July 27, 2005  ·  Elizabeth Stark

One of the criticisms of the free culture movement in general has been that there are far too many academics and geeks talking about the potential perils of overreaching control over information, and not nearly enough artists. If the artists really believed that this is a threat to culture, the skeptics say, they would act out.

While I do definitely agree that our organization and the movement as a whole need to engage those who are creating art, music, and other creative works, there are a lot of young people out there who are doing exactly the type of work that embodies an open culture. Take Cory Arcangel, who melds art and technology in his Super Mario clouds hack, or Matt Boch, a video artist who combined films of his childhood with his favorite video game to create an exploratory work. Artists like these are reflecting upon works of the past and using new technologies to build upon them.

So even if there are all these young people doing interesting things, how do we get them to care about free culture? Some artists may prefer to embed a political message in their work instead of participating in outright activism. At the same time, I believe that there is a new generation of creators and artists that do indeed care about these issues. As an organization and a movement, we need to make an effort to reach out to these people, to hear their stories, to exhibit their work, and to bring them in.

As a rising 2L at Harvard Law School, I’ve taken an interest in the intersection between law, technology, and culture. Along the same lines, Fred Benenson and I will be giving a presentation for Freeculture.org at this year’s Defcon in Las Vegas explaining why techies should care about the issues surrounding free culture. Much like we need to attract the artists, we also need to make the case to the geeks that they should care about and take action on these cultural issues. More to follow from Defcon…

  • http://www.ibiblio.org/studioforrecording/ Tom Poe

    Your current examples of those creating works that “embodies an open culture” are limited to those artists that have multimedia computers. Am I wrong?

    However, your insight is remarkable. History tells us Ghandi showed the world how to achieve independence by making Khadi (cotton cloth). What history doesn’t tell us, is that what Ghandi et al, really did, was show the world that anyone can make a spinning wheel, and with that spinning wheel, could achieve independence.

    Give every community, every neighborhood, every low-income project the same tools your sampling of artists used, and the world will be a different place.

    How to do that? Easy. Show the world how to obtain a donated, low-end PC, load it with state-of-the-art software from Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), and, for the price of zero dollars, let the artists and creators learn how to make KHADI, the Digital Age way.

    History will tell us, Lessig et al, showed the world how to protect their creative works on the Internet. Hopefully, history will tell us, Elizabeth Stark et al, showed the world how to obtain and build and operate community-based recording studios, so everyone can “care about the issues surrounding free culture”. When you give your presentation at Defcon in Las Vegas, explain why techies need to reach out and help those creators and innovators that don’t now have access to multimedia computers. Rouse them, excite them, and attract them to the importance of what their Digital Age spinning wheel can mean to the world. Oh, and have fun in the sun. :)

  • http://www.freeculture.org Elizabeth Stark

    Tom– Thanks for your comments. Firstly, I did not mean to imply that those were the only examples of artwork that embody an open culture. Of course one can create great and amazing works of art (think folk music, collages, murals, etc.) that have a derivative nature without the use of modern technology. The examples I did give were along the lines of art and technology, and yes they were indeed likely made with the aid of a multimedia computer.

    I definitely agree with you that open access to technology is a very important factor in our movement. Without the ability to access the tools that enable creation, the progress towards a free culture will certainly be limited. I fully support organizations that seek to enable societial, cultural, and economic progress through education and technology.

    Your Open Studios project seems to fit in well with our mission, particularly at the youth level, and I would be interested in hearing more about it.

  • http://www.ibiblio.org/studioforrecording/ Tom Poe

    At the youth level, our project focuses on putting the world’s most sophisticated audio and video software in front of students. Using music as a “hook”, kids of all ages, from 3 to 96 can learn to read and write music, make recordings, create a CD, license it, tag it, upload it to http://www.archive.org, a reputable repository, print out the license to frame on their wall, along with the CD, create a playlist to send by email to all their friends. What’s interesting about this approach, is, it happens in school classrooms, correctional institutions, low-income housing projects, villages in Africa.

