Conservative Copyfights

by Henry on April 18, 2005

The Washington Post has a piece on the battle between “family friendly” editors who sanitize films for conservative family consumption and film directors, which poses some interesting political questions. On the one hand, I reckon that leftwingers should be supporting conservatives on principle in this fight. As I wrote at the beginning of this year (in one of the worst-titled posts of all time), there’s a strong argument that conservatives should have the right to ‘remix’ bits of the culture that they don’t want to consume. Why shouldn’t they be able to take the sex out of Hollywood movies that their kids watch (just as leftwingers might want to protect their kids from rampant consumerism)? On the other, there are clear costs to this:

Family Flix, which claims to have the toughest standards, removes “sexual innuendo,” including suggestions or depictions of homosexuality. It recently edited “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” an animated film with a PG rating, to eliminate a scene in which a male starfish character sings and dances while dressed in fishnet stockings and high heels.

I’m strongly attracted to what might be called, for want of a better term, BoingBoing socialism. That is, I buy the argument that some of the key goals of the left can best be achieved through maximizing individuals’ control over the conditions of their consumption (and, by extension, maximizing their ability to remix and re-produce cultural goods). But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Empowering people to make cultural choices we might ‘like’ is also going to empower them to make choices that we might dislike too – to separate themselves from what many of us would consider to be a minimal shared social consensus on homosexuality. There are some extremely vexing questions about the appropriate relationship between the common culture and dissenting sub-cultures like the one that Christian conservatives have very successfully created, a difficult balance to be struck. As individuals’ ability to remix their cultural consumption increases, so too will these questions become more urgent. At the moment, I don’t have any very good answers to them.

{ 65 comments }

1

David Moles 04.18.05 at 6:32 pm

Why is “leftwingers should be supporting conservatives on principle in this fight” not a very good answer?

2

Seth Finkelstein 04.18.05 at 6:50 pm

Actually, you’re missing the gist of this copyfight, which is really about a split between the business and religious wings of the conservative alliance, neither of which gives a damn^H^H^H^Hdarn about what liberals think.

The copyright issue is “derivatives works”.

The *business* problem is that if you allow “derivative works” for religious sensibilities, that opens the door for *anybody* to make a derivative work. And while the religious market is small, the general issue of derivative works is not, particularly for the secular teen fan market. On the other hand, it’s bad politics to be against what religious conservatives want on issues of morality and children. Very bad politics.

So we get some talk about artistic vision rather than admit that if everybody does it, the consequences could be profoundly unsettling for the market. Don’t think liberals matter – it merely looks that way.

Cynically, the resolution seems to be to only allow derivative works for religious conservative moral sensibilities!

3

Greg 04.18.05 at 7:03 pm

If it’s alright for conservative ideologues to redact material they find offensive, would it be o.k. for others to insert “enhancements”? If you don’t want your children to see Patrick Starfish dressed in tights, don’t take them to the movie. If you want to see the fellatio scene in Pretty Woman without the cut-away, rent an x-rated version (I’m sure there is one). Airlines get permission to cut scenes that might freak out passengers or to make films more general-audience-friendly, but they pay for the right to do so; it isn’t an “entitlement,” nobody’s being “empowered.” When I’m on the plane, I’d rather see the unredacted version of High Fidelity, thank you, so I exercise my choice to not wear the headphones and read instead. Empowerment is primarily personal responsibility. It only needs to be codified when the option is restricted to begin with.

4

Ancarett 04.18.05 at 7:15 pm

As I understand, remixing is the right to use works as part of another, creative composition. I hardly think that a censored version of a film or TV show counts as a new, creative composition. Ergo, I wouldn’t consider a “remix” defense to carry any weight.

5

the corpuscle 04.18.05 at 7:34 pm

Artists who agree to participate in a film project — directors, writers, composers, etc. — know pretty much what they are in for when they sign on. They determine whether they want to be associated with the script, with the director, the producers, the studio, and so forth. They know that (in most cases) they will play only a small role in determining the final shape of the piece. They know that the studio or distributor or who-all may sell broadcast rights to television and that the final piece may be altered “to fit the screen”. Presumably all of that is part of their calculation in deciding whether they want to participate in a project.

Things go wrong. Films end up being so far removed from what a writer intended that the work is unrecognizable, even repulsive to him, and so he no longer wants to be associated with it. The Writers Guild has a whole mechanism for removing and adding writers names from films. I presume other guilds have similar mechanisms.

I get the feeling that the only parties who are going to end up mattering in this dispute are the studios and the ultimate consumers of the product. But I totally sympathize with a director whose work is damaged, in his or her view, by some stranger with whom he has no previously agreed-upon artistic, personal, or business relationship whatsoever. I can sympathize with an actor whose performance is wrecked, in his or her view, by someone with whom he has made no pre-production agreement regarding the final cut.

I hope the various artist guilds wade into this thing up to their necks. I hope they take the attitude that they have as much right to be in this fight as anybody else. I’m not saying they have the right to win it, but they do have the right to be in it, hammer and tongs, and I hope they don’t shy away from doing their duty to their members.

6

Atrios 04.18.05 at 7:45 pm

It seems that editing which only involves snipping and which doesn’t involve the creation if any additional copies should be fine.

That is, if I want to buy 10 copies of The Brown Bunny, and then create 10 two minute long “family friendly” editions of the movie and rent them out or sell them I don’t see how that’s conceptually different from my buying 10 copies of a novel and running a black marker over all of the offending bits and reselling it. Based on first sale doctrine I can’t imagine that it would be illegal for me to do that.

7

Chuchundra 04.18.05 at 7:58 pm

The difference is that they are making a copy. You might have an argument if it was a VHS tape and you manually edited the tape with a razor to take out the naughty bits, but they’re editing the film, burning new DVDs and selling them. There’s no license to re-sell a copy of a DVD you buy, even if you destroy the original.

I’m a supporter of the right to edit/mix/copy media that you own for your own personal use. I have some sympathy for people who do mixes/edits of other people’s stuff and release their work for free. But I think that’s a far cry from editing someone else’s movie and then selling copies of it.

If the sanitizer wanted to create a special DVD player that could skip bits of a DVD based on a data file you could get from a “sanitizer”, then I could see that being legal. But what they’re doing now? I don’t think so.

8

bz 04.18.05 at 8:08 pm

copyright protection is a guarantee to the author(s) of creative works that their work is sacred – only those changes to which authors give permission are legal (like the airline editing mentioned above)

sampling pre-existing music to create a “new” song for sale is unauthorized, it is a violation of copyright law

ripping off a photo from somewhere online and using Photoshop on it to make a “new” picture for paid publication is a violation of copyright law

(exceptions being based on very specific Fair Use conditions, or perhaps if the alterations are so extreme as to make the original work completely unrecognizable)

it is not illegal to make changes to artwork if no re-selling of the work is involved – so music may be sampled and integrated into someone’s personal wedding video without any infringement, or people can pass around jpegs which they’ve found online

books can be blacked out and given away

but nobody may alter somebody else’s creative work and then re-sell it as something “new” (or different – as in “friendly” to some selected audience) without permission from the author of the work

that’s the whole point of copyright law – to protect authors against an infringement of their creations

conservative critics can, however, make their own damned creative work, and shape it any fucking way they want to – but instead, they essentially pirate work and defile it, because they have no imagination of their own to author the kind of work they want to see in the first place

their problem (in this respect) is not with culture, but with their own limited capacity for imaginative brain function

9

Atrios 04.18.05 at 8:13 pm

mmm…I think if they make their new copies and destroy the originals it’s conceptually “ok.” Or, how about simply recording over the original version.

I’m of course not arguing that this in any way technically satisfies current law, just thinking about how it conceptually is okay under pre-DMCA concepts of copyright…

10

Seth Finkelstein 04.18.05 at 8:20 pm

“Conceptually” – what is this word you speak of …?

A problem is that copyright law, especially modern DMCA/DRM/it’s-all-licensed-not-sold copyright law, does not get along very well with “conceptually”.

Oh, there actually is a special bowlderizing DVD player, look up “ClearPlay”.

11

Rachel B. 04.18.05 at 9:12 pm

When I saw ‘Sideways’ on a plane, ‘asshole’ was redubbed as ‘Ashcroft’… seemed win-win to me.

12

Belle Waring 04.18.05 at 9:59 pm

chuchundra: when you buy a DVD from these people they send you a legitimate copy of the original movie, as well as your copy, and you then destroy the former. They make $ by charging you more than the maufacturer’s price, and the studio sells the saem number of dics–more, plausibly, since many of these people wouldn’t buy the uncut original. I think this seems like a fine idea, especially if it allows me to get a clean copy of the “no Jar-Jar Binks” fan edit of episode one, as it should. also, I think the studios’ desire to please this christian constituency could be the thin edge of a wedge which allows other remixers dearer to my heart to do cool movie mash-ups and who knows what else, without getting sued. I feel like it’s no skin off my back if people don’t want their kids to watch transgendered starfish, or whatever.

13

lemuel pitkin 04.19.05 at 12:21 am

I saw “Serving Sara” on a bus … twice in three days. Featured the line “You’re my witch” which I suspect was different in the original.

one of the worst titled posts of all time

Yeah, that’s pretty bad, but what it’s asking for is the second e to be in parantheses. major missed opportunity there dude.

14

clew 04.19.05 at 1:28 am

I think it should be legal to sell diffs but not remixes; that is, that the edited version should be playable only when the original is present.

Would require a more complicated DVD player, though.

15

nick 04.19.05 at 1:34 am

One point that ought to be mentioned is that many film-makers want a degree of creative control over the creation of ‘edited for content’ derivatives: for instance, the director of ‘Sideways’ created an airplane version which used ‘Ashcroft’ for ‘asshole’. Eminem’s ‘clean version’ lyrics aren’t just edited, either; they’re usually radically different.

As has been mentioned, the film industry has always worked on the ‘Alan Smithee’ rule, meaning that a writer (or more often, a director) can get uncredited on films that are mauled by producers. I can understand why a director wouldn’t want to be credited for ‘Family Flix’ versions, just as any of the posters here would most likely be pissed off by selective quotation.

16

dsquared 04.19.05 at 1:54 am

I have to say I come down on the side of producerism on this one. There has to be a right of the creator to maintain the integrity of a piece of work if he or she wants to. How about if we take it up a notch; ought there to be a version of Sesame Street with all the black kids taken out?

17

clew 04.19.05 at 1:56 am

I don’t see how we can forbid Sesame Street w/o black kids without cutting off the chance to *put* black kids in other films; and there are more without than with.

‘S why I want the original to be available, so Little Timmy can sneak home and hit “Play top deck”.

18

dsquared 04.19.05 at 1:58 am

or a version of Schindler’s List with a few scenes inserted which make it clear that Schindler was rescuing the Jews from incarceration in prison camps where no mass exterminations were carried out?

19

lakelobos 04.19.05 at 2:52 am

Intelligent Design is a religious fundamentalized/sanitized version of Evolution.

20

Scott Martens 04.19.05 at 3:35 am

It seems to me that the conflict here is about moral rights, which in most European countries are separated from economic rights over intellectual property. Even when a work is in the public domain, authors in Europe possess moral rights over how a work is packaged and labelled and cannot abandon or transfer those rights.

The Alan Smithee rule might well be applied here: We might credit consumers with the power to re-edit a work as they see fit, but they can’t use the same title nor the name of the original author to market it. If the editors of sanitised versions are forbidden from using the same name and marketing materials as the original version without the consent of the original authors, the market for their works would decline considerably, as each would have to be marketed on its own merits.

There are precedents for AOC products like Parma ham and champagne that work that way. Perhaps something of the sort might be made to apply to IP. That way, it might still be possible to produce fan edits and derivative works, but they would have to be retitled and presented in a manner that makes clear that they are not the original artist’s vision and that their content is explicitly disavowed by them.

21

R.Mutt 04.19.05 at 4:57 am

“or a version of Schindler’s List with a few scenes inserted which make it clear that Schindler was rescuing the Jews from incarceration in prison camps where no mass exterminations were carried out?”

Wasn’t that the point of the shower scene?

22

Ray 04.19.05 at 5:02 am

I don’t have a problem with people removing the transgendered starfish if they like (though it would be great if we could force them to wear “I am an idiot” sandwich boards afterwards) The director etc should have the right to remove their names from any cut which they haven’t approved, that’s the limit of the integrity they should be able to enforce. (Conversely, they must have the right to make sure that anything they did produce will have their name attached)
The actors might be in a stronger position, if you think they should have rights over their image – Julia Roberts would obviously be unhappy with an X-rated version of Pretty Woman, and she can’t just take her name off the credits.

23

LamontCranston 04.19.05 at 5:04 am

This is really bloody stupid, and your support for it is even more stupid.
If they don’t want to watch the violence, gore or sex and you don’t want to hear the foul language & *gasp* blasphemous use of the name of God and Jesus then DON’T WATCH THE DAMNED MOVIE. As for not wanting your kids to watch, what the fuck are you doing letting them watching the first place?
“It also has not tackled Mel Gibson’s violent but reverential “Passion of the Christ,” because, Teraci says, “everyone has already seen it.” – what sort of psychopath would take their children to see that?

24

des von bladet 04.19.05 at 5:49 am

It’s a long quote, but it’s worth it:

Copyright under civil law countries tend to focus much more significantly on noneconomic rights associated with copyright, and copyright is more likely to be referred to as “authors rights” or “droit d’auteur.” Author’s rights encompass both economic rights and “moral rights”. In France, moral rights are tied to the cultural heritage of the country and played a role in the French Revolution. France is considered to be the country that pays the greatest attention to moral rights. There, moral rights are said to be inalienable, inheritable and in perpetuity. In other countries, moral rights may be assigned away in various degrees, and may be conterminous with economic rights of author’s.

Moral rights generally include the right of paternity and the right of integrity. The right of paternity means the right to have one’s name associated as the author of a work. The right of integrity means the right to make sure that the work maintains its artistic integrity and thus is not changed in a way which maligns the work or its author. Other moral rights exist to one degree or another in various countries, which include the right to determine the first publication of a work, and in limited circumstances, accompanied by compensation to the exploiting party, the right to have a work removed from circulation.

Moral rights are required in Article 6 bis of the Berne Convention. The moral rights are said to extend even after the transfer of copyright during the autohr’s lifetime and exercisable after death during the term of copyright.

As a Yoorpean, I would not hesitate to exercise this option if it were my works of transcendent genius being mutilated. (And since the EU, in its magnanimity, even embraces the Welsh, Dsquared can play too.)

As for the FDRUSA, it generally inspires in me these days little more than a vague feeling that I should start learning the fiddle.

25

des von bladet 04.19.05 at 5:49 am

26

Andrew Boucher 04.19.05 at 6:32 am

R.Mutt: Wonderful comment.

27

Cranky Observer 04.19.05 at 6:38 am

> The difference is that they are making a copy. You
> might have an argument if it was a VHS tape and
> you manually edited the tape with a razor to
> take out the naughty bits, but they’re editing
> the film, burning new DVDs and selling them.

It shouldn’t be difficult to built a 2-spindle DVD player, where the original DVD is untouched but what is played is the sum of the original + diff disk. I don’t think this is what they are doing now, but technically it wouldn’t be hard.

> There’s no license to re-sell a copy of a DVD
> you buy, even if you destroy the original.

Well, Disney and the other mega-corps who have been purchasing copyright laws lately _claim_ there is no longer a right of first sale, but I don’t think the Supreme Court has ruled on that. Microsoft tried and failed to stop all eBay auctions of software for which the seller had a legitimate receipt, and the EULA on software (also no controlling legal authority there) is a lot tougher than the ones on movies.

Consult a copyright/civil rights lawyer if this is important to you.

Cranky

28

jet 04.19.05 at 7:30 am

Instead of taking away someone else’s IP rights, why don’t the “family friendlies” exercise some individual liberty and not watch the movies with starfish of questionable gender?

29

rea 04.19.05 at 7:36 am

If the law permited the Dobsonites to make a “clean” version of Sponge Bob, without regard to the artists’ wishes, what would prevent someone else from legally making a “dirty” version of Spoonge Bob, with, say, explicit sex scenes between S. B and Patrick the Starfish?

30

Steve LaBonne 04.19.05 at 8:30 am

Don’t these people read Bunyan any more? They need to ponder Mr. Facing-both-ways. Either you reject the prevailing culture or you don’t, but attempting to construct a halfway house ain’t gonna work. Why don’t they make their own movies? Lord knows their tithe-swollen churches could well afford to finance them.

31

andrew 04.19.05 at 8:42 am

The moral rights issue here is important. In Canada, the precedent has already been set that would make this kind of remixing illegal: the owners of the Eaton Centre, a Toronto shopping mall, decorated a sculpture, and the sculptor sued and won on the basis of moral rights. You cannot alter the author’s work; he controls its representation.

This is quite different from people trying to protect their children from consumerism. Those people are opting out, ignoring the message. “Remixers” want to opt in, but change the message. They want to participate fully in consumerism, but change the terms.

32

Russell Arben Fox 04.19.05 at 8:45 am

“Either you reject the prevailing culture or you don’t, but attempting to construct a halfway house ain’t gonna work. Why don’t they make their own movies? Lord knows their tithe-swollen churches could well afford to finance them.”

Your concluding and unfair slam aside, Steve, this is exactly right. The problem with people of a conservative faith (including my own faith) spending time, money, and legal effort securing the “right” to remix the dominant culture according to their own private wishes is that it doesn’t amount to anything; it just buys into the same choice mentality which undergirds the whole cultural orientation which troubles them in the first place. The social conservative complaint ought to be something other than derivative and parasitical; it ought to come up with something on its own. In some small ways, it has done so–there are socially conservative “counter-cultures” out there. Moreover, there is also the important argument about who controls, or at least ought to be able to contribute to, the dominant culture itself. Many conservatives have gotten involved in that battle–some of whom are, admittedly, genuine theocrats, but most of whom are (in my judgment) unfairly tagged with that label simply because they want to see more evidence that their popular religious or moral preferences are informing the media machine. In any case, you’re right that in the long run contenting oneself with edited movies is the worst of both worlds–it doesn’t build any alternatives, and it excuses one from having any responsibility for or interest in (and thus accountability to!) the mainstream, since you can always go and get rid of whatever you don’t like on your own anyway.

33

Seth Finkelstein 04.19.05 at 8:53 am

Note again – one version of the process is in fact a special nanny-DVD-player with diffs:

http://www.clearplay.com/About.aspx

Q. How do I ClearPlay a movie?

A. ClearPlay works with the regular DVDs that you already rent or purchase from your local stores. When you put a movie in a ClearPlay enabled DVD player, you can enjoy the show — without needing to worry about the occasional R or PG-13 content. It’s as if you had super-fast fingers and were able to punch remote control buttons fast and accurately enough to skip and mute certain content, but still maintain the movie’s continuity and entertainment value!

34

Russell Arben Fox 04.19.05 at 8:54 am

I should add that culturally-motivated remixing has its place, perhaps especially in terms of planting the seeds for an eventual alternative culture, or cultivating a necessary argument in favor of change in the dominant one. Henry’s right that progressives ought to get onboard with this movement, at least up to a point. I just mean to say that, similarly, there’s a limit on what this kind of technology ought to be seen as capable of doing on behalf of any given set of values; while practically speaking I obviously make use of but also strategically limit my kids’ exposure to the mainstream culture and entertainment media, I’ve no interest in such a strategy being the sum total of what I have to offer them in the long run. I’d rather be able to deliver to them, and allow them to explore (and embrace or reject, as they prefer), some artistic whole, rather than my own hacked-up, skip-this, change-the-channel-there, spliced, cover-your-eyes-now version of someone else’s vision.

35

mikeN 04.19.05 at 10:40 am

Hey, I saw the Clearplay version of “Goodfellas”
Best two-and-a-half minutes I ever spent.

36

HP 04.19.05 at 11:14 am

The last time a large, conservative suburban church got involved in film financing: http://www.annatambour.net/Dreamscapes_Susan-MacDonald.htm

Howzabout this:

1) Enable “tagging” of digitized films. You could tag films for language or content, but also, e.g., for music cues, certain actors or characters, certain colors, etc. At playback time, use Boolean filters to navigate through the film as you see fit. Joe Bible gets to skip the [expletive], while I could load up a multi-disc DVD player and watch hour after hour of nothing but [expletive].

2) Get rid of the [expletive] MPAA. Stop rating movies altogether.

If a creative filmmaker knew that there would be digital tagging in place, she would then make the movie with that in mind, just as filmmakers nowadays make films with the [expletive] MPAA in mind.

37

Crosbie Fitch 04.19.05 at 11:19 am

Moral rights are very good things, but should not impair the moral rights of others. The moral right for a work’s integrity should not impair the moral right for another artist to create a derivative from it. All that is required is that the derivative is carefully attributed as such, so that confusion that might otherwise occur is avoided.

Therefore, as long as a bowdlerised version of a movie is clearly stated as such and is not misrepresented as, and cannot be mistaken for, the original work, then bowdlerisation is perfectly wholesome. This means it should have a large subtitle that appears now and then that reads “Bowdlerised for the delicate”.

Censorship is active prevention of a work reaching the public – it is not simply the act of providing an additional, alternative version.

If one airline shows bowdlerised movies, and the other shows originals (also ensuring that no person of a delicate disposition is allowed anywhere near the aircraft), then the market will vote with its feet.

38

novalis 04.19.05 at 11:52 am

I don’t understand the obsession with diffs over straightup edits of the sort conservatives propose. In neither case are copies being multipled (not that I have a problem with that, but I think we can separate the derivative work prong of the copyfight from the sharing prong; Japan does just fine with the former permitted but not the latter forbidden). And the effect on the market for the originals (and authorized derivative works) is the same.

One major problem with diffs is that it’s’s hard to do multiple generations. If I have a diff of of Spongebob which removes fishnet starfish, and I want one the same but dubbed in Esperanto, I would have to have three spindles on my DVD player. Maybe people think this is a good idea? I can’t imagine why someone would want to have a rule which effectively permits only one generation of changes.

39

Steve 04.19.05 at 1:13 pm

Amazing-
Every single comment here misses the point of Henry’s post. Its really not about the legality of cutting dirty scenes out of cartoons. Reread his last paragraph-he is concerned that conservatives, by cutting those scenes, may be completely removing themselves from ‘common culture.’ They may actually completely escape liberal views of homosexuality by removing their own access to them. This scares Henry (noone should be allowed to form their own opinions if those opinions conflict with Henry’s), so Henry is exploring the coming conflict-that of forcing people to learn what Henry wants them to learn (“…to separate themselves from what many of us would consider to be a minimal shared social consensus on homosexuality. There are some extremely vexing questions about the appropriate relationship between the common culture and dissenting sub-cultures like the one that Christian conservatives have very successfully created, a difficult balance to be struck.”). Henry, apparently, is perfectly willing to entertain enforced cultural indoctrination-subcultures are only allowable if they don’t reject Henry’s views TOO much-if he can sneak in his views surreptitiously-maybe the adults are too far gone, but the children are still corruptable? I’m not sure how else to read the issue of ‘balance’ -balancing the freedom to watch the cartoons we want vs being forced to watch the cartoons that Henry wants us to watch, I think.
Reread the post, folks. How much should we force culture onto those who don’t want it? Obligatory viewings of the Crying Game and The China Syndrome? Heather Has Two Mommies, or off to the reeducation camps you go? I’m half horrified that Henry actually thinks such an enforcement mechanism is defensible, and half relieved that nobody here really understands what he’s proposing.

