The Last Post... At This Address

It's time to say bye-bye,
to this blog and web address only.
The Street is now down some other road,
the new address:  Down My Street and Up Yours

This blog will stay up for a while, but no new posts here.

So, see you there.

Keep on clicking!

© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier

A Few Words on Copyrights, Integrity, and Life...

Following my last post, a tirade on “Rip! A Remix Manifesto” and the subject of copyright laws, I’d like to expand on a few points:

Firstly, note that, in this context, I’m only referring to copyrights on artistic creations and published material, not addressing patent laws on ideas and natural resources nor trademark laws, very serious issues which, appropriately, are treated under different regulations, ones which are equally badly in need of revision.
For me, copyright laws—the laws that protect a precise expression of an idea, not the idea itself—have less to do with direct monetary considerations than with respect for ownership. I do want to retain control over how anything I produce or say will be re-used, and always be cognisant of the times I’m actually directly contributing material to some site, artistic movement or collective effort.

Down this street, I've decided to use "copyright", as “Creative Commons” (CC) is simply a freer-sounding way to denote a form of copyright consent, this new label seemingly confusing many into thinking that this implies “free-for-all”, rather than ”free to all”. Depending on the CC flavour specified by the creator/owner—the only person(s) who should have a say about how much s/he is sharing—CC is merely an automatically granted fair use license for a digital artwork, and it still carries clear rules and a default no-commercial-intent condition (simply re-posting material to attract ad traffic is therefore in violation of CC). Unless a creator clearly offers an “All Rights Released” copyright clause, any original work is automatically protected by copyright laws. Further, releasing all rights doesn’t strip one of responsibility.  
So, for the moment, this blog gets the regular ol’ “copyright”, which still seems to illicit a bit of respect, while Web 2.0 makes sharing original digitized works a cinch.  
Reading, thinking, commenting, posting original responses elsewhere, opening up a dialogue, that’s what communication and free speech should be all about, and not about “copy & paste” rights, interaction reduced to a series of clicks.
Plagiarism is still plagiarism.   

I strive to provide only original, thought-provoking material. Viewing it is free, as well as one’s ability to share the links, draw influence from, argue my views, and, hence, share in the ideas I’m attempting to communicate; isn’t that enough? If you’re not willing to share your car with any stranger, then why should I share ownership of my work, bits of me, with anyone?
If done with proper referencing rules and etiquette in mind, anything here is fair game, and those courteous enough to ask, explaining their intentions, all happily received the right to freely use some of my material. But, if ever pigs learn to fly and Walt Disney decides it wants to use my stuff, you can bet that I’ll want to negotiate a deal.

So, briefly going back to mash ups: Do I think some musical-collage genre and related trends are worth blindly rushing headlong into anti-copyright modes of thinking? No, definitely not. And the underlying "ripping" rule, “if a corporation owns it, it’s ok,” is far from correct or sufficient.

Nonetheless, and despite my general dislike of re-mixes, I do think the current laws should offer more leeway and help put a leash on corporate hounds. Indeed, welcome to the digital age; things haven’t really changed though, but the volume of people that all now have the freedom to reach sure has, and, whether for a corporate news network or a crazy cat lady, this new opportunity for sharing and disseminating information, regardless of any assumed anonymity, will be defined by the moral and artistic integrity and accountability we choose to adopt and tolerate.

Individuals from across the globe are finding  new ways to be truly creative whilst only questionably infringing on copyright laws, usually doing so in a positive way, creating a new language with which to express and convey a message that forces a reflection on society.
Cramming recorded works—not even attempting to reproduce the desired bits with one's own instruments—from twenty-seven different artists into one song?
If “intent” matters, then merely desiring to gain fame in raves and on dance floors around the globe, hoping to get rich off of this empty, mostly-lazy, click-and-steal form of expression doesn’t sit too high on my list of meaningful intentions.

People were dancing long before re-mixes...  To say that an evil entity is preventing me from having a good time, limiting my creativity simply because I can’t do what I want with some Lady Gaga song is an awfully silly statement. I'm not dependent on such entities in any way, and how can creating entirely original content be less creative than anything that stitches together other people’s work?

It’s true that mash ups act as promoting agents, but in truth, it’s a very stagnant form as it only helps to revitalize or sustain interest in well-established artists or recordings, doing very little to promote new art, artists, and material, since the success of such pieces is highly dependent on the recognisability of its main parts, i.e. objectified, already lucrative portions which have permeated popular culture.
As a way of combating the empty, dumbing-down marketability of media-empire culture, this form revels in it? Speaks more of obsession than rebellion, methinks.

Like never before, indie labels and open-source software have provided many wonderful examples of healthy, creation-driven community building that succeed in providing an honest way for like-minded individuals to function and communicate outside of certain entities. So how is mash up art’s insistence on continuing to promote corporate-produced material a good argument for anything? This works in favour of those mega-corps, the very reason why, until they cross some profitability line, people like Girl Talk aren’t sued, they’re invited to alcohol-or-Red Bull-sponsored festivals...  Indeed, it’s not rebellion, it’s delusion.

There’s no reason why musicians, digital artists, writers, programmers et al. that want to share their own material for free and for re-use should not do so, eventually creating a collective, community-built and truly free pool of material, one that belongs to their art form and that is entirely free of all the corporate trappings. Isn’t this why Creative Commons, Copyleft, and open-source were coined? As a way to encourage active-participation in an effort to build a new culture, one that is entirely ours to construct and shape? Do we want the defining characteristic of this new culture to be morally-flawed mass-produced modes, or honest communication?

Audiences have the right to invest their interest and money into more meaningful, non-commercial, non-formulaic, and non-franchised works of music, thus helping to set things right and add balance to a world where the notes should matter far more than sex-appeal and fireworks. So, that these media empires and Hollywood have become the entities they are now, raking in massive profits, isn’t entirely their fault—people, it seems, NEED pop culture like a heroin junky needs his smack. How else to explain that a ditzy, curvy, skin-aplenty blonde who can barely sing but can really shake is worth millions more than most any serious musician, and that this, somehow, then becomes the justification for freely downloading/re-using specific brand-ified aspects of pop culture, as well as the willing-to-fight-for staple of new genres?

The Internet is only a tool, we decide its uses. It has allowed us to shift distribution away from oppressive, money-hungry entities who, for far too long, have been shaping culture, forcing their brand of packaged-for-maximum-profit ideals down our throats; it's allowing many to come into contact with material and ideas heretofore practically unattainable. This tool now offers us new, fantastically fresh ways of communicating and a potential for ground-up collaborations, in addition to a free visibility only dreamed of by artists of yesteryear. It’s allowed countless to be educated, heard or “discovered”, not to mention the fame it has brought to innumerable kittens. 

So let’s be clear, my concerns are not in any way linked to technology and new modes of expression, I’m simply not willing to help build a new culture and approach that’s entirely dependent on the one the Internet is offering us the chance to escape.

Keep on clicking!

© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier
Image: by Pascal-Denis Lussier

Rip! A Remix Manifesto, or A Celebration of Immoral Originality

The Internet and copyright laws. "Rip! A Remix Manifesto," by Brett Gaylor. What I thought would be a good documentary on the subject that would bring good, solid arguments for reviewing the current laws proved to be a major, upsetting disappointment. My opinion: cheap, myopic, and juvenile; effective at convincing brainless high-schoolers that some forms of theft are OK.  

This film (available below) claims itself to be about a war over ideas, but it’s anything but that. It’s merely a self-serving justification for a cut & paste musical genre that a few want us to consider as a bona fide art form, i.e. mash ups/re-mixes. 

I personally have very little respect for this genre of music, not because I don’t understand it, but because all that it symbolizes doesn't sit well with my personal convictions and philosophy. I see it as a shallow form of self-expression which is more about “processing” than real “creation”; this is a sad statement on future generations, in my opinion, though it’s clear that very few of them will see it as such.  

Art forms like mash ups and re-mixes move us closer towards the synthetic, into a world where nothing new is truly being created, where individuality and identity are devalued, and interplay and communication is reduced to pushing buttons. Such forms are elegies to consumerism and actually don’t accomplish anything towards the goals they purport to represent. Where’s the real discovery? The real creation? Why can't such artists compose their own music or create their own mixing material and samples? Can they actually be considered musicians? Such art forms are about rehashing the past and not really about moving forward; it's not about progressing and building upon, but entirely about reformulation.     

The very idea and logic appears ludicrous to me. Big corporations bombard and control us through media, so we’ll immerse ourselves in this media and depend on it to express ourselves? Wouldn't a refusal to participate in this culture, moving away from these modes towards more meaningful and natural art forms be the smart thing to do? But, no, the appreciation of true originality seems to demand too much from its audience, so let’s blend and re-spit all that was famous years ago and let’s call that the new generation’s art form?  
The riff from “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” had its time and place. I don’t need to re-hear it time and again with different push-button beats or mixed into “Karma-Chameleon” instead of some Beyonce song.   

No wonder serious artists are all struggling and starving. But if no one is funding them, what are future generations going to be mixing?  

The film clearly advocates, as if it’s a positive, the idea that “the information age is all about copying ideas.” This idea is not about proudly creating and sharing one's self, but about how much one can get away with by doing as little as possible, which explains why there’s a mind-blowing number of sites that offer absolutely nothing more than articles and posts stolen from all sorts of "old-school" creative people. I'm supposed to believe that this is about community building? Bullshit! It's about lazy, personal fame and ad dollars. And seeing what’s mostly being shared on social networks, it should be clearer that the new culture is all about safe cultural identifiers and stupidity, i.e. the spectacle...
For original content providers, it's awfully upsetting to see others profit from something they’ve worked hard on creating. Should such people simply accept that “that’s the way things are,” as the film suggests, and give up to rip off others instead? 
For that’s a big part of the problem that extends beyond the issue of banal mash ups. I understand that using parts of something to create something new is entirely different from flat-out plagiarism, but the line is more often than not thin, and opens up a complex can of worms that this documentary never even touches upon. 

The film even boasts Napster as “the greatest library of human creativity, ever. And [it was] done for free,”  claims Cory Doctorow, a digital culture critic. This view seems so retarded to me I don’t even know where to begin. If Napster founder Shawn Fanning had shared it, he would have bought and provided the albums rather than pocketing those billions of dollars. The reality: one person became a multi-billionaire while artists—not just labels—were seeing their record sales drop. And this includes the new artists who invested all they had into creating and publishing their first album only to see it being distributed for free, and forced to spend their days in a cubicle or waiting on tables because they can’t possibly charge $200 for a concert ticket and attract 20,000 people. This view marginalizes art greatly and assumes that it only belongs to domineering corporationsis this the limits of their culture? And do Gaylor and Doctorow really believe that everyone is downloading entire albums and films just to do mash ups? That's incredibly naive. How many users are actually using these networks to share/make known their own creations?  
Sites like Napster—who aren't designed for viewing/listening, but only for downloading—are about personal greed, not about creating a rich cultural library; that’s simply glorified justification for not wanting to pay for a product. Wake up, Doctorow.

Here’s one of the main problems with the film and Gaylor’s viewpoint and why I think it does more harm to “art” than it does good: it only focuses on a few major and oppressive corporations and demonises or attempts to ridicule them using cheap spin techniques. Nowhere are the real artists, those that create the material that make mash ups possible, interviewed. The opinions expressed in the film seem to consider that this only touches mega-stars; the film even treats them as unreachable entities, somehow assuming that a certain, undefined level of popularity automatically propels these people's creations into the public domain. Unfortunately, that's blind La-La land fantasy. Sadly, the feelings and opinions of artists of all stripes are entirely inexistent in the film, and so it ends up being nothing more than see-through propaganda to justify re-mixes and illegal downloads, loosely using more serious issues pertaining to patent laws as smokescreen.

But then what’s preventing Fox News from taking footage of this video and rearranging it into a Hitler-loving fluff piece that celebrates Walt Disney before asking the public to stone Gaylor? What’s stopping anyone from reformulating facts, presenting anything one says or does out of context or in a specially constructed one?  The issues are much more important than the right to create some great dance-floor mixes.