    Whether one works with audio or video applications, the steps are basically the same. Whether the recording studio is used for musicians, artists, authors, or it’s used for nonprofit fund-raising, small business marketing strategies, educational adjunctive programs for schools, rehabilitation projects for prison inmates, or community activism, the singular tool, the computer, is basically the same.

    Of course, it’s a tough, steep learning curve, unless there’s someone or some group that will provide the technical support and training to teach the users how to identify the resources that can be used to stretch out and lower that learning curve. Universities teach students how to use libraries and resources for contributing to their community as adults. Open Studios teaches anyone how to use the Internet and other resources for contributing to the health and well-being of their communities.

    Suppose the Steering Committee for FreeCulture.org decided to place a community-based recording studio in every university where they had a chapter. Then, suppose they took it one step further, and hosted an ongoing tracking system for measuring the outcomes of those studios. The value to society would be enormous. Instead of isolated comments from mayors that their community benefitted economically to the tune (no pun intended) of realizing two jobs for every artist that moved into town, we might hear a governor report that her state realized over $100 million dollars in increased state revenues as a result of placing community-based recording studios in each community in the state, through nonprofit fund-raisers alone, according to documentation provided by FreeCulture.org.

    I don’t know where FreeCulture.org is going, but I do know you folks have the ability to run a simple contest which starts with each entry putting up a community-based recording studio at school, and then creating whatever fun stuff students create. Heck, schools spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to participate in solar car races. Why not channel some of that money into economic advancement opportunity for each neighborhood in every community of every student in school? Computers are donated, the software is freely available, and the prize money could conceivably rival any of the lotteries out there. If you do it, we’ll walk you through the steps. Then, you take it from there with your own setup.

  • http://theblogconsultancy.typepad.com/techpr Drew B’s take on tech PR

    That presentation at Freeculture.org sounds like one I’d like to see. Won’t be able to go though – any chance you’ll publish the notes online?

  • http://home.telepath.com/~hrothgar/telae_tabulae.html Timothy Phillips

    Creativity doesn’t require computers. It needs access to the society’s accumulated wisdom, and freedom. Writers of wit, or those at least who have a healthy sense of history, should not be hard to convince of this. Perhaps the slower-witted should be reminded of the doctrine of “unconscious infringement”: It is possible to be a cultural borrower even without intending to be.

  • rodander

    Age-old problem : how do I get other people (who don’t care about what I care about) to care about what I care about?

    My suggestion is that it is not about the quantity of works, but the quality of the works that are produced under freeculture. We’ve got lots of information in our world already, and we’re beseiged by much art work. The tough part is getting noticed (see how much the recording studios spend on promotion to get a sense of that).

    Adding a recording studio in each community will, for the most part, add to the noise. But it may increase the chance that a work of quality will come out of it — the problem then becomes how to get it noticed.

    But if we’re talking about mostly mashups, one can rightly wonder about the quality of such works beyond the original components. Interesting for a bit, perhaps. But lasting quality? If freeculture becomes tied up in (or tied down by) largely deriviative works, the lack of quality of such works could be a dragging anchor.

  • http://www.freeculture.org Elizabeth Stark

    Drew– we will indeed publish the notes and link them from our blog.

    rodander– in our presentation, we will be discussing and exhibiting works that we (and others) consider noteworthy. For example, Cory’s work has received recognition in many art circles and well known galleries/museums and Matt’s work is currently being displayed in the NY Video Festival at Lincoln Center. I do agree that the quality of the works is of importance, and that is why we need to reach out to those who are up and coming in art scenes and making influential works.

    I wouldn’t qualify these works, and others, including certain types of music made from mostly samples, solely as “mashups.” That term tends to have a specific musical implication along the lines of the Grey Album or mixing a Nirvana track with (name your recent top 40 hit here).

  • http://www.locarecords.com David Bjorkmann Berry

    Hi

    Nice to see the freeculture.org people writing about their stuff for a wide audience. Thought you might want to check out Loca records for some copyleft music…

    Also there is a great book by Hardt & Negri (2004) called Multitude which theorises all these disparate movements in freeculture, open source and such like..

