Tag Archives: culture

lemony snicket copyright

The copyright notice in Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography (2002):

No part of this book may be used, reproduced, destroyed, tampered with, or eaten without written permission except in the case of brief, possibly coded quotations embodied in critical articles, reviews, and subpoenas. Allegedly printed in the United States of America. For information address HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019, although the people at this publishing house have no idea where the documents enclosed in this book came from. If you recognize yourself in any of the photographs or illustrations in this book you may find yourself in Very Frightening Danger and/or slightly embarrassed but there is nothing you can do about it. Please note that the author has been called a fraud, a criminal, a bestseller, a corpse, a fictional character, an unreliable narrator, an objective flaneur, an embattled gentleman, a magnetic field, an arsonist, and late for dinner by an odd number of dubious authorities. Send help at once. All rights reserved. Wouldn’t you rather read about ponies?

the BBC

The BBC recently aired a second Victorian lesbian drama based on a novel by one of my favorite writers, Sarah Waters. The BBC made one of the best lesbian movies, ever, in its adaptation of Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit”. The BBC is opening its archives to the world.

England is a tiny nation. A tiny little island nation. The US is very very big and we have lots of money and lots of people and very expensive bridges in Alaska and very expensive unnecessary wars in Iraq. So why can’t we have a BBC? I’ll trade PBS and NPR for the BBC.

old works, new copyrights

  • Sony is claiming copyright over “Zorro” and has sent a C&D to Sobini Films, which is wanting to produce a movie set in the future (well, 2010 – barely the future any more!) about Zorro. Johnston McCulley first introduced Zorro in 1919 in The Curse of Capistrano. The BBC article states it thusly: “Sobini contends it acquired the rights to Johnston McCulley’s book The Curse of Capistrano…” “Acquired the rights”? It’s a public domain work! BBC
  • OK, this news is from May, but for some reason I just saw it now. A copyright is being claimed on a formerly unknown work by Vivaldi that recently turned up in an archive. Let us remember that Vivaldi died in the 1700s. The opera (“Motezuma”) was found in a German library collection. I can only assume the library is claiming that it was never published and copyright didn’t attach to it?

    Imagine if libraries get to own copyrights on things out of their special collections. The resulting treasure hunt will certainly encourage library administrators to put more money into cataloging the special collections departments. On the other hand, what heirs of famous artists and authors will want to donate works that might yet turn out to be profitable for their great-great-great-great-great-several-times-over-grandchildren?

    I’m inspired to look into the question of copyright of archived unpublished materials. But off the top of my head, I would suggest that a work being made publicly available in a library collection ought to constitute publication. So, whenever the Vivaldi collection was initially made public, copyright on otherwise-unpublished works begins tolling. The libraries that hold works in their collections will profit as museums do now, from controlling access to the original and licensing reproductions.

    Granted, that surely won’t be as satisfying for the holder of the original copy of a composition or literary work, compared with, say, a painting or sketch. In compositions and literary works, the copyrightable expression is all carried by symbolic languages, which are easily replicable. Collectors will still attach value to the original, but the value of the work will flow with the symbolic languages.

    With a painting or sketch, on the other hand, more of the value flows with the original work. The work is not reducable into an easily transcribed symbolic language — it can only be distributed by photographic reproductions of the exact work. And even then, the artist’s expression can only be partially captured by two-dimensional photographic reproductions: The original ink and paper were artistic choices, and brush strokes include three-dimensional information that is not easily captured by photographs.

    So the papers of famous scholars and artists are not going to be quite the boon for libraries that holdings of museums are. That’s the trade-off of being an archive rather than a museum, IMO. An archive gets a lot of stuff that you haven’t yet had time to classify (less often the case than in a museum), but it’s not as often the kind of stuff that might make your institution a fortune.

girls go(t) game

Hillary Clinton has jumped all over the Grand Theft Auto downloadable sex mod scandal, apparently in an attempt to shore up her right-wing base and reconnect with the Tipper Gore Fan Club. USA Today 7/14; wikinews 7/17; salon.com 7/22; gtaSanAndreas links to a video of the mod in action]. Ted Frank on Overlawyered reminds us of a similar culture-war foray from the Democrats — Bill Clinton’s 1992 attack on Sister Souljah — and is pretty funny to boot:

Me, I’m just amused by the thought of class action attorneys trolling for a named plaintiff parent who will testify that, while she was okay for her little Johnny to buy a game involving drug dealing, gambling, carjacking, cop-shooting, prostitution, throat-slashing, baseball-bat beatings, drive-by shootings, street-racing, gang wars, profanity-laced rap music, homosexual lovers’ quarrels, blood and gore, and “Strong Sexual Content,” she is shocked, shocked to learn that the game also includes an animation at about the level of a Ken doll rubbing up against an unclothed Barbie doll with X-rated sound effects, and is thus a victim of both consumer fraud and intense emotional distress, entitled to actual and punitive damages totalling $74,999 per identically-situated class member in the state.