I really wonder how Girl Talk, the mash up artist featured in the documentary, would feel should several of his signature remixes end up as the soundtrack to a Wal-Mart commercial or some campaign glorifying some crazy despot, while he has no say and he’s not collecting a dime. By the end of the documentary, it was reported that he’d left his day job to focus on “his” music. And what if he, as he hopes, gets to record a legal, worry-free album, which he'd no doubt hypocritically do with a company like EMI in a heartbeat? Will he really be hoping that only one album sells so it can be uploaded on some P2P file-sharing program? And as far as gigs... there is irony in that he thinks he should get paid to play what he believes should be free.   

It’s easy for someone like Girl Talk to say that all those slaved-over songs should be his to do with as he pleases, primarily because he’s not offering anything that entirely comes from himself, i.e. something that’s a pure expression of his being. As far as artists go, he’s a fake of the worst kind.
And re-mixing re-mixes has to be the lowest art form possible, period, so by his own view, I hope he realizes that what he offers is fleeting and has no lasting value. It’s entirely empty. A statement on that next generation?

The four-point manifesto is a joke, the first point, “culture always builds on the past,” a lame attempt at saying “stealing” is OK, and the examples they provide are incredibly weak, such as Led Zeppelin—who, it is well known, have been highly criticized for having ripped off blues artists. Grunge depended on Punk which came to be because of rock n’ roll which was built on the blues... BUT there’s a big difference between “influence and building on” versus “copying/stealing”.

In trying to sell us the idea that mash up-style art has been around for a while, an important fact that’s omitted from the film is that William S. Burroughs used his own texts when creating his cut-ups, using the technique to give new interpretive modes to his own creations. Ditto for many other 'important' sampling artists. That, to me, is one hell of an important difference, and the inability to see or mention the distinction an example of the ignorant view this film chooses to adopt. Burroughs certainly didn’t take a line from Coleridge, one from Plath, one from...

And, again from the mind of Doctorow, we’re given the “everybody does it so it’s ok” argument? Really? Comparing this to Victorian mores on masturbation, assuming we all do it but are ashamed to admit it? Where's the real respect for artists? They don't count if we all do it? Really?       

A good portion of the film focuses on Walt Disney—who actually borrowed from the public domain, so, although a distasteful character, how exactly did he “steal” material?—as well as some ex-hippie, Dan O’Neill,  who, for reasons which seem lost in a sixty’s drug haze of era-crazed anti-establishment, was hell bent on pissing off the Walt Disney Company in the name of freedom of speech. The rational? Mickey Mouse is so popular he should belong to all of us (but isn’t this the same type of dangerous and insipid attitude with which Britney Spears is treated?). So, rather than creating his own characters, he insisted on drawing comics that featured Mickey Mouse look-alikes, launched the “Mouse Liberation Front” (M.L.F.), and called himself a revolutionary, losing countless and pointless court battles.  
And why is this supposed to convince me that “stealing” is right?

And I question whether using the proliferation of mash ups in Brazilian favelas is really a good idea? The extreme poverty faced in such communities raises many questions, the limited/lack of access to worthwhile, diversified educational and cultural programs being but one of them.  

Later in the film, the same dork that provided the vapid masturbation metaphor manages to one-up himself. After admitting, “... we’re discussing the means by which music may be stolen,” the argument he provides is essentially, ‘well, technology allows us to steal, so too bad. That’s how it goes.’

I agree, the fines are too severe. And the process costly, so it’s easy to think that it’s only the big corporations that are evil, but that’s only because the “little guy” doesn’t have the funds our resources or know-how to file suit against those that steal his/her album or text or short-clip, etc., but believe me, the anger and frustration they feel is very real, even if you never see their faces in court.
New opportunities are indeed being offered, and all have to rethink their game plan, but morals and integrity should still be a part of the process. 

Oh! Now that I think about it, to demonstrate just how shallow this film is, perhaps I should have simply mentioned the part where we see Paris Hilton dancing during a Girl Talk concert, to which the narrator says, “Look. There’s Paris [Hilton]. It’s official, copyright infringement is hot!”

Film, on the source site:

Keep on clicking!

© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier

Erickson: Just Doing Her Job. The Real Problem is...

Yep. Another Krista Erickson post. Now that the dust has settled, it may be worthwhile to take a step back and look at some of the reactions, as well as say a few words about Quebecor Inc.

First, Erickson:
Sure, I have very little respect for Erickson and her kind and the role they’re willing to assume, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to publicly call her a bitch, but I’d prefer doing so a million times before filing even one complaint to the CRTC as some efforts encouraged people to do. I may not agree with Erickson’s view, but I’ll fight for her right to say it. Ironically, the willingness to file an official complaint advocates a stance which contradicts all that I associate with the arts: censorship.
We all have an opinion about how the government should spend our taxes, and some are bound to upset some groups; that part is unavoidable.
Are all those that want to see more funding for the arts willing to accept that right-wingers file a complaint aiming to take someone off the air each time the liberal or independent press makes a pro-arts-funding statement? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to do the same? 
No CRTC regulations were infringed; we’re not talking about some sick taboo or a hate campaign here, but an opinion on taxes. Some people pray to the almighty dollar, some people search for something more profound... Should one extreme force the other to shut up? Unfortunately, the first group has access to more cash, allowing it to be louder, bolder, and consequently, exert a far greater influence on all our lives, but now we’re getting on another topic...

Erickson and her approach is just the successful Ann Coulter formula applied here (notice how Erickson even looks like Coulter). And if there’s one thing Quebecor knows how to do, it’s studying and learning from the big-money makers down south.

Which brings me to Quebecor Inc., the managing company which owns Quebecor Media Inc. and Sun Media Inc.

This fact had escaped me when I wrote my reaction to that erickson-Gillis video on Saturday, June 4th: The Journal de Montreal, the city’s most-read rag, tried to sell the exact same viewpoint almost a month before Erickson’s June 1 spaz-out. In her May 5th column entitled “Non au mécénat public” (No to Public Funding), Nathalie Elgrably-Levy boldly and clearly claimed that tax-payers shouldn’t have to pay for artists. This had created a stir within the francophone community, but proportionally, nowhere near as much as Sun News’ version. I myself had posted Le Devoir’s May 16th retort to Elgrably-Levy on Facebook the same day it appeared, but otherwise, I wasn’t aware of any real reaction buzzing through the Web albeit the substantial increase of visits and comments on the Journal de Montreal site.

It should be noted that both Le Journal de Montreal and Sun News belong to Quebecor Inc.; despite hiring some male hardliners, both used attractive women (personal tastes aside, Erickson and Elgrably-Levy aren’t exactly homely) to sell this point of view; both got publicity that generated tremendous traffic and viewers, and so, both clearly profited from this. In the long run, regular readers/viewers aren’t going to drop any loyalty because of this, and those that reacted strongly do not usually read or view these news outlets anyhow.

I have no doubt that Pierre Karl Péladeau. CEO and Owner of Quebecor, wholeheartedly embraces the viewpoint forwarded by these two women, but after careful consideration, I also think that these instances were carefully conceived more as reader/viewer-generating scandals and attention-shifting agenda-setting than as any real propaganda, whilst also providing the elitist, money-hungry conservative asses with a great and meaningful opportunity to gauge just what would be tolerable to Canadians.

With all the right-wing, pro-conservative government media outlets controlled by the Quebecor empire, if the real aim was efficient propaganda, this wouldn’t be the way they’d go about it. Despicable and morally-flawed they may be, but they’re also intelligent, communications-savvy folks who learned more than anyone should from Edward Bernays. An all-out, government-sanctioned propaganda campaign would be handled much differently. Nonetheless, the fact that any network employs these types of scandal tactics, throwing aside any sense of decency for a buck, should disgust most anyone. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