    Cheers

    David

  • rodander

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

    My point about mashups is simply that it will be difficult to gain much traction out in the world by spending a lot of passion on the right to mashup a Nirvana song with a Coldplay song. The only people who will care about that are the ones doing it. The consuming public might find such work interesting (at best, for a while at most), but they won’t march on Washington over it.

    If they can be convinced that an overall freeculture will produce higher quality art, and thus a higher quality of life, then maybe. But it’ll have to be proven with quality, not mere cleverness.

  • three blind mice

    My point about mashups is simply that it will be difficult to gain much traction out in the world by spending a lot of passion on the right to mashup a Nirvana song with a Coldplay song.

    *shudders at the thought*

    you raise an excellent point rodander (besides the fact that mashing “smells like teen spirit” with “yellow” might make kurt cobain to roll over in his grave.)

    it is, at best, a questionable assertion that relaxing copyright restrictions will result in artistic innovation. technical innovation maybe, but not artistic innovation.

    frank zappa – an icon of artistic innovation – observed that music industry is creating something from nothing and selling it. it is not about copying, it is not about following the leader, it is not about making it easier for derivative hacks to mix the same old crap and sell it in new packaging.

    lowering the barriers to imitation is more likely to result in more elevator music than in new avenues of artistic expression. haven’t we had enough of boy band covers, unplugged re-releases, and the seemingly endess cycle of hip-hop mediocrity?

    true artists should be totally unconcerned with the barriers presented by copyright. the only inspiration disco provided for punk was one of revulsion. grunge was a reaction to – not a derivative of – 1980′s playlists.

    copyright is not the problem: it is a dearth of artistic talent and weak copyright laws that allow talented artists to follow the path of least resistance to commercial success.

    instead of fighting for the “right” to convoy on the success of existing artists, isn’t it time for something totally new?

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    I’m currently in Belgrade (Serbia, formerly Yugoslavia) with a show of CC-licensed art and I’m giving a talk on art and free culture tonight.
    CC Blog entry
    One way to get artists interested in CC is to explain how copyright has affected artists such as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kreuger and Joy Garnett. And to show them how artists such as Yves Klein, Christo and Anish Kapoor have tried to use IP law to restrict others from addressing their work. None of these examples involve multimedia PCs.
    Art and IP law have a long history, and the chilling effects are getting worse. Whether an artist wants their work to be critical or escapist, when more and more of the visual environment is copyrighted or trademarked, this affects the freedom of art. And art must be free.
    See my wiki for examples of IP law affecting art.

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    true artists should be totally unconcerned with the barriers presented by copyright.

    We aren’t concerned by them.

    The people who sue us are.

    That’s where the problem lies. Ignoring it is easier from an ivory tower than from the studio.

  • three blind mice

    And art must be free.

    you are aware, aren’t you, that the right of free speech is not absolute. free speech has always been – and must continue to be – balanced with other other equally important rights including intellectual property rights.

    artists need be as concerned with the IP of others as they are with the works of others. it is no surprise that artists who are derivative, imitative, and un-original are as obsessed by the IP of others as they are by their works.

    nevertheless the attempt in this thread to conflate the interests of “geeks” with the interests of artists obscures the conflict that the digital revolution has created between artists and geeks. some artists want to control the copying and distribution of their works while geeks want free and unfettered access to those works so that their internet will be more fun to play with. indeed, the traditional IP protection that has well-served the interests of artists is what the geeks now want to tear down and replace with a regime of IP-lite.

    the fact of the matter is that IP solutions that serve the interests of geeks do not necessarily serve the interests of artists. the tension that exists between artistic innovation and technological innovation is as permanent (and as necessary) as the tension that exists between free speech and libel.

    it makes little obvious sense for original artists to support an IP regime promoted and preferred by geeks.

    on the other hand, derivative hacks and geeks are naturally on the same page.

  • rodander

    Well stated, three (both posts).

