Rant in © Minor

After much reading and talking about Copyright, a few things have gotten to me. So here is me getting it off my chest – unedited, so I apologise for any grammatical errors I have left intact. But hey, it is a rant.

Bernard Pearson is a 2d & 3d artists who works in styles & techniques. He learned by copying these techniques – Sampling, if you will, different artists’ styles and different arts to apply to his own practice.

This does not contravene copyright. Skill is the artistic application of said variety of ideas that are being combined into a new piece of work. If he had copied a piece by another artists and it looked exactly the same, then he would have infringed copyright. If he made a 3d figure of a 2d drawing by someone else, he may have broken copyright. If he took both ideas, combined them and added a little of himself, not copyright infringement.

If you create a thing, you are the owner of that expression of ideas.

You have instant control over how it can be used, copies made and where it can be sent. To make money, you can sell the thing. To make more money, you can sell the right to copy and sell the thing many times over.

This would be controlled in some form of agreement, as each work and each artists are different. So, we have Contracts, we have Law.

Copyright is simple. Copyright lays down a set of guidelines, defines an area of discussion. Copyright is not the problem, Law is.

Most copyright is actually defined by Contracts. Copyright as a concept gives us copyright law. It is vague to say the least, so each author negotiates their rights away to put bread on the table.

This contract agrees to keep / waive Moral rights (in UK). Hand over the full ownership to a manufacturer – they can then take the risk if no one wants it.

Lawyers are happy (they get paid to write the contract). This all works fine for the Physical Existence – you, as an artists, have right and therefore worth. You need to say “yes” for Disney to make money out of you (for sculpture, painting, film etc). Therefore it is in their best interest to pay you what you want. They can then take the risk over the expense of reproduction, the expense of distribution, marketing, etc.

If they want to charge a mint for these physical things, well – just make 1,000 of them. Number them. Signed by the artists.

Enter digital.

The copy is now, to all intense and purposes, Free. If it can exist in the digital domain, suddenly you do not need manufacture. Distribution is a matter of pennies. I can sit a film in my Dropbox using my free 2gb and send out a private link via twitter, also free. It can then be downloaded – but I still have it. By the fact it exists on a computer, copies are automatic.

Now, we lose scarcity. We cannot have a limited number. This does not fit in with economic principles. We cannot limit supply and drive up price. We can only use Law to criminalize copiers. However, any law you cannot police is useless.

Copyright still is applicable – ain’t no change there, it’s a matter of interpretation. Law, on the other hand, and Lawyers have made a small fortune arguing this. So they want to keep arguing this.

Vested interest in the Status Quo. Big companies, which are built on law, operated by Lawyers, want to keep the old business model – just like they have with every other new technology.

Taking a copy from a shop is theft. Copying without permission is Copyright infringement. Selling copies is Piracy, and will break any set of contracts laid out between the artists, author, publisher, distributor etc.

Applying to the digital domain, we are allowed to make accidental / incidental copies – this is called caching. This is allowed. If you see a video embedded into a web page using a means that is intended to stop you downloading it, it is illegal to circumvent that copyright prevention.

However, it is also illegal in EU to prevent someone accessing said work for Fair Use.

Fair use covers educational purposes, accidental etc. It does not allow for personal copies for non commercial reasons. The argument is still that any copy made interferes with the market for that copyright product.

Perception is key here: People perceive that by buying a CD they have bought the right to the Music. No. You have bought the right to listen to the music. No. You have bought the right to listen to that reproduction of the music from that CD.

Music Companies have attempted to stop Lyrics being posted on-line. They have attempted to stop second hand CD’s being sold. IN the early days for phonography and radio, they didn’t want songs being played on Radio – until it increased sales, in the same way Film industry resisted VCR until it created a new market for them.

Hence Lessig and Creative Commons. CC does not contravene existing copyright (unlike some laws). It states them in a simple contract. Lessig argues that what we are doing is criminalising people for doing what they do naturally – for exploring, for experimenting, for taking ideas and techniques from existing work and combining it into a new work.

Art is a two way conversation. An artists takes his experiences (Life, other art, technique etc) and combines it to express an idea. The receiver then interprets this art through their own experiences (NLP / Barthes). They then form an opinion. The artists is dead. To remix this is to express their opnion while referencing the original work.

Enter Trent Reznor. Here is a CD. Here is the file. Do me a remix, and I’ll use it to sell my CD’s, performances etc. In fact, here is footage of my Performance as well – go on, edit it! Money is then made through premium service – e.g. selling collector editon CD & DVD. Not just music, now it is a movement – Blog, interviews, freebies, news, photos, a network of like minded fans. All through Creative Commons.

This sis now a business model that is working. By giving away free content, NIN became it’s own radio station. Then it added Fan remixes. All this did was promote NIN even more. Their performances, their T shirts, their posters…

Enter Doctorow. Anti corporate, arguing for redefinition of how we think about these things. What is content?

Why use words like War? A War on Copyright? What’s the point? When a generation of people are criminalized for using computers for what they are good at, for using the Internet for what it is good at – why a War?

Is Consumption the best word? Do we consume Digital Media? If I buy a DVD, I own it. If I sell it to someone else, I don’t have a copy anymore, I don’t own it. However, if I take a digital copy and give that to someone else – I still have a copy. The only thing it has consumed is space on my hard drive. But I can get that back using the Delete Button.

A DVD or a CD is a thing. You are not buying the music or film, you are buying a physical optical media with information on it. Music is not music until someone listens to it. In a typical cost breakdown, Royalties are a small percentage, especially compared to Manufacturing, Distribution, the shop etc.

If copyright protects the artists, why is this not higher? Well, copyright law protects the Physical Thing.

Distribute it via internet, and you cut down manufacturing costs. But you also make all the manufacturers, distributors and shops defunct.

Enter Pirate Party. Break copyright. Break the law. Abolitionists. Break the law, because the law if wrong. But law is made by Case Law – argued by Lawyers, and invariably, the most expensive lawyers win.

Copyright is fine. The law is fine. Lawyers suck.


About Alan Hardcastle

Media Lecturer with an interest in Pedagogy and Politics.

Posted on July 31, 2010, in MACME, Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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