Having posted this, I have to comment on a) the class action schtick is just unnecessary; this anecdote stands alone; b) I wrinkled my nose at a few whiffs of sexist patronizing & homophobia: the contemptible ‘named plaintiff parent’ of the anecdote is of course female (because Donald Wildmon & crew are just not funny, I guess) and Overlawyered’s list of social ills includes, along with various depictions of violence, “homosexual lovers’ quarrels”. Dude. When my spouse & I fight, it’s ill, all right, but not “throat-slashing, baseball-bat beating” ill. Get some perspective.

Speaking of sexism & Grand Theft Auto, feministing raised the concern about the frequent sex-violence connection in popular entertainment. Commenter erin shed some light, which I’ll quote in full since I can’t point directly to it:

I’ve done some research on game patches, and unfortunately, the majority of those out there serve to further exploit female characters (avatars). For example, in the Xtreme Beach Volleyball game, there is a nudity patch which allows the player to play in full nude mode. No big surprise that all of the volleyball players are female. There is also a patch for BloodRayne 2 that allows a player to actually change the breast size of Rayne, inflating or deflating to one’s personal desire. These patches are readily available on gaming websites and message boards, and are fairly easy to use for any semi-experienced gamer.

However, there are also some female gamers who are designing patches to further enhance their gameplaying experience as well, kind of a proto-feminist hacker art movement. There are a few patches for the Tomb Raider series that allow a player to “gender bend” Lara Croft, turning her into a drag queen, dominatrix, or queer babe.

For more on these patches, look at Anne-Marie Schleiner’s article “Does Lara Croft Wear Fake Polygons?” www.opensorcery.net/lara2.html

Posted by: erin at July 11, 2005 11:16 PM

What’s the remedy for stupid, sexist, ridiculous, offensive, insensitive, unsatisfying speech? More speech. These female gamer/hackers get that. And so do some universities and businesses. The current monoculture in video games isn’t ‘just the way it is’; it’s a result of social forces and trends. These social forces and trends are hackable and that’s an opportunity.

update 8/15:

On the sex-violence issue, shakespeare’s sister linked to an article about research showing no change in aggression from playing aggressive video games. The paper is Williams, Dmitri & Skoric, Marko (2005). Internet Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game. Communication Monographs, 22(2), p.217-233, available at https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/dcwill/www/CMWilliamsSkoric.pdf.

Most intriguing, though, the rest of shakespeare’s sister’s post on gaming and kick-ass girl heroes talked about lance mannion’s concerns about boys hitting girls in action media (video games, movies, comics). Sh-Sis isn’t too concerned about it, and neither am I. But I’m glad she brought it up, because often, while watching Buffy, Xena, Lara Croft, and the like, I experience a split-second cultural response to the gender: “There’s a boy hitting a girl!” Or, sometimes, “There’s two girls fighting!” I never have a gender consciousness moment like, “There’s two boys fighting!” This learned response annoys me; my own mind is colonized; I know it, but how can I turn it off?

As for boys hitting girls in video games, I’m going to throw out an aggressive opinion and see how it ages: I’m all for it. To the extent there is violence in video games, I want it to be equal opportunity violence. I don’t want female exceptionalism. In the real world, boys hit girls all the time, despite the politesses of “boys shouldn’t hit girls”. Those politesses haven’t stopped gendered violence and I have a sneaking feeling that they contribute to it. Combining two different instruction sets (“girls are special; don’t hit them” with “but it’s okay to hit otherwise”) is surely just going to lead to confusion and anger and a well-founded sense of injustice among young people of the okay-to-hit variety. A stripped down rule set (“don’t hit”) seems much less confusing & much less likely to cause gender-based anger.

owning photographs

In the fourth & final entry in Salon.com’s series on ‘ex-gay’ therapy ministries [‘True confessions‘], the writer describes how one ex-ex-gay’s attempt to control photographs of him is thwarted by copyright:

On the front page of the Exodus International Web site is a photograph of several dozen men and women. The allegedly changed homosexuals, or newly minted ex-gays, are beaming at the camera, apparently celebrating their newfound freedom from homosexuality. Standing in the center of the photograph is 29-year-old Shawn O’Donnell, who was enrolled in Exodus programs on and off for 10 years.

Exodus is the umbrella organization, information clearinghouse and referral service for “ex-gay ministries.”

The only problem with the Exodus photo is that O’Donnell is still gay.

Recently, O’Donnell asked Exodus president Alan Chambers to take his photo off the Exodus Web site. But Chambers, O’Donnell says, told him that Exodus owns the picture and it still signifies that people can change. “I said, ‘How can you say that is true when I know there are at least three people in that picture who have not changed?'” Exodus did not return my calls seeking comment about the photo.