Steve

40

the corpuscle 04.19.05 at 1:37 pm

Reread the post, folks. How much should we force culture onto those who don’t want it? Obligatory viewings of the Crying Game and The China Syndrome? Heather Has Two Mommies, or off to the reeducation camps you go? I’m half horrified that Henry actually thinks such an enforcement mechanism is defensible, and half relieved that nobody here really understands what he’s proposing.

I wouldn’t want to force anything on you, but maybe you should go take a warm glass of milk and then have a nap.

Then maybe you could reread the post yourself. After you’ve calmed down some, you may see he’s not saying what you say he’s saying at all. He’s not talking about forcing anybody to watch Crying Game. Sorry, he just isn’t. He’s talking about what happens to the notion of a “common culture” if more and more people choose to sculpt the “common culture” into something they don’t share with anybody else anymore.

Nowhere does he prescribe forcing people to participate in a “common culture”. He’s wondering what happens to us if people choose not to do that.

Gosh, I wonder what he means when he says, “At the moment, I don’t have any very good answers…” Could it mean… he doesn’t prescribe anything?

Now go get some milk.

41

Crosbie Fitch 04.19.05 at 1:46 pm

Well Steve, I guess no-one addressed the apparently missed point because it’s pretty self-evident.

People are free to look in false mirrors, that reflect not only the unarguable aesthetic of their form, but also the unarguable aesthetic of their opinion. Why, there’s even a newspaper in the UK called The Daily Mirror.

Birds of a feather stick together. As long as there’s some attempt to keep the law of the land objective, evidence based, and fair, then it doesn’t matter too much that people coalesce into ideological ghettos. That might be a portent of a nation’s imminent collapse, but hey, at least it’s a free society.

42

Clayton E. Cramer 04.19.05 at 1:59 pm

“Why don’t they make their own movies? Lord knows their tithe-swollen churches could well afford to finance them.”

What tithe-swollen churches would those be? I’ve only attended one church in my entire life that could be categorized that way. Remember: the billionaires are “tithing” the DNC and the ACLU.

43

seth edenbaum 04.19.05 at 4:51 pm

Perhaps I’ll just ‘remix’ something Henry’s written until it says the opposite of what he intended. But since I’m remixing ‘his’ work I’ll leave his name on the title page.
Fox News does this all the time.

44

Brett Bellmore 04.19.05 at 4:51 pm

Sheesh, by some of this reasoning I’m violating the copyright owner’s rights by walking out of the room to get a drink, and not pausing the disk.

“or a version of Schindler’s List with a few scenes inserted which make it clear that Schindler was rescuing the Jews from incarceration in prison camps where no mass exterminations were carried out?”

Or maybe a version where Schindler arming the Jews he rescued, and training them to sell their lives dearly if the SS came for them, was sent down the memory hole? Oh, wait, that IS what Spielberg did…

45

the corpuscle 04.19.05 at 9:01 pm

Sheesh, by some of this reasoning I’m violating the copyright owner’s rights by walking out of the room to get a drink, and not pausing the disk.

Well, no, actually. It just means that you have little or no regard for the integrity of the work. Which is fine, of course, since you “own” the disk in one manner or another, either through outright purchase or through rental charges, and this is The Ownership Society, after all. It does raise the question of why you would spend good money on a work that you don’t have much regard for, but again, hey, it’s your money. If you want to own a disk simply for the sake of owning it without caring what’s on it, well, it’s a free country.

46

novalis 04.20.05 at 12:39 am

corpuscle, surely you’re not saying “love it or leave it”? Can I accept only parts of the bible as true or useful? And choose to only read those parts? And if I do so, will you accuse me of having “not much regard” for the work?

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Brett Bellmore 04.20.05 at 4:49 am

Didn’t say that I typically DO walk out without pausing the disk, Corpuscle. Just that, by some of the reasoning on this subject, I’d be committing some hideous wrong were I to.

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the corpuscle 04.20.05 at 6:07 am

Wait… you mean all this time there’s been a “Pause” key on the Bible? Like, where, man? I could really use it.

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seth edenbaum 04.20.05 at 4:37 pm

I’m still waiting for someone to tell me why plagiarism isn’t ‘sampling’

And as far as ‘pausing’ or not why not take a break from a book at page 45 and starting up again at p. 72?

But then expository writing is informational and liteary work mere entertainment.
What a vulgar little country the web has turned out to be

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novalis 04.20.05 at 5:51 pm

seth, I guess everyone assumed you were trolling. The difference, of course, is honesty. It’s the same reason quoting isn’t plagiarism.

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seth edenbaum 04.20.05 at 7:11 pm

No, I was just being glib. And sloppy.

I’ll try to be clearer.
If you think sampling is cool then you should accept Fox’s sampling of news. Your only complaint should be that they claim to be “objective”.
By all means let the audience twist anything any which way and believe what they want. It may be shallow but it;’s not illegal.