    You remind me of something I heard good ol’ Bono say in an interview a while back. He was asked whether digital music sharing was killing the music industry. His reply was “No, crap music is killing the music industry.”

  • poptones

    you are aware, aren’t you, that the right of free speech is not absolute. free speech has always been – and must continue to be – balanced with other other equally important rights including intellectual property rights.

    The right to free expression is absolute whether governments choose to recognize it or not. And increasingly the ability to exercise that right is finding light. The right (and practice) of free expression, however, does not equate with the ability (or right) to directly profit from that speech.

    If you are an artist and your aim is to support youself, you express ideas in a manner that will sell. If your aim is to express an unpopular idea but you feel it is an iimportant statement needing to be made, you now live in a world where that idea can still find a worldwide audience even though it would never find someone willing to directly subsidize it. Because the idea is “unpopular” you may need to express it anonymously – but that, in itself, does not preclude the expression of the potentially libelous speech.

    Now, if you are a sculptor or a performance artist this may be a little more work than if you are a painter, photographer, musician or writer, but with 3d printing on the horizon even that is changing.

    The ability to freely express one’s self is, at least until we have a self censoring internet, “built in.” The ability to profit from that expression remains a more complicated issue – one that is necessarily intertwined with what sort of speech society is willing to accept.

    This is the weakness I find in so much of the “free culture movement.” If your goal is to have freedom of expression, you have that already – learn to use tor and open proxies and go for it. If your goal is to have freedom to republish other people’s expressions then they (rightly) may have something to say about your ability to profit from it. I hear talk of “moral rights” in this crowd but where is the ability to enforce those “moral rights” of attribution if you abolish copyright?

    By the way, three, as an artsy geek I resent your stereotypical views of this issue. There are many creative artists who are (or were) geeks and do not simply execute Fruity-looped “mashups.” Even Elvis Costello was a computer programmer.

  • Arthur

    I resent strongly the idea that people who are lucky enough never to step on anyone’s IP toes are real artists and people who do are “derivative hacks”.

    It’s long been a position of mine that *all* art is derivative, that the idea you can make music worth listening to “from nothing” is a myth, that artists need to get over their own PR of themselves as creative geniuses. It’s a personal opinion of mine, but it’s also, I think, part of the guiding ethos of the free culture movement, even if many in it don’t subscribe to it as strongly as I do (and some subscribe to it more strongly than I do).

    Shakespeare, after all, was a “derivative hack” who never wrote an original plot in his life and regularly cribbed and altered material from other playwrights. The long tradition of folk music is based on stealing and modifying tunes — hell, our national anthem is sung to a tune that was originally composed by the Anacreon Society as a drinking toast. In times when copyright was looser you can point to many respectable works of literature that took themes, characters, and pieces of text straight from others. (Just to show I have more obscure examples than the typical ones you always hear like “Shakespeare stole Romeo and Juliet”, here’s one: One of Lu Xun’s most famous and moving stories is “A Madman’s Diary”, which has its title, geenral plot and opening paragraph directly lifted from Gogol’s “A Madman’s Diary”, and if Gogol had wanted to do it and there had been a Berne Convention back then that China was a signatory to he could have sued the hell out of Lu Xun for it.) The fact that cover songs can be made without permission, only with royalties, is what permits many of the world’s most memorable and profitable songs to exist — if an artist could own notes and lyrics the way a programmer can currently own code, and people had to apply for permission before playing a cover, a huge number of talented musicians would be completely out of work and some of the most famous recorded tracks in history simply would not exist. What if the original composer of “John Brown’s Body”, who was probably still alive at the time, had been able to legally object to Julia Ward Howe’s florid, emotional rewrite of his song into “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”? And so on.

    But let’s ignore all that for now. Let’s ignore the fact that all “stealing” is on a sliding scale, that *no* piece of great music, popular or refined, has ever been made “from nothing” but is the product of hours of listening to other people’s music, learning from it, rolling it around in one’s head and remaking it — and that a brand-new bit of music is only a piece of music its audience hasn’t heard before, that creativity amounts to the *degree* of skill one has in rearranging and repackaging old — dare I say eternal — ideas in a form suitable for the times.

