at HBO headquarters on May 19, 2005.
MediaRights.org recently started using Creative Commons licenses for the films being showcased in the Media That Matters film festival and as part of other MediaRights.org projects.
Neeru Paharia from Creative Commons caught up with David Jacobs, MediaRights.org’s Director of Distribution and Technology, to find out more about MediaRights.org, their various projects and their experience using Creative Commons licenses.
Creative Commons (“CC”): What is the history and mission behind MediaRights.org?
David Jacobs of MediaRights.org (“MR”): The idea for MediaRights.org started as a result of a meeting in 1999 of social issue documentary filmmakers and activists, brought together by the Ford Foundation, to talk about ways they could work better together. It was the height of the boom, so the solution was to build a web site. With seed funding from Ford, and some other partners, New York filmmakers Julia Pimsleur and Katy Chevigny created MediaRights.org as a 501(c)(3) organization built explicitly to foster this connection. A few months later, MediaRights launched and has been growing ever since.
Now we’re the outreach and distribution half of Arts Engine, Inc., a non-profit organization whose goal is to support, produce, and distribute independent media. In addition to our core web site MediaRights.org and the site for the Media That Matters Film Festival, we also maintain the Youth Media Distribution Initiative, whose mission is to improve the distribution of independent youth-created film, video, radio, and new media. We have also produced the web site for the Deadline Outreach campaign, which is intended to motivate ordinary Americans to reevaluate their positions on the death penalty and come to a more informed conclusion about the full ramifications of being “tough on crime”.
CC: What is the history and mission behind the Media that Matters Film Festival?
MR: One of our core philosophies is that the outreach process around a film is as important as the distribution or production process. The festival is a way for us to ‘walk the walk’ in addition to ‘talking the talk’.
The Media That Matters Film Festival is a crystallization of what MediaRights is all about. It’s easy to talk about cooperation between filmmakers and activists, but it’s harder to actually get it done. So in 2000 we started the Film Festival, which is a year long celebration of short activist films. The 16 films that make up the festival each year are streamed from our website, distributed on DVD, broadcast around the United States, and screened around the United States, and at some overseas locations, as part of our traveling film festival.
We pair the films with a series of “Take Action” links and campaigns, so the audience for the films is always presented with an option to act in response to the issues and media that make up the festival. For instance, our film “I Promise Africa” is about the spread of AIDS in Africa in the context of September 11 and the War on Terror. Since the film is only two minutes long, we communicate a lot of the information about the topic via the links and supplementary materials on the site.
CC: What made you decide to license the festival under a Creative Commons license?
MR: We wanted to find a way to get our films distributed to a broader audience, without giving up the filmmaker’s rights, which we were legally bound to protect. The Creative Commons license allowed us to clearly state what rights we wanted to protect and which rights we wanted to give up. Creative Commons, the organization, acts as a supportive and stabilizing presence for our constituents and filmmakers. The resources that Creative Commons provides for free are far greater than what we would have been able to produce and sustain on our own.
A program as large as the festival occupies a large proportion of our time. Since we’re a small organization with only 7 employees, we couldn’t afford to spend the entire year talking to lawyers and negotiating distribution agreements. We wanted to spend our time thinking about creative ways to make media matter more, not talking with our lawyers (as much as I love our lawyer). In past years, we had offered the festival under a non-commercial license to our partners and anyone who wanted to screen the festival. Although our license was good, our members and partners still had to call us to get access to the films and to clarify the finer points of the license. By using the Creative Commons license this year, we hope to make it even easier for our partners and others who want to screen the festival, to do so.
CC: Can you briefly describe the nature of your discussions with the filmmakers about adopting a Creative Commons? What were their concerns?
MR: Every filmmaker wants their film to go farther, and people are (rightfully) a little freaked out about giving up ALL of their intellectual property rights. The CC license allows us to offer a middle path. We want to people to screen the festival, use it in classrooms (there are free companion curriculums on our website), put the DVD on library shelves, and share it with their friends. We are also selling it on Amazon but we don’t want people selling bootlegged copies. This is commonsense to me. I think it is sad, though, that this is seen as so radical in our current political climate.
This is actually the first year that we began selling the DVD as opposed to giving it away, so the nonexclusive nature of the CC license was crucial. Once we explained that Creative Commons didn’t obligate us to give up ALL of our copyrights, people understood the language immediately.
Our goal is to get the films and their messages out as far as possible and the Creative Commons license helps us do that.
People who want to charge tickets for a screening or broadcast the festival still have to contact us, because it’s important to us that filmmakers are fairly compensated for their work and get a cut of any money made off of the films. Any filmmaker’s nightmare is that their work gets repackaged as a bootleg DVD or is screened without their consent, but we were facing these issues before we applied the CC license to our work. It also should be noted that we have a terrific lawyer who does some pro bono work for us, and he was able to clarify issues for us that our filmmakers raised. Mostly, he gave us the confidence to say “Yes, we’ve checked with our lawyer, and this doesn’t compromise our goals in any way.”
CC: Where can people watch this year’s Media That Matters festival?
MR: The festival is streamed on-line, and is available for purchase on DVD. The festival also tours around the United States and some international locations. The most current news about the festival is always available on our blog.