History changes the meanings of things, Scalia is an idiot for arguing otherwise. But Anyone who wants to remake something without taking the time to understand it is either a coward or an idiot. You can’t ignore he scale of Hollywood as an industry but a movie at some point [when?] develops a structural integrity -a ‘thingness’- as art or product that deserves respect as such. I don’t like watching reedited or reformatted movies any more than I do reading abridged novels. The Iliad at some point in time became a ‘thing’ of which there are ‘variants.’ I study these ‘things.’ I learn from them.

When does this discussion become little more than a diminution everything outside science to the level of narcissism? Like the bongo playing of Richard Feynman: All ‘knowledge’ is scientific and the rest is simple individual pleasure.

“What a vulgar little country the web has turned out to be.”

Is that better?

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Crosbie Fitch 04.20.05 at 7:29 pm

The essential issue here is freedom.

You may create a work of art.

I may create a derivative work of art based on yours.

These two acts are not in conflict (if we abolish the abomination that is copyright).

However, you have a moral right for your work to be free from modification or being placed in a context that affects it – so long as your work is portrayed as yours, either explicitly or implicitly.

If my derivative is clearly portrayed as mine and not yours (despite deriving from your work), then I have carte blanche to do whatever I like.

In other words, as long as ‘Mona Lisa with Moustache’ is clearly attributed as a derivative by another artist then Leonardo has no complaint. The moral crime is if ‘Mona Lisa with Moustache’ is (even only implicitly) attributed to Leonardo.

Artists are free to create, but not to misattribute.

Incidentally, plagiarism is sampling, but with misattribution. It is honourable to copy another’s work and credit them, but not to claim their work as one’s own.

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seth edenbaum 04.20.05 at 8:24 pm

“If my derivative is clearly portrayed as mine and not yours (despite deriving from your work), then I have carte blanche to do whatever I like.”

Legally yes, morally no.

The Mona Lisa, like the Illiad is a known thing, no more worthy of respect per se than the Pope. Any response, or criticism or sampling, if it’s worth anything presupposes some knowledge of the thing being responded to. Why riff on something no one gets? And the response the argument with the original source is the point.

Put another way: Familiarity may breed contempt-Duchamp’s Mona lisa- but ignorance breeds chaos. Most intellectual defenses of sampling don’t get the point of it, the good and the bad. Fox News is cheap theater. Using everything as fodder for your own crap without knowing what the fuck it- using without responding- is anti-intellectual. But we ned some of that, so I’m not complaining. what I am complaining about is those who defend this mess as a great new world. It’s like the absurd defense of cubism as an ‘invention.’

Libertarians don’t understand art because they don’t understand the social processes that produce it.

“If my derivative is clearly portrayed as mine and not yours (despite deriving from your work), then I have carte blanche to do whatever I like.”

Fuck you.

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novalis 04.21.05 at 12:36 am

From the perspective of some ideal copyright regime, I don’t have a problem with Fox (but I’m a copyright minimalist). Nor do I have a problem with it from my ideal universe of media; I think we need more unabashed partisanism, rather than the lie that there’s some objectivity or neutrality which media can represent.

I’m not going to say that I agree with what conservative copyfighters (or airlines, or Fox) do with their freedoms. But I don’t think that they’re violating anyone’s natural rights in this respect. I don’t like some re-edited things; I do like others. I find myself going about 50-50 on directors’ cuts. The cut (original published) version of (the novel) Stranger In A Strange land was better. MST3K was better.

Is it narcissism to think that you could do better? Not if you’re right. And if it is, is that such a crime as to warrant the harshness of your language?

What I am complaining about is those who defend this mess as a great new world.

Have you seen JibJab’s _This Land Is Your Land_? Or read many of the stories in _Hitherby Dragons_ (_Tantalus (I/IV)_ or _Aslan Shrugged_, for instance)? Heard _The Grey Album_? Remix culture, as Lessig calls it, produces some great stuff. Sure, Sturgeon’s law still applies, but to label it all entirely anti-intellectual pap only makes you look stupid.

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clew 04.21.05 at 12:49 am

Technical digression about diffs of diffs; you can add as many as you like up into one diff from the original, the logic works that way. You wouldn’t need three spindles on your DVD player unless the first diff was *itself* given unaltered-dissemination protection. Me, I wouldn’t protect them that way. This will undercut the market for the diffs, but I think that’s okay – they ‘pay’ for their infringement on moral rights by being done for something other than money.

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novalis 04.21.05 at 2:19 am

clew: OK, if that was your proposal, then you’re right about the diff thing. Still, it’s not clear to me why this isn’t strictly worse (for convenience reasons) than permitting direct alteration under a non-multiplication regime.

Also, you can’t do mashups of multiple works under the diff scheme.

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seth edenbaum 04.21.05 at 6:32 am

I take Jay-Z a lot more seriously than I take Ayn Rand.
But Jay Z- was started from nothing becasue he had no choice, not because he wanted to ‘invent’ something.
Rap is more about history than Atlas Shrugged is.
Ayn Rand…

You proved my point

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novalis 04.21.05 at 2:20 pm

Seth, read that title a little more carefully.

