“Child Killer” Murdered by Copyright Law

For shame! My homemade epic, “Child Killer,” has been removed from YouTube!


Dear portfola,

Video Disabled

A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video Child Killer. The audio content identified in your video is Break On Through by The Doors. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

I didn’t see that one coming, no. Since I first posted it online over two years ago, Child Killer has gotten maybe 100 views on YouTube, half of which I am accountable for – but one of those others was apparently a mole working for Warner Music Group, who successfully ferreted out HanftPort Productions’ flagrant violation of copyright law. The film does feature liberal playtime for “Break on Through” – it plays in at least two scenes, and total playtime amounts to nearly the entire song. I wonder what Warner would ask of our small independent label for the rights?

This episode follows another recent encounter I had with the agents of artistic and commercial integrity. In a letter last June, my local internet service provider informed me that

… we have received notification from one or more owners of copyrights claiming that their work has been transmitted over the Internet from your account without their permission… We are concerned that either you or a person with access to your account may be unknowingly participating in certain file sharing or server-related activities that led to this complaint.

Included with that letter are copies of emails sent to the ISP on behalf of HBO’s legal team requesting that my account be shut down for downloading the HBO original movie “Recount,” about the 2000 election (a most enjoyable film!) They had the details of the download, including the exact file name and size, and my IP address. Hard to argue with that.

It was just a warning. The ISP was very nice about it, really, taking pains to avoid outright accusing me, and assuring me that I would not lose my service or go to jail if I just stopped downloading stuff. HBO does not have my identity, although this post would give it away quite neatly if they cared to look. But really, they don’t. They just want to scare me into subscribing to HBO, which I won’t since it isn’t worth it, even with good movies like “Recount.” (Although I will miss Season 2 of “Flight of the Conchords,” which is bloody brilliant. Pity.)

Copyright law as it stands today is flawed. We still need laws to prevent people getting ripped off, but as Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing has put it, most musicians’ problem isn’t piracy, it’s anonymity. It’s obscurity. The idea is to get your stuff out there, not keep it away from people. This is the same for most artists in general. Of course it’s not true for large media conglomerates like WMG and Viacom.

We talked about this recently in the Junta, and I learned something very interesting. In the traditional business model of the music business, the only ones making money – real money – off records were the record companies. The artists lived off their advances, their ticket sales, their promotional deals, etc. and the only ones making real money off records were maybe the top 100 artists in the business. That business model is rapidly swirling down the drain.

So while we won’t have Child Killer on YouTube anymore, we’ll find somewhere else to host it. And while we won’t download HBO original movies anymore, we’ll surely continue sharing media with friends and strangers for a long time. As Doctorow has said, the technology for copying and sharing this stuff isn’t going to get any harder. Those who are smart enough to learn the new rules will prosper in the new era, and those who troll the internet looking for violators will be left in the dust.

A Word Before We Go

We are about to leave for the train station – on our way to Beijing for the holiday – but before we go I thought I would relate this small story.

Avid readers of this blog (both of you) will recall Xianyi selling one of her photos to an ad agency late last year, and the small amount of trouble it took to extract payment from said agency. The person who finally paid us sent the money along with a very snooty and rude email which stated that we should never write him again, not even to thank him for the money. Feeling somewhat humiliated, I posted our email exchange on this blog as a way to exact my revenge.

Knowing the small and narrow readership of this page, I never thought I would actually get what I was after – publicly shaming the person who had snapped at me. There was no way, I figured, that my tiny little corner of the blogosphere could ever make its voice heard across the vastness of the internet. O me of little faith.

I received this email a few weeks ago:

Hey Rindy,

Long time no email.

A coworker of mine discovered your blog, and in it they found the email exchange between you and me from 6 months ago. I didn’t even realize that you had posted those emails to your website. The link got circulated around to a couple of coworkers, and to be honest, it’s a little embarrassing that they can read that email of mine. I did act out of line, and said a couple of things that I shouldn’t have, but I’m hoping that there are no hard feelings.

Would it be possible if you took that down from your site? I would really appreciate it.

Wow. I am still amazed that this happened. After half a day’s thought, I decided to be a nice guy and remove the post. As Jarrett put it to me, it has served its purpose. And so it has been deleted. But never have I felt the power of the blog like this. We think we are small independent units floating around the universe, but actually the things we say and do have great meaning, and they can be felt by everyone around us. It goes back to Xianyi’s philosophy: “The world is small, so don’t be an asshole.” 😀

Child Killer

As earlier promised, here it is, in all its glory. The original 1993 production from HanftPort pictures, Child Killer. A bit of background:

Dave and I started making movies as soon as my dad allowed us to touch the 8mm family video camera. We were around 10 years old. Naturally, much of what we shot was complete garbage. Not so naturally, my dad was completely frank in telling us this when we showed him our work.

“The lighting is terrible, you can hardly hear what anybody’s saying, the camera never moves – I mean really, this one scene is like 20 minutes long with the camera in one place – and there’s no plot. It’s awful!”

This encouraged us to improve production. Child Killer, filmed when we were both about 13 and, I believe, about to begin the eighth grade at George Washington Middle School in Ridgewood, NJ, represents the height of our output.

To be sure, the film is incomplete. As were all our films. Usually we would work on a project without a complete script, just filming as we went along, and taking scenes into the editing room as they were finished. Eventually we got bored and started a new movie entirely. We never finished a single film, to my knowledge.

Child Killer shows us in our prime, bringing all our technical knowledge to bear. We had saved up money for editing machines which we used to write text, lay over sound, and distort the video with primitive effects like strobe, paint and mosaic. We even added sound effects to amplify the punching, and of course, the gunshot sound was taken from Sniper.

When we laid this on our family, everyone, including my dad, was blown away. Everybody jumped at the part when Dave shoots Gia, with its vivid bloodtrail and loud gunshot (thanks, Tom Berenger). And then they all laughed and laughed, because the whole thing is just ridiculous.

The “plot” is pretty simple. Juvenile psycho Joe Didley (Dave) goes on a killing rampage in which he brutally murders his best friend Joshua (Rindy), Joshua’s sister Susan (Gia), Susan’s friend Cameron (Cameron Hanft, Dave’s sister) and some kid who witnesses Cameron’s murder, presumably her brother (Will Portfolio). There is no rhyme or reason to the killings, other than violence being the best situation in which two young, aspiring filmmakers could convey their teenage angst as well as their technical skills. Oh, if only we’d had iMacs in those days…

Major props are due to my dad, for letting us use the camera, for rightly deriding our poor intial efforts, thereby inspiring us to do better, and for digging this video up somewhere last year and burning it to DVD as a Christmas present for me.

UPDATE, Jan. 8, 2008: Child Killer has been removed from YouTube for violating copyright. A fine legacy for HanftPort pictures. For more read this.

UPDATE July 2012: At some point, they put the video back online but removed the sound, which offended the copyright lords: