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Producer as Author

In this spring’s edition of my Copyright Law course, tomorrow’s topic is determining ownership of copyright.  Given the complexity of that notion, I’m struck by the timeliness of today’s NYT report on the Hollywood spat between Robert Yari, one of the co-producers of Crash (last year’s Best Picture Oscar) and the Producer’s Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which refuse to recognize him with a producing credit (PG) or Academy Award (AMPAS).  This dispute isn’t the only one to break out among Crash collaborators, but it does highlight the complex intersection among organizational imperatives, commercial interests, cultural capital, and actual influence in the creation of a work of art that the motion picture industry recognizes with the label “producer.”  I can’t say what Yari is really after (money?  prestige?  validation?  revenge?), and I can’t say what Yari actually did.  It seems clear, however, that whether he is a Crash “producer” or not depends largely on issues that have little to do with the creativity that audiences read in the film.   

Not that there is anything wrong with that.