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novalis 04.21.05 at 2:43 pm

seth, also, this isn’t about Jay-Z. It’s about DJ Danger Mouse. Sure, Jay-Z helped by releasing a vocals-only track; but Danger Mouse built something genuinely great out of it. Besides, remix culture isn’t history as historians write it. It’s about culture as source material for culture. West Side Story is another classic example.

Do you even bother to read what other people write?

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seth edenbaum 04.21.05 at 3:47 pm

I read what you wrote. And I guess you don’t value history any more than Ayn Rand. Dj’s were the first samplers, and rap follows from that. More? Go to disco in the seventies, when gay clubs and parties in NY couldn’t get bands to play. Necessity is the mother of invention. But of course to liberarians it’s just the opposite: invention is the mother of necessity. Hey lets all be ‘creative.’

Every artist who’s worth anything is a historian. The only reason artists ‘invent’ anything is to describe the experiences of their present- a present now ‘newer’ every; every one more unlike the last. One needs to find new words for this. That’s not the same is making up new ones for the fuck of it. From Mozart to Cool Herc, it’s all about continuity.

“No idea’s original, there’s nothin new under the sun It’s never what you do, but how it’s done”

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seth edenbaum 04.21.05 at 3:55 pm

Oh, it’s Aslan Shrugged.
You still haven’t proven to me that you’re as interested in culture as you are in sampling: as interested in the ends as the means.
That was and is my point. You don’t make art about technology but about the effects of technology.
And if you’re going to reply that modernism was about tools…

never mind. I’m done

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novalis 04.21.05 at 4:50 pm

I’m not a libertarian, and I have no idea what libertarians think about invention. In my view, there’s no one source for invention — I build software because I love the pure feeling of doing so (see Ellen Ullman’s _Close To The Machine_ for more on this view), because I have desires which code can help me satisfy (necessity), and because my software helps other people.

You still haven’t proven to me that you’re as interested in culture as you are in sampling: as interested in the ends as the means.

How could I possibly convince you of my internal state here? Please, feel free to hook me up to a polygraph. I’ll tell you that I’m interested in both. I love Hitherby Dragons. I’m not so fond of the Grey Album, but I recognize that it’s well-regarded. I also like plenty of non-remix culture. And remix culture culture must stand and falls on its own merits (even if some of its power comes from its cultural inputs). But when someone proposes to ban something I like, I have to look hard at the regime in question. And so yes, I’m a copyfighter. I spend a lot of time thinking about mechanism, and means, and regulation, both as means to preserve the culture I love, and because they’re interesting for their own sake. But that doesn’t mean I forget why I started fighting.

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clew 04.21.05 at 5:16 pm

novalis – seems to me mash-ups are a considerably more complicated case, and much harder to justify in the current regime as a minor technical improvement. Fairly complicated diffs can be defended as an automated fast-forward button, though.

If enough people do enough insightful, moral, witty, snarky, parodic, or improving things with the right to disseminate diffs, then perhaps more of the camel will follow the camel’s nose and the current regime can be really changed.

Seth, I don’t see that you even have the ability to distinguish ends and means in my aesthetic experience, which puts you at considerable risk of confusing the two even while you’re preaching that that confusion should be avoided.

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seth edenbaum 04.21.05 at 6:30 pm

Novalis,
“I also like plenty of non-remix culture”

All culture is ‘remix’ culture. It always has been and always will be. But you are a a fan of an idea, (your language makes this clear) and the idea is more important to you than the process of description with which art is assumed to be associated. Your argument, along with many others on this site, see art as illustration: the presentation of what is otherwise a priori.
It’s not that I disagree with your ideas but that I disagree with your interest in an art of ‘ideas’, as I disagree with all the ideologies of romantic modernism on one side or the other: all the ‘isms’ as such. See my comments on Cubism above.

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novalis 04.21.05 at 10:48 pm

clew, I read your “should” to be talking about some ideal regime.

Under the current regime, and assuming you’re talking about censorship-style fast-forward+mute+black bars diffs, rather than anything more complex, I could imagine arguing either side of that case; the minimalist side looks, through my admittedly biased goggles, slightly stronger). On the minimalist side, I would want to say that there’s no fixed version of the derivative work (as per Nintendo v. Galoob), and anyway, it’s fair use because there’s no multiplication of copies and the movie companies aren’t selling airline versions to consumers. On the maximalist side, I would argue that sure there’s a fixed version; it’s the combination of the diff and the movie, and that it’s not fair use because movies are creative works and the changes are very minor.

I do hope for regime change, but I don’t see it coming any time soon. That’s why I like Creative Commons; it pushes the camel’s nose in legally.

seth, my argument presupposes nothing about any reasonable philosophy of art. Other than that, I must admit to total bafflement when I try to make sense of your statements.

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