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?

Toronto Outdoor Art Show is in Touch with Common Sense.

(This post is adapted from an entry I made on Tumblr, July 5th, 2010. The original post can be found here)

           It often seems like when it comes to issues of copyright, artists tend to live in fantasy land, where what they think ought to happen can magically influence what actually does happen.

           The Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition has what I think is a very fair and sensible policy: no taking photos without the artist’s permission. It’s great, an artist should be able to choose whether the images owned by them can be reproduced or not.
           But these days, everyone has at least one camera on them, and artists only have two eyes. Some people and their cameras will inevitably get though. (I’ve certainly taken my share of secret photos and videos in galleries and museums.)
           One of the many messages to appear in my inbox during the stressful pre-show rush led me to realize, “ah! yes! I’m not the only one who thinks this way”

The “No Photography without permission” graphic to print out came with this message:

           “In reality being in a public space you cannot stop people from taking photos. This sign may help if you have concerns in this regard but it is not a guarantee by any standard.”

Thank you!

           It feels good to see a sudden outbreak of common sense coming from within the art world. Those moments are few and far between.

Throat Clearing

          I have noticed that quite often, before getting to the meat of the discussion, authors will start with a few hundred (or thousand) pages of what is called ‘throat-clearing’. This means that they spend a whole lot of time being really boring before getting to the point. But, it seems like a necessary part of making sure that the audience is on the same page as the author when that point is being made, so I’m going to have to do a little bit of that here.

          I am a visual artist. My primarily focus is painting, but I also do some photography, video, sound, and new media projects on the side. I also spend a lot of time with other artists; and, surprise surprise, the topic of our discussion is, you guessed it – art.

          I have noticed that a lot of artists claim to be very conceptual in their practice, even if that conceptualism doesn’t seem to show in the final work. They can sit down and have endless discussions over the finer points of, well, just about anything.
          Then, when asked to present their work, they will reach into their pocket, pull out a card, and proudly show off their highly conceptual art. A quick glance at the image reveals…some brown rectangles. Brown rectangles? With colour choices that look like they were based on the curtains available in this month’s Sears catalog.
          The artist will try to explain to me how their art explores some deep concept. This part of their work represents one thing, while another part represents something else. As I look at those brown rectangles, I strain to find the connection between what they are talking about, and what is actually present in their work. More often than not, I just don’t see it. The more this happens, the more I get the impression that those explanations are just thrown together after the fact. Why bother with these post-hoc explanations? Well, We do need something to write about, after all.

“What happened to those concepts while you were in the studio?” I often wonder.
Continue reading Throat Clearing

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~kyle