UbuWeb: Bad for Business!

From: Joel S Bachar (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2008 - 11:36:32 PDT

Dear Frameworkers and Directors of the Board of UbuWeb:

We would like to address some serious concerns of ours and the
artists/labels/distributors we represent in regards to the practices of
UbuWeb, and some of the opinions posted about it on this Listserv.

The recent threads have shifted to the quality of online viewing which we
would not like to address here as this is another issue.

We feel that some of UbuWeb's practices are illegal and unethical and we
intend to make every effort to protect our business and the property of our
company and/or the artists and company's we represent should we see such
practices occurring.

Let's begin by quoting a question direct from the UbuWeb's FAQ:

Q: "Can I use something posted on UbuWeb on my site, in a paper, in a
project, etc.?"
A: Sure. We post many things without permission; we also post many with
things with permission. We therefore give you permission to take what you
like even though in many cases, we have no received permission to post it.
We went ahead and did it anyway. You should too.

Source: http://www.ubuweb.com/resources/faq.html#4

It is unfathomable to us that the Board of Directors as well as the various
Partners of UbuWeb, including the institutions that fund and support this
website, find this an acceptable practice! This has nothing to do with
Creative Commons or Copyleft or Fair Use - this is outright infringement of
copyright and theft and this type of practice is a direct threat to our
business and livelihood and thus the livelhood of the hundreds of artists we

One direct example are the films of Maya Deren. We are the exclusive North
American DVD distributor of her collected films and the film The Divine
Horsemen, through an agreement with the label, Mystic Fire Video. Mystic
Fire has been informed of this and is not in agreement with these films
being made available on UbuWeb.

Other infractions have been found in relation to the short films of Man Ray
and Un Chien Andalou. In all of these cases, these films are readily
available on DVD for reasonable prices - both for retail and Educational
PPR. In addition our company as well as many other are spending time, money
and resources to develop quality streaming solutions for these important

We agree with UbuWeb's lamentation that many works are only available
through distribution via prohibitive pricing but we do not agree that the
answer is to simply flout the system. This ignores the fact that many
distributors are adjusting the changing marketplace and other new entrant
are developing new ways to do legal business.

We have every intention of doing a thorough search on an ongoing basis of
UbuWeb for any film (s) that we distribute and we encourage others to do so
and take the appropriate action - which is to have these films taken off
unless proper permissions are given. In addition - the Presidents of the
Universities where the UbuWeb Board Members work and their respective
General Counsels should be made aware of the practices their faculty members
are supporting. The IRS should also be informed as the UbuWeb Foundation
should have its 501 c 3 status revoked.

I guess this will earn us a nice spot on UbuWeb's self-righteous Hall of
Shame. (Doctorow's light essay is about HIS decision to give HIS work away
by the way...) Maybe you should get permission to give work away.

A lot of our time and energy and resources is spent researching rights,
negotiating contracts, selling and marketing and promoting filmmaker's works
and paying royalties. Most of the time this work is done in consultation
with the rights holders. We are not getting rich off of this but it is our
livelihood and we like to think that we are providing a service to the
filmmakers and the industry.

We do not have the luxury of having a paid position and then moonlight to
steal copyright protected material under the loose veil of academia or worse
yet 501 c 3 status.

We assume the reactions to all this would be different if Ubu was part of a
for-profit company like Google or owned by a company incorporated in a state
that has lax copyright laws.

One Frameworker asked about UbuWeb:

"Does the economy of this kind of work mean ubuweb's "grab and post"
attitude is the only way such a comprehensive archive could come into
existence? "

Our answer:

Not necessarily - there are many movements afoot in the industry which are
going in the direction of providing better and cheaper access for
all..whether it be by commercial or legitimate non-profit means. Our guess
is that it will be a balance of private, public, and 501 c 3 concerns that
find some way to communicate.

But the continued weak reaction of our industry for illegal activities would
make the case for this stronger as time goes by. Grab and post is not an
"attitude" it is a self serving philosophy. New web technology and changing
consumer, copyright owner's attitudes are changing and the day will come
when a legal Ubu-web type entity will exist in harmony with all
interests..our company is working towards that goal.but when we see
companies like Ubuweb (with respectable board members??) walk all over
artists and copryright holders whilst philosophizing - it makes us wince.

Like them or not there are copyright laws in this country that equate
intellectual property to physical property.

If we could steal gasoline with impunity right now we would start a very
successful airline - that would benefit society and stop us all from having
to pay such outrageous prices for air travel and remedy terrible service.

Next I will start stealing wheat. Then electricity.

We ask that UbuWeb's Board of Directors, content partners, filmmakers and
all of you on Frameworks and in any media-making community begin take a VERY
hard look at these practices and think twice about being involved with them
and/or endorsing them in anyway.

UbuWeb Board of Directors: http://www.ubuweb.com/resources/board.html

Joel S. Bachar and Patrick Kwiatkowski, Founders of Microcinema
Int'l/Microcinema DVD

1636 Bush Street, #2, San Francisco, CA 94109

(415) 447-9750


For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.