Producer-directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are scheduled to testify Thursday morning before a Senate subcommittee to voice their support for a bill that would protect artists' moral rights to protect their work. The legislation calls for strengthening American copyright laws to conform to the 100-year-old Berne Treaty, which established international copyright standards for 76 countries.
I am not coming to Washington as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I am coming to speak as a citizen. A citizen of what I believe to be a great society. A great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and artistic heritage. Under current law, it is not being protected.
The recent destruction of our film heritage by colorization is only the tip of an iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors or filmmakers. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.
Art in all forms belongs to the people, and it must be protected by public institutions, not multinational corporations that are driven by greed and self-interest. A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it reverts to the public domain. It belongs to the American public; it is part of our common cultural history.
For more than 100 years, and in 76 nations, the arbitrator of a work of art has been the creator or creators of that work. Who better than the person whose hard labor and unique talent created the art should determine what is an appropriate alteration?
Buying a copyright does not make an artist. The copyright owner does not suddenly become talented or creative, does not suddenly have the ability to write a novel, play music, paint pictures or make films. An artist's creative talent is not something that can be transferred. And it is the artist's unique vision made concrete in art that must be respected, that piece of our creative heritage that must be protected.
America needs a declaration of moral rights for artists. Such a declaration has been provided for in the moral rights clause of the Berne Treaty. It has worked for many years in many different countries. It is simple: A person's creative work "cannot be altered without that person's permission." Any legislation short of this is a patchwork that will confuse, and stir up ongoing debate.
Creative expression and imagination are human qualities; they are part of the very essence of what it is to be human. People who alter or destroy works of art, and our cultural heritage, for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, we will become a barbaric society.
The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as "when life begins" or whether it should be terminated, but it is just as relevant and important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.
This is just the beginning of the battle to preserve our humanity. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the sound track, speed up the pace and add or subtract material to the philosophical taste of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with "fresher faces," or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new "original" negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires.
The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. To reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern Bloc countries where American films have been better preserved. In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new, altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
The other arts have not been hit quite as hard as film. But one day, it may also be profitable to alter on a massive scale paintings, literature or a recording artist's performance. A clear statement of our national values must be made now. Are we going to be a society totally controlled by greed and profit? Congress makes the laws, and laws represent an awareness of a higher moral order. Law by and for greed denies our humanness.
The assurance of the artist's moral rights adds stability. The corporations, which hold many of the copyrights, are unstable entities. They are bought and sold, and corporate officers change on a regular basis. There is nothing to stop American films, records, books and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or an egocentric gangster who would change our cultural heritage to suit his personal taste.
I accuse the companies and groups who say the U.S. law is sufficient of misleading the Congress and the American people for their own economic self-interest.
I accuse the Motion Picture Association, for example, of seeking to protect their own narrow interest on the issue of film piracy and thereby save themselves $1 billion, without acknowledging the moral rights of the artists who created those films.
I accuse the corporations that oppose the moral rights of the artist of being dishonest and insensitive to America's cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the nation.
The public's interest should ultimately dominate all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law permits the creators and their estate only a limited time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work. Ultimately that work returns to the public domain, and the public should receive what it paid for by virtue of the taxes and military service used to preserve the cultural environment in which these things could be created.
That's why the U.S. Senate should weigh carefully the fate to our cultural heritage. Attention should be paid to this question of our human soul, and not simply to the accounting procedures and monetary considerations. Attention must be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself, and how it worked with the mediums that were available to it, whether with a black-and-white palette or a color palette.
There are those who say American law is sufficient. That's an outrage! It's not sufficient! If it was sufficient, why would I have to testify before the Senate? Why would John Huston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of "The Maltese Falcon"? Why are films cut up and butchered without so much as a holler of protest? Where can an artist go to protest?
Vandalizing a work of art and then putting a disclaimer on it saying this was not what the artist originally intended is not sufficient. Excluding some artists from moral rights protection because they were commissioned to do a piece is not sufficient. Is an artist who works for hire any less of an artist? Is the Sistine Chapel ceiling any less a work of art?
I hope the Senate will have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race and extend proper protection to the creators of that art -- as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.