It’s important to remember—or become aware if not already—that Quebecor’s religion is vertical-integration, their gods the 30-second spot (everything is calculated according to this format, from the 15 secs to the 2 mins spots) and quarter-page ad space; peace and love is for losers unless they have advertising dollars.
Based on my experience with one of their divisions, I can honestly say that all of Quebecor is driven by the belief that culture is simply something around which advertising space, subscriptions, and ancillary products can be sold. And Quebecor found the right formula to maximize profits—we’re talking mega-big empire.
According to this worldview, quality doesn’t matter, ratings do. Ratings, projected and real, and absolutely nothing else determines the price of advert space. The only reason for having shows is to attract viewers; the only reason why they have more shows than ad space is because the CRTC establishes clear restrictions pertaining to the number of 30-second spots available within an hour (hence why infomercials and other formats were created).
And so, if a steaming pile of excrement draws the largest audience, then you can trust that that’s what Quebecor will be passing off as culture or news on their networks in order to extricate as much as they possibly can out of those limited number of 30-secs spots.

Reading the many comments and reactions that the Erickson-Gillis video generated, I came across one particular idea that called for a boycott of Honda products. Why? Because Honda ads appeared at the start of the video.
Simply discussing such an idea with the intent to make this a worthwhile goal seems to me like silly, entirely wasted energy whilst also demonstrating no knowledge of how ad spaces are sold. Unless a show is specifically “sponsored by  ________” , for large companies like Honda who buy millions of seconds around the globe, chances are real high that the advertiser doesn’t care or know in which show his ads will appear, and more than probably knows nothing about what some host is going to say. He’s just buying a series of 30-secs, scheduled or scattered, set within demographic-targeted time-slots that guarantee a minimum amount of audience for the coverage of a campaign specified. Once the actual ratings are in, if the minimum paid-for audience wasn’t met, advertisers are credited in dollars or, the preferred method, in additional 30-secs spots. Wanting to boycott Honda because their ads appeared during that particular episode or are being shown before the Web clip is akin to believing that one should be executed because they were standing next to some deranged person who suddenly pulled out a gun and killed someone.

Plus, how many cars per year does a Canadian buy, if at all a Honda? Where not talking about small, everyday consumer goods here. To be effective, such an action takes a massive and continued collective effort, and assumes that most Canadians feel the exact same way as artists. Reality is, outside of the artistic and intellectual communities, most people weren’t affected by that column or that clip, and a large percentage feel the same way as Erickson, though they’re only indirectly vocal about the subject when it comes time to paying their taxes.
Don’t believe me? Propose a new, mandatory, annual federal and provincial sliding tax that averages to $10 per contributor to fund all the arts and cultural programs and see what happens. Such an action would actually place us above the current funding levels, and yet...
And two years from now, should Honda finally notice a slight slump in Canadian sales, do you honestly think that anyone at headquarters will make the connection that this was due to some 8 minute segment that was broadcast all those months ago unless people are still waiving “Erickson = Don’t buy Honda” banners rather than having put all that energy into more productive actions?
Needless to say, this idea and all that was written about it seems to have lead nowhere fast...

Had there been much more hubbub, Honda may have specified that their adverts shouldn’t run when Erickson is hosting a show, but don’t be fooled, what real impact is that going to have? If the ratings are there, that time slot will quickly be sold to a company who’ll find a way to reach out to the type of people who actually watch Erickson on a regular basis? And it’s not just Honda who’s paying for that flashy Fox News-like decor or Erickson’s salary. Ad revenues—based on ratings—determine the profitability of a show and consequently, a show’s allocated budget, but those ad dollars are spread across a network’s entire operations. Therefore, the really honest and effective thing to do would be to ban all the companies for which ads appear on Sun News? But then this would imply having to make many sacrifices most wouldn’t be willing to make... And what about the companies whose ads also appear on arts-loving networks?  Honda funds several scholarships and arts shows.

So, in the end, I honestly believe that targeting Erickson is wasted energy, though hating her views is definitely what I endorse... If her ratings are low, trust me, a company like Quebecor will not waste any time getting rid of her, however, the real problem will still be there running the “show”.  

Keep on clicking!

© 2011, Pascal-Denis Lussier
Image: American Post-Neo-Gothic. Oil and acrylic on wood, by Pascal-Denis Lussier 

Down My Street and Up Yours. Copyrights © 2008 - 2011 by pdl com. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews, no part of this blog may be used in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the owner. For information contact: pdlussier[at]

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