    Let’s pretend I’m wrong about all that, and you can draw a line between those who are “creative” and those who are not, that some works are truly creative and some aren’t, that there’s some essential value in me plunking out a song titled “Arthur is Sad” on the piano that Pavarotti lacks when he belts out a song that some long-dead Frenchman wrote a long time ago and he had no part in composing.

    Even if that were true, and if every time someone wrote a piece of fanfiction or hummed a tune and came up with different lyrics to it or remixed it with a techno backbeat or wanted to act out a play they’d seen with their own actors and change the ending — if every time we poor mortals exercised our puny, ugly, gauche, “derivative” forms of creativity — we were besmirching the holy moral rights of those talented few who can *really* create…

    Well, I say fuck them. Yeah, fuck them.

    Sure, it’s damn hard to write something that is — or gets perceived as — “wholly original”. Lord knows I’ve never in my life written something I thought of as wholly original while I was writing it, and I’d often be all too aware of exactly who and what influenced each passage and idea while I was writing it. And not only a hack like me — I’ve had friends who were successful, relatively prolific artists of various kinds who felt the same way.

    But if there are people out there who can spin beauty, fully-formed, from the void, like Aphrodite from the sea foam (Lord knows who — maybe Mozart or someone, even though that doesn’t stop the music professors from assiduously determining his various influences)… WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

    Because I’m not big on rights that give no actual utility to anyone. We live in a democracy. We live in a market economy. If I *like* writing my own stories about Harry Potter and his friends, and people like reading them, who the hell is J.K. Rowling to stop me? Why should I have to wait 90 years or 150 years or 300 years or however long Congress decides is long enough before I can come up with my own ideas based on hers? If I *like* mashing up Nirvana to Coldplay and people like listening to it, why should I give a shit what Cobain’s stiff rotting corpse or his stiff rotting lawyers mght think about it?

    Yeah, it’s hard work coming up with “original” material, sure, sure. It’s not that damn hard. The year or more of hard work cutting a record doesn’t really justify artists making more money than a small country for that labor, because most of the enjoyment — the pleasure — the joy that comes out of it doesn’t come from them. They plant a seed, and the utility is generated by fans. The Internet only clarifies something that was always true — a book sitting there, unread, is dead, and it comes to life because of all the people who write reviews of it, read it out loud to each other, have silly vacuous conversations about what it means, and so on. The idea that the author *created* all the meaning that went into it is a big, dangerous, ugly lie — the value in it, the utility, comes from every person who joins and adds to the ongoing *conversation* about it. We mortals may have stupid, weak, “derivative” forms of creativity but all of us exercising it together add up to a lot more creativity than *any* single act by any single artist — and I think it’s bullshit that any single artist has the right to put a stop to potentially thousands or millions of people’s fun because it steps on his “original vision”. His original vision benefits nobody but himself — the “Internet becoming more fun” benefits the whole community of people who integrate that idea into their culture.

    I don’t give a shit who William Shakespeare “really was” and whether or not he got his due for what he wrote. I’d like to think that he did — though certainly he never got repaid in kind for what his work has spawned as part of our culture, and repaying him or his heirs so would be utterly impossible and ludicrous — but I’d like for our society to set up a way to pay people who take the big, visible steps of creativity — who create “original works” — if only so they’ll be encouraged to do so.

    But it’s not worth it if it also would have given Shakespeare the power to burn all his plays at his death to prevent the possibility of Keanu Reeves ever playing a leading man. I don’t want the ghost of Homer materializing in my living room telling me I can’t write his work into a roman a clef satirizing the Bush Administration. And I don’t see any particular reason to give the rights of still-living authors — or the corporations they were under contract to — any more consideration than that.

  • poptones

    Its tempting to dismiss your rant, but I feel compelled to challenge you with this: what do you use your computer for? Do you like everything about this world we live in? Can you never imagine being provoked to take action or express an idea against something you see as unjust – something about which the government may not share your views?

