Why I’ve Taken This Side in the Copyright Debate

A lot of our projects (like Take a Picture and DRM Box) poke fun at intellectual property. We do things to challenge, subvert or outright mock copyright and content protection.

Why do we take this side of the copyfight? Aren’t we artists? Don’t we benefit from these things?

I take the stance I do because of stories like this: Guy Gets Bogus YouTube Copyright Claim… On Birds Singing In The Background | TechDirt

Companies like Rumblefish claim copyright ownership of birds chirping in the background, and profit off of ads that are placed on these videos, depriving the actual content creator of income. And this isn’t a one off mistake. TechDirt has talked about this same company doing the same thing back in 2009.

Rumblefish has a long history of making false copyright claims against people.

They do seem to eventually drop their false claims after getting a ton of bad press, and being mocked publicly on BoingBoing, Reddit, TechDirt, Google’s own help forums, and Slashdot for several days, but the problem remains: Companies with long histories of profiting by abusing artists and creators go unpunished. And while the issues are being resolved, they are profiting from work they have falsely claimed as their own. This is not a minor mistake on their part; This is mass-piracy for commercial purposes.

According to American law, making a false copyright claim is supposed to be punishable by perjury.

So where are the charges?

As an artist, it absolutely disgusts me that companies push for laws that not only enable censorship and erode our right to free expression, but they also make it harder for me to create. Then they demand ownership of my ideas, strip me of my ability to make a living, try their damnedest to avoid paying me, and claim to be doing all this in my name.

You do not speak for me.
You do not represent my interests.
You threaten everything I stand for and believe in.

That’s why I’ve taken this side of the Copyright debate.

Do You Sell Originals, or Reproductions?

In the last entry in the “Photographing Art” series, Don’t Bother With Image Protection, I covered some reasons why I think that allowing images of art work to be freely shared isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some people want to photograph art, or download images of art, and for artists dealing with one-of-a-kind images, like painters, the benefits of this infringement can outweigh the risks.

The last entry was rather one-sided, however. Freely allowing copies isn’t going to be beneficial in all situations. If you are in the selling reproductions business, file sharing has the potential to eat away at sales. I can sympathize with this. I have made money licensing images for prints myself. As a struggling artist, I know that every source of income, no matter how small it might seem, is very significant.

How many image makers are in the business of selling reproductions? Photographers certainly are, but I believe that it is important for artists to decide on the main focus of their practice: are they about selling originals, or selling reproductions.
If you are in the business of selling reproductions, this series is probably not for you. If you are more interested in selling originals, please come with me as I take you through the weird world of infinite goods.
Continue reading Do You Sell Originals, or Reproductions?

Take a Picture

From reading my entries so far, it may seem that I have a one-track mind: my only interest is photographing art. There is a reason for this singular focus up to this point. Over the past several months, I have been working on a project that is specifically about photographing art. The issues of art, photography, copyright, digital technologies, and social media have been dominating my thoughts and conversations for a very long time now. It seems only natural that those ideas would spill into this blog as well.

This project has grown out of my interest in free culture. This interest began with an angry museum guard yelling at me for taking some pictures. It grew as I began teaching myself some basic computer programming, where I quickly discovered how wonderful it is to have access to a body of free knowledge, ideas, and materials. Working with electronics, and having a constant need for datasheets and schematics only strengthened this opinion. But, it was Windows Vista that finally provided me with that final push to fully embrace the world of open source. What I found was a world where just about any small tool was freely available with just a few keystrokes (provided I could get the damn wireless connection to work) As a user, the benefits of this mindset, this ecosystem of permissive sharing is very appealing. But I’m not just a content consumer, I’m also an artist; I am a content creator. It’s only fair that as a producer, I should try to pass on the same benefits that I enjoy as a consumer.

The art world that I learned about back in art school was one that prides itself on being part of the cultural avant garde. My experience in the art business leaves me thinking that the culture surrounding free software is several decades ahead of the culture surrounding the arts.

