Ideas for the field: Online creative rights database

One of my early frustrations with trying to get up-to-speed with the world of Mormon narrative fiction was the lack of published plays. If one has access to an academic library (which I did for the first 9 years of my engagement with the field), it’s easy to get novels and short story collections through InterLibrary Loan. And oftentimes you could even get photocopies of individual short stories. However, other than Sunstone, no one really publishes Mormon plays.

My next idea for the field, then, is the creation of a Mormon-themed creative rights database. This is content that isn’t easy to acquire from libraries and that could reasonably expect some sort of usage fee to use and/or view the work.

What could be included in such a database:

1. Screenplays
2. Scripts
3. Illustrations
4. Photos
5. Music arrangements
6. Short films

These are all cultural products that either would be staged (or screened) for an audience or used in a publication and so even though they are all different modes of creation, it makes sense to group them together. In addition, I would include screenplays that haven’t been filmed yet as such a database would ideally be a place for producers/directors to view and bid on a property. I would also include screenplays from films that have already been made because I see this database as being valuable for academic work.

LDS Film actually has posted a few screenplays on their LDS Scripts site and has a (currently empty) page for stage plays, but they only have 11 up so far. I envision something more comprehensive and more of use to academics and/or those who would be interested in right of use.

In fact, the site up so that anyone could view summaries (and thumbnails of images) of the work, and the author would also have the option of posting an excerpt. Then there could be a yearly fee for those who want full access to the works. Something that would discourage stealing stuff, but would still be affordable enough that academics, independent scholars, small-time producers, ward choir directors, etc. would be willing to pay it. I’d say in the $40-80 range. And possibly there could be pricing tiers based on what types of content you’d want access to. Or in other words, you could just pay for the photos package or the short films package or you could pay for all the content. Also, the membership fee wouldn’t cover the full access of works that could easily be stolen and reused. Images would be larger than thumbnails but not high quality (and have a watermark) and perhaps arrangements would have have half the song plus an streaming MP3 performance of the entire arrangement. And then, of course, each individual property would have an option to purchase the rights to use it. The annual fee would go to support the management of the site. The money from the rights would go straight into the pocket of the rights owner.

So what do you all think?

I think there are some major issues, here. The biggest barrier is probably that quite a few works that would be a natural fit for this type of database may already be covered by other creative rights organizations. I also am not sure how many people would be willing to pay a fee to view content. That doesn’t seem to be the way the Internet works these days. I do think, though, that the concept of aggregating these works makes a lot of sense as well as going just beyond screenplays/scripts.

One other issue is the quality of the works uploaded into the database. How would you maintain a good enough quality to make it worth the time and expense of those who pay the membership fee? There are several ways that could be managed. One would be to charge a small fee per work listed — $5 per screenplay, 50 cents per photo, etc. Another would be to introduce some sort of rankings system where those who have memberships could vote on works. There could also be a ranking based on how many views each work received as well as how many times the rights were bought [for images, etc.]. Or in other words, the site could deploy all the sorting, flagging (for questionable or plagiarized content) and ranking tools that are currently used on the Web.

A few more thoughts:

1. You could even take it a step further and go beyond graphic design images and include some fine arts listings as well with the options to buy prints.

2. The site could also have some sort of social networking aspect that would facilitate interaction among artists (and critics and producers/directors).

3. And, finally, you could add not only fine arts but also crafts (maybe both together as a sister site) — something like a Mormon-oriented version of Etsy. (Actually not Etsy, but I can’t seem to find the site I was thinking of that featured both handmade crafts items as well as paintings and other fine art products).

3 thoughts on “Ideas for the field: Online creative rights database”

  1. Good idea. It would be really nice to have a large corpus of Mormon creative works in a single location. And I agree, the payment scheme doesn’t feel like it would fit in a post-Web 2.0 culture, but I can’t think of any good alternatives. Then again, $40-80/year isn’t bad at all — especially if the content is worth it. (The ranking system seems like it would get better results than the entry fee, by the way.)

  2. Sounds like an interesting idea.

    You’ll be glad to hear that Zarahemla is putting out a collection of Mormon plays this year, compiled by Mahonri Stewart. He got some big names in Mormon playwriting, including both a play and an introduction to the collection by Orson Scott Card. More later.

  3. Encore Performance Publishing has a pretty complete catalog of LDS plays. Several of mine are there, a bunch by Scott Card, Scott Bronson, James Arrington. They’ve recently sold the catalog to another company, the name of which currently escapes me. One of the things I hope to do when and if Nauvoo Theatrical Society gets enough money is to publish reading versions of individual plays. The BYU drama department, last time I checked, has a great library of plays written for master theses and the like. It would be neat to get ones hands on those and make them available to the reading public.

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