The Man Who Sued God, Billy Connolly, shared a coffee or two with NBR Briefcase columnist John Bowie and shared some of his legal and perhaps not so legal thoughts about IP, God and people who film his shows.
It looks as if the Leveson Inquiry is going to run as long as Coronation Street and that it’s work will not be completed until everyone in Britain who are on a New Corp phone hacking list, which appears to be everyone in Britain, has given their evidence. The show is, as Billy Connolly might say, a “f**** circus.”
Well, last weekend over several long and short blacks I discussed these and other issues with Mr Connolly and I can tell you that he is f**** annoyed and upset by the way both old and new media behaves itself. The current newspapers’ predicament, evidenced most recently with the Fairfax empire’s late-to-the-party decision to erect paywalls and reduce employee numbers, serves newspapers them right for behaving so badly, he says. But the issues posed by the internet is another matter altogether.
“The technology arrived before the manners,” he says. They think they can copy anything, anytime for any reason. As a celebrity, he’s used to being asked to have his picture taken. That goes with the territory. The problem is, after having one or two taken to the satisfaction of the picture taker there are 15 other people standing in line for the same thing. What does not, says the man Who Sued God and who would presumably like to sue a lot of mere mortals as well, are people who post video clips all over YouTube. He recently had to stop a man openly videoing one of his shows. Not only no manners, but often no address for service either.
Like most well known artists, his work is all over YouTube. And while he doesn’t really have a financial objection, the result is that it “deadens” creativity knowing your work is going to be slapped up anywhere with no control over whether it ends up on someone’s site for commercial reason or on a political or sick-porn site or anywhere else, which is enough to make your eyes bleed.
The fact is the internet is a hydra-headed, unstoppable monster that can’t be unplugged. And so the entertainment business, the retail business – any business – now has to grapple with new business models to accommodate it. And new laws are needed, too.
The Law Commission issued their issues paper on new media, “News Media Meets New Media” last year, looking at the regulation of new media and internet harms that arise from media convergence and new media. In May the Legal Research Foundation held a seminar to discuss the issues paper. And this month North Shore District Court Judge David Harvey, the Internet Judge who wrote Internet.law and presided on some of the Dotcom proceedings even started blogging on new media issues.
Having worked recently in a large office with web developers there is a culture of hoovering up digital material – films, music, books – for free. Not only can these people cut code while playing World of Warcraft, but they can eat stale crisps and download the latest Bond or Batman movie for nothing before the film premieres before Kate and William in Leicester Square. To pay for a movie is like buying a ticket to Loserville, man.
This is the world where industrial level downloads from The Pirate Bay, the Finnish copyright thieves, and of course our own Kim Dotcom’s former empire, reign supreme. It is also why the Entertainment Empire has struck back against MegaUpload, albeit in a ham-fisted manner befitting a straight-to-video C-grade action movie. The sycophancy and incompetence shown by the Police and Crown in the Dotcom case has done little to strengthen the hand of the US entertainment industry, let alone the New Zealand authorities involved.
Billy Connolly recounted the release of one pirated Batman movie which was even “released” with the copyright warning intact. In 2007 we had the case involving the pirating of “Sione’s Wedding” when the pirate was prosecuted successfully, albeit costing South Pacific Pictures big money.
And while Billy Connolly was amused with my suggestion that he would play Willie Akel in Dotcom:The Movie, he has an abhorrence of what is occurring with intellectual property online. Social media also leads to an endless quest for publicity, another troubling issue. He knows Geoffrey Robertson, the Australian civil rights lawyer representing Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. Assange, Billy believes, is in it for the publicity as much as the pursuit of truth and openness.
He displays a healthy distaste for prejudice, including from the police. He recounts the story of a fire at Elton John’s home, occurring at a time when the singer’s manager was also Billy Connolly’s, and the press arrived at the house before the fire engines. In Manhattan, where he now lives, he has a successful Wall Street friend, a silky smooth African American, who gets pulled over weekly by the police wanting to know how he came by his car, his watch, his clothes. Prejudice and privacy issues disturb him.
He’s talking about his latest tv project when a boy and his father ask for a picture. Billy obliges. He’s too nice not too. He holds a distaste for UK footballers who stomp past the signature-seeking fans that made them millionaires with their ipod earplugs in their ears. He smiles and has the picture taken with the boy. “That’ll be my new Facebook page,” the kid says.