The prohibition of museum photography is something that I believe turns art from a shared cultural artifact into a private commodity. This restriction turns a painting into an object where permission must be sought to do what comes naturally to myself and many of my peers: taking pictures of the cool things we see, and sharing the details online. Realizing that these private commodities live in publicly-funded museums only adds insult to injury. I can’t photograph what I paid for? The objects that are said to represent culture are locked out of the shared attitudes and practices that actually characterize our culture.

I am interested in culture, not commodities. Preventing images from being shared removes them from our shared cultural experience. To quote Cory Doctorow, “It’s not culture if you’re not allowed to talk about it.” Sending pictures back and forth and posting them online is how my generation talks about things.
Continue reading Take a Picture

Don’t Bother with Image Protection

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about reproductions of art, and why art can’t be photographed in many museums and galleries.
In part 1, I covered my teenage conspiracy theories about the prohibition of photography, while in part 2, I talked about learning the real reasons during my time in University. Then I switched gears for a bit and talked about image protection, listing some examples of bad ideas and good ideas.

In this entry, I will talk about the issue from a different angle. I will be asking something that should have been considered long before any time is spent on content protection schemes. That question is “Do painters even need to worry about infringement?”

I know, it sounds crazy. You might be thinking, “Kyle, I know you embrace the open source movement, free culture, the creative commons and all that, but this is our livelihood you’re talking about. Give it away! Are you mad?”
As artists, we own the rights to images we make; surely we must protect them, right?
Absolutely, we should protect our work, but I don’t believe that a blanket “All Rights Reserved!” model is necessarily the best approach for a painter to take.
Continue reading Don’t Bother with Image Protection

Bad Ideas for Protecting Your Images

The last several posts have been inspired by a conversation I had with several recent graduates at the 2010 OCAD grad show.
Their work was good, and I was interested in seeing more. When I asked if images of their work was available on their websites, I discovered that they both refused to show any samples of their work on-line due to fears of copyright infringement. This struck me as backwards. Hiding their art from the world seems like the exact opposite of what any young, emerging artist should want.

One of the artists said that he had every intension of making his work available, but he would only do this once he had figured out some technical copy-protection tools.
In this entry, I will discuss my objections to several different technical copy-restriction techniques, and propose some examples of what I think are better alternatives.
Continue reading Bad Ideas for Protecting Your Images

An OCAD Grad Show Conversation

The last two entries, Why Can’t I Photograph Art, and Why Can’t I Photograph Art: Part 2 were inspired by a conversation I had back in May during the OCAD grad show.

           I was talking to one of the graduates. He was good. He had the pretentious B.S. down well enough to keep up with the art snobs, critics, and grant applications, but he also had legitimately interesting ideas to discuss with other artists. They were good ideas, and they inspired good paintings. It was going well, and I asked if I could see any more,

           Do you have a card? I asked him
           Perhaps a website, with a gallery section?
           A facebook fan page with a few uploaded images?

           This took me by surprise, because unlike so many artists, he seemed to have a concern for the business end of the art world as well as the studio end. But this huge critical piece of the puzzle was being left out completely.
           It had to be an oversight. Here was a young artist who had something going, and no website? No online presence of any kind? Was he a Luddite?
Continue reading An OCAD Grad Show Conversation

Why can’t I photograph art? part 2

Why can’t I photograph art?
           Why do some museums, galleries and artists object to having their artwork photographed?
           In my last entry, Why Can’t I Photograph Art, I described the event that sparked my interest in the subject of photographing artworks. I covered my thought process at the time, and described how my adolescent mind tried to figure out what reason their was for banning photography in museums and galleries. I didn’t get very far.

           It wasn’t until my University years that I discovered the real reason why artworks could not be photographed: Copyright Law
           So I now had the official, legal reason for not being allowed to photograph artworks, but this seemed strange to me. Copyright law makes sense for books, songs and movies. In these mediums, money is made by selling multiple copies of the same thing. With paintings, there are no copies; there is only one. A song can have multiple copies and be sold multiple times, but every painting is unique; it’s the only one like it in the whole world. I finally had my answer, but something about it didn’t sit right with me. Why would a one-of-a-kind object possibly need copyright protection?
Continue reading Why can’t I photograph art? part 2

Why Can’t I Photograph Art?

