Copyright From an Artist’s Perspective

          I have been following the copyfight since the days of Napster (that’s 11 years now). Despite being an artist myself, I have always instinctively sided with the more anti-strong copyright leanings of the tech crowd. This seems to put my opinion at odds with most of the other artists I encounter. I am slowly learning that my stance on copyright isn’t something that can be politely discussed among artists.

          “Information wants to be free” is the meme that best captures the gist of the free-culture perspective. That quote is only a small part of what Stewart Brand actually said at the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984. The full quote was, “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other”. By “free” Brand was talking more about control than he was about price. But, over time, the exact meaning and extra words were dropped, and “Information wants to be free” is what people remember.

          I have never been the slightest bit convinced by any of the arguments from the side pushing for stronger enforcement and stronger copyright law. The copyright debate reads almost like arguments from the evolution/creationism ‘debate’; one side has logic, reason, and an ever-growing body of evidence, while the other side has charisma, wilful ignorance, and very deep pockets.

          In the copyright debate, I am drawn to the techy side because their arguments actually follow, they eschew passion and emotion and focus on the cold hard reality. They focus on what is. The supporters of strong copyright tend to focus on what ought to be. The heated nature of the debate comes from what I think is a misunderstanding of the other side’s position. People on the pro-copyright side are making moral arguments about what people should do, while those on the anti-strong-copyright side are making economic arguments about what people actually are doing.

          I’ve just never found these moral arguments to be the least bit convincing. File trading is out there, it happens, and it can’t be stopped anytime soon in the foreseeable future. Telling people that they shouldn’t share files because, “it’s wrong”, doesn’t really do anything to solve the problem.

          My stance on the issue is this: If we artists are supposed to be such creative people, why don’t we stop fighting piracy, and come up with new ways of doing things that use file sharing to our advantage?

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Kyle Clements

Kyle Clements is a Toronto-based artist and nerd. During his thesis at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Kyle began working on his Urban Landscapes series, a body of work that aims to capture the energy and excitement of life in the fast-paced urban environment. After graduating from OCAD in 2006, Kyle spent a year living in Asia to gather source material and experience in a different kind or urban environment. His work is vibrant and colourful. Whether painting the harsh Northern landscape, or capturing the overwhelming buzz of life in the city, his acrylic paintings hover between representation and abstraction.

2 thoughts on “Copyright From an Artist’s Perspective”

  1. Thanks EOD. I really hope they come up with creative solutions.

    The current approach, “hey, let’s block everything and sue everybody!” is kind of…well…what’s the polite word for this?
    stupid?
    ass-backwards?
    destined to fail?
    turning fans against creators?

    Especially for people who work with remix, such as yourself, this can be dangerous territory for artists to explore.

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