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

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