    So… what if we all had the “right” to collect every bit of information that has ever passed thgrough your computer? Not that we actually have that right – because we don’t. But in essence we all have equal ability to do so simply because the computing systems we use now are inherently insecure. Cryptography as it is presently implimented is brittle and full of holes. It’s not that no one can make a system by itself impenetrable – but it is almost impossible for anyone who is not an expert in the field to secure their computer against being “invaded” like the victim of some vulcan mind probe. If you live in a world where the mere possession of some types of information is illegal (as we do now) being unable to secure your private thoughts and communications is not conducive to preserving one’s liberty (much less helping to liberate others).

    A DRM platform will allow us to build another layer of trust. It will not be perfect and crooks will still exist, but it will be an order of magnitude more secure than anything we have now. This necessarily means information can be locked away – would you want your credit history and all your credit card numbers published on kazaa? That is just bits and bytes like a movie or a song – the computer cannot tell the difference.

    Freedom must be a choice. If it is not a choice then it is not freedom at all, but rather the tyranny of rabid existentialism.

    You want to create derivative works? Then why not tell Billionaire JK Rowling to go stuff herself and help spread the words of an author who shares your mindset?

  • three blind mice

    I resent strongly the idea that people who are lucky enough never to step on anyone’s IP toes are real artists and people who do are “derivative hacks”.

    Even if that were true, and if every time someone wrote a piece of fanfiction or hummed a tune and came up with different lyrics to it or remixed it with a techno backbeat or wanted to act out a play they’d seen with their own actors and change the ending — if every time we poor mortals exercised our puny, ugly, gauche, “derivative” forms of creativity — we were besmirching the holy moral rights of those talented few who can *really* create…

    arthur, average marks to you for your frustrated “artist’s” sob story. original in its expression (you have not infringed anyone’s copyright) but well worn in its plot, your story lacks originality and creativity. as plots cannot be copyrighted you are “free” (as in unhindered) to express your frustration to the limits of your mediocrity.

    jk rowling is not a gifted writer – she is no henry james – but she is undoubtedly a brilliant novelist and a first class story teller. she has found her own voice and her own avenue for artistic expression. that you are not permitted by copyright to use the character of harry potter might actually force you to find your own voice – and your own talent for artistic expression.

    unfortunately, like antonio salieri, you seem sufficiently gifted to recognize genius in others, but lacking the talent for genius yourself all you can do is poison mozart.

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    you are aware, aren’t you, that the right of free speech is not absolute.

    In the sense that it is one absolute amongst several, yes. Mill and Berlin spent many thousands of words each on what happens when you have inconsummeasurable moral absolutes.

    free speech has always been – and must continue to be – balanced with other other equally important rights including intellectual property rights.

    The term “Intellectual Property” was made up about forty years ago. Freedom of speech goes back a lot further. It is not a given that IP “rights” (actually limited government-granted monopolies in the US) should be as important as the older, more fundamental right of freedom of speech.

    artists need be as concerned with the IP of others as they are with the works of others.

    This conflicts with your previous claim that artists should not worry about copyright.

    it is no surprise that artists who are derivative, imitative, and un-original

    Such as?

    are as obsessed by the IP of others as they are by their works.

    These others are not only other individuals.

    IP is used to prevent representation, discussion and criticism of institutions and the products of institutions in art, creating a chilling effect on art’s social function.

    But even if you don’t assume a critical function for art (or journalism or whatever), or you are an artist who isn’t interested in that kind of thing, there are two problems.

    The first is accidental inclusion. IP holders (not “owners”) spend a lot of money polluting the visual environment, and artists aren’t meant to be obsessed with IP, so they won’t avoid it, and so they will fall afoul of it.

    The second is the increasing scope of IP. You can trademark colors ferchrissakes. If I am an artist (say a 60′s Wayne Thiebaud) who likes food, likes color, and like making paintings with lots of food and colours in, then if I put some chocolate on a purple background I am diluting Cadbury’s trademark. They have to protect that trademark.

    In both these cases, not knowing about IP will lead me to fall afoul of it. The logical result of your position is that artists must accept a degree of collateral damage from IP expansion because they should keep their minds in a state of blissful ignorance of IP to ensure that this is the only damage their artistic souls suffer.

    nevertheless the attempt in this thread to conflate the interests of “geeks” with the interests of artists obscures the conflict that the digital revolution has created between artists and geeks.

    Artists are geeks. Try having a conversation with an artist sometime if you don’t believe me. :-)

    Mackenzie Wark is good for this. See his “A Hacker Manifesto”. He also accepts IP as property…

    some artists want to control the copying and distribution of their works

    They do. This is not new. The first war over a copied piece of art was fought in the sixth century. The copyer won.

    The question is not whether some artists want to control access to their work or not. I’m sure some homeowners want electric fences and landmines around their property. The question is whether it is moral for them to do so. Or, to put it another way, whether this best serves the market. To which the answer is also no.

    while geeks want free and unfettered access to those works so that their internet will be more fun to play with.

    What is the purpose of art? What is its value? Who does it serve?

    indeed, the traditional IP protection that has well-served the interests of artists is what the geeks now want to tear down and replace with a regime of IP-lite.

    Well served which artists?

    the fact of the matter is that IP solutions that serve the interests of geeks do not necessarily serve the interests of artists.

    I agree that solutions that serve consumers do not necessarily serve producers. However, solutions that serve producers may not necessarily serve other producers (who are also consumers). And solutions that serve distributors will most likely serve neither.

    the tension that exists between artistic innovation and technological innovation is as permanent (and as necessary) as the tension that exists between free speech and libel.

    I do not agree with that comparison. There is no historical tension between artistic and technological innovation. Even a casual student of art understands that the history of art contains a history of technological innovation.

    There is a historical tension between technological innovation and business model lack of innovation. Which might impact the welfare of artists. This is an ecosystem after all.

    it makes little obvious sense for original artists to support an IP regime promoted and preferred by geeks.

    It makes even less sense for them to support one promoted and preferred by middlemen and their creative accountants. At least geeks are creative.

    Geeks and artists are both part of the creative classes and are both exploited (and rewarded) by IP maximisers. There is common cause to be found here.

    on the other hand, derivative hacks and geeks are naturally on the same page.

    Ironically, Andrew Orlowski [EOM].

  • http://www.robmyers.org/ Rob Myers

    as plots cannot be copyrighted you are “free” (as in unhindered) to express your frustration to the limits of your mediocrity.

    JK Rowling was taken to court in the US by an author who had written a story about a boy wizard and “muggles” a few years before.

    Larry Potter and The Muggles

    White Wolf Games and Nancy Collins sued Sony Pictures for copyright infringement over a vampire film that Sony made.

    Underworld Lawsuit

    And in music even my local bus driver knows that George Harrison lost a copyright case in the 1970s over plagiarism despite protesting that the rhythms in question were public domain.

    My Sweet Lord

    In each of these cases the defendants are generally regarded as very creative. In each of these cases they either didn’t know about the original material or it was woefully unoriginal anyway. But neither genius nor ignorance are defences against lawsuits that take thousands of dollars and several years to defend.

    If you don’t have millions of dollars or several years to spend on this kind of thing, a DMCA takedown notice will suffice.

    Talent should no more be a limit to freedom of speech than gender should be a limit to freedom of association or wealth should be a limit to freedom of contract.

    What was it people say Voltaire said? “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it as long as I think it’s any good.” Or something.

  • Arthur

    Admittedly my original rant was long and florid, but it still interests me that people seem to have missed the point.

    Look, poptones, I’m not arguing about DRM. Free Culture does not translate to “ban all DRM technology”, at least not for me. If you want to use DRM to create a solid and secure means for financial transactions, great; if you want to use it to prevent people from physically breaking into my machine and taking my Social Security number, wonderful.