           Have you ever heard something that didn’t sound right, something that just seemed wrong, yet you were never able to point out exactly what was wrong with it? I’ve had that feeling many times, and every time I think I’ve got it figured out, another idea emerges to counter my previous understanding.
           For years, one question kept popping up in my mind, and I couldn’t find a good answer for it. That question was: Why can’t I photograph art?
           Why do some museums, galleries and artists object to having their artwork photographed?
Part of me always instinctively shied away from photographing photographs, something about that just felt wrong to me; I’d sketch those out.
           But paintings? Sculptures?
           What’s wrong with taking pictures of those art forms?
Continue reading Why Can’t I Photograph Art?

Stop ACTA Now!

This post is based on my ACTA YouTube video, posted November 04, 2009

In the fall of 2009, some information on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, leaked out to the internet. Eventually, the entire document was leaked, but this post isn’t so much about the content of the leak; this post addresses my reaction to the very purpose and existence of the treaty itself, and my anger over the secrecy and deception that was so common during it’s creation. But, when this was originally posted, all I had was the information in that first leaked document.

And to summarize things: it’s bad.

The recent Canadian copyright consultations had the public speak out, and express their opinions on copyright law, and from the responses I came across, the public was strongly opposed to strengthening these laws. People even expressed a strong desire to loosen up these laws, abolish crown copyright, limit penalties, and expand fair dealing laws, (or, “fair use”, for those more familiar with the American terminology.) Their were calls for clear exemptions for education, research, parody, and format shifting. These things should be legal. Follow this link if you would like to see a list of the consultation results as of September 2009.

The people have spoken, and they don’t want stronger copyright in Canada. With the current political climate in Canada, the minority Conservative government’s hands are tied, (update: Bill C-32 suggests that I was wrong about this, even as a minority government, they are trying to pass laws the majority do not want.)
Then these sneaky little things called “International Trade Agreements” that come along and bypass the democratic process of my country. They can be used to push laws onto people who have recently made it very clear that they do not want these laws.

These companies have failed to adapt to a changing market place. Rather than having their business adapt to meet the desires of their customers, they are having the laws changed to enforce their business models on to their customers.
Continue reading Stop ACTA Now!

My Take on “A Copyright Story”

           My last post, Copyright From an Artist’s Perspective was inspired by a fantastic blog entry I had read about a month ago. I came across an article by an artist on the subject of copyright, and while it does fall into some of the same old traps of mixing up moral, legal and economic realities, it also introduces some great new ideas. I knew it was a good entry because it made me sit, and think, and question many of my own preconceptions. Although my opinion hasn’t changed, anything that shakes me like that got to have some kind of power, and his message should be shared.
           I threw together a quick post for my tumblr account, to help me clear my head and sort my thoughts. This article builds upon that one.

           In the copyright debate, I have found the first article from ‘the other side’ that I think actually gets some things right. Jason Robert Brown had an excellent blog entry titled “FIGHTING WITH TEENAGERS: A COPYRIGHT STORY”.
(the follow-up post might be even better, but I’m not going to get into any of those ideas right here.)

           So, I’ll begin by telling the story of what happened. Mr. Brown found a bunch of his content on a file-sharing site. His work was being pirated. Rather than suing his fans (which is very stupid) he created an account on a file sharing site, identified the people who were distributing his content, and he very politely asked them to stop. He went though everyone offering up his content, and on an individual basis, he sent them a message asking them to stop. He was polite and professional about it (which is smart). I think it’s really cool of him to go and do this himself, and I think it was very good of him to explain that he is not ok with his content being shared like that, and many people stopped right away. He made a convincing moral argument, and most people listened. Most people. Not everyone.
Continue reading My Take on “A Copyright Story”