    I’m arguing about IP in general and the way it’s currently enforced, which includes abuses that have nothing to do with digital media and, indeed, nothing to do with word-for-word transcription of an existing work. I don’t have to be able to crack the DRM on a copy of _Gone with the Wind_ to write an ironic sequel to it — I just have to have *read* a paper copy of _Gone with the Wind_. My main problem is when people who create original, creative, interesting, insightful and valuable works have those works suppressed and get sued for lots of money because an artist — or, more commonly, the lawyers of a dead artist’s estate — don’t want anyone horning in on their profits, as originally happened to _Back with the Wind_.

    I don’t want that to be legal. And it’s easy not to make it legal — right now it can only happen because there’s a law explicitly *defending* people’s right to do that. Remove it, or wear it away, and the lawyers won’t even able to get into court on a stupid technicality like the Larry Potter nonsense or the My Sweet Lord nonsense or the bullshit current lawsuit from the X-Men people against the upcoming movie Zoom for “stealing the idea of a school for superhero teenagers”.

    You know, even if you disagree with me that someone should be allowed to write an outright sequel to a famous novel without fear of legal attack, the fact that a law against “derivative works” can be interpreted so damn broadly ought to give you pause; is it really worth erring on the side of the droits d’auteur when it means that some bastard can get hundreds of thousands of dollars in a settlement because an author doesn’t want to commit years of her time to arguing in court about how similar, exactly, his work is to some other work he may or may not have read? This kind of lunacy is a real concern for many artists and it keeps a lot of cool ideas from ever seeing fruition.

    I have a friend who’s had a novel in the works for years now and suddenly realized it bears a striking similarity in the setting and the names of many characters to an already-published book she’s never read. However, proving that you’ve never read something is almost impossible in court, and now she’s worried about ever letting the book see the light of day, even for free on the Internet as a lark.

    Look, if we accept your analogy of IP laws and the technological means by which they are enforced as walls and doors, then what people currently do with copyright is like rushing to be the first person to colonize a narrow pass, then building a gated wall across it and charging an exorbitant toll to allow anyone to access the vast territory beyond — or simply not letting them pass at all. Having one idea, if it gets interpreted by the general public as “original”, is enough to allow me to prevent millions of other people from ever having — or at least expressing — the huge number of other ideas that directly derive from that one. And it only becomes more like that as time goes on — people have steadily gained the ability to copyright originally obviously public-domain things like lists of people’s names, weather reports, a string of five notes…

    As far as other points people brought up, I don’t know what “existentialist tyranny” is. I don’t demand that the world be ruled by an oligarchy of professors who’ve all read Sartre and Camus. If by “existentialism” you mean a postmodern view of how creative works are made and who is responsible for them, well, I don’t demand that my views be “forced upon” others because I’m selfish — I demand that because I think they’re transparently true. The laws currently exist in an uneasy balance between the idea that all ideas come from other ideas and that people are individual “genii” of their own work. The balance is tipping toward the latter, however, and as it continues to do so, genii become harder and harder to find. How far down do you have to dig before you can prove that any tune was derived from some other tune, any passage of writing derived from some other one? There have been cases — like the aforementioned — that I thought were obviously bullshit but won in court because expensive lawyers can prove anything. So now White Wolf is the “genius” that invented vampires and werewolves? Queen invented the unique melodic phrase that plays the same notes four times and then goes a half-step down and Vanilla Ice can’t use it?

    And please don’t make assumptions about me. For all that I believe what I believe I’m not foolish enough to fight a losing battle in court against established statutory law, and most of what goes on in online fanfiction communities doesn’t honestly interest me. Most of the things I do I assiduously make sure can’t be touched in a copyright lawsuit, much as I feel I shouldn’t have to. I don’t think all artists are created equal, even if I feel that all artists are remixers — I give Mozart credit for being an incredibly gifted remixer, for instance, and see no need to “poison” him. And much as I like J.K. Rowling I’m afraid I can’t condone the work of someone who screwed a talented genius like N.K. Stouffer out of all the money she could have gotten from the Larry Potter franchise.