This is a common misconception: people think they ‘own’ the photographs taken of them. In fact, no, they may own the prints of the photographs. But the photographer holds (‘owns’) the copyright, as the ‘author’ of the work. This FAQ written for photographers gives an idea of how photographers interpret copyright:

Even if one were to purchase an original portrait that was specially commissioned, the purchaser would only be able to frame and display the work. Unless the parties otherwise agree, the artist owns the copyright and the work cannot be copied or reproduced. Thus, without permission, the subject of the portrait cannot even make a holiday card from the painting.

Thus, some photofinishing labs (like Wal-Mart) have taken to refusing to duplicate photos that look ‘professional’ unless the holder has permission from the photographer. [See 5/30 story in sandiego.com; related commentary & links Ex Cathedra 6/8; Derivative Work 6/17]

artistic innovation & racism

The NYT ran two articles today on copies of art, both listed on the front page in the respective sections: One listed in the “arts” section and titled “Imitations That Transcend Flattery” by Roberta Smith, and the other breathlessly titled Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art! by Keith Bradsher, and listed in the business section. [By 245 this afternoon when I got back to this draft, I noted that the front page title of “Original Chinese Copies” had been changed, and “Imitations That Transcend” had been taken off the front page; both are listed in the arts page and “Original Chinese Copies” is still in the business section.]

I’m sure this is an NYT editorial accident, left hand, right hand, lack of knowledge, etc., but reading the two articles together gave me a queasy feeling, like when you’re watching a movie and suddenly realize you need 3D glasses. The color information is shifted just slightly, creating two different accounts of the world. Once I put on my special 3D Glasses of Power*, everything righted itself: in fact, I got a whole different picture, and a lot of new information poppped out.

OK, the metaphor can’t go on forever. For one thing, these are not exactly the same two articles. The two articles are on different issues and consequently take different tones: “Original Chinese Copies!” is a standard business section article about the cheap oil painting (aka ‘mass art’ or ‘hotel art’) industry: China has gotten into the industry & the American industry is (or may be) suffering from the competition. “Imitations That Transcend”, on the other hand, is a standard artist/exhibition article: it focuses on one artist, Richard Pettibone, who does “appropriation art”, and discusses him and his current show, which consists of miniatures of famous paintings.

But perspectives are indeed shifted across these two articles, and noticing that, you notice a few other things. First, obviously, race: “Original Chinese Copies!” feeds into a racist stereotype of Asian people that was much in evidence during the 70s & 80s, when many US newspapers ran stories about the Japan-US trade deficit and Japanese businesspeople (well, let’s be honest: businessmen) buying up American landmarks, property, etc. At the same time there was a lot of fairly blatant racism in US media, e.g., pundits talking about how the Japanese imitated US innovations but didn’t come up with their own ideas. The idea was that the Japanese are just so good & efficient at copying that they beat ‘us’, despite our brilliance, and as a result of our good nature & the post-WW2 reconstruction. I’m sure the racism in that media coverage has been analyzed half to death elsewhere. And I don’t want to have to point it out, but the same themes popped up in this article: the Chinese are doing mass production, they’re very good at copying, etc. And they’re a threat: “China is creating a fast-growing army of trained artists”. (An army of artists. … Hmm. Sounds pretty good, to me, and probably a hell of a lot cheaper, not to mention safer, than an army of, err, armed soldiers.)

Questions of originality, authenticity, quality, the definition and value of art, aesthetics, ethnically identifiable schools of art, etc., are elided through smirky punctuation with an unpleasant racial undertone: The author politely refrains from discussing the ‘quality’ of the Chinese copies, while making his opinion known through the scare quotes around ‘quality’. This is a perfect entree to a point about one person’s art being another person’s garbage liner, and might have been useful in an article about mass art oil paintings. Instead the ‘quality’ line gets dropped into a section to further contrast between Chinese art (industrial-style, copied) and American art (original). No mention here of the ‘quality’ of the American hotel-art industry’s output. And check out the headline: Someone, the author or the editor, entitled the article “Own Original Chinese Copies of Real Western Art!”. ‘Real’? ‘Western Art’? Where to begin. I don’t mind a business article not getting into the fine points of what makes art Art, but don’t furtively raise the issues in a racist context through the use of snide punctuation.

And then there’s the discussion of copyright, which plays into a new wine, old bottles theme in the business press: “Oh these Asian countries are so bad! They don’t respect our copyrights!”

Exporters of Chinese paintings say that even though the paintings often imitate well-known works of art, the copies are inherently different because they are handmade, and so do not violate copyrights.

Robert Panzer, the executive director of the Visual Artists and Galleries Association, a trade group based in New York, disagreed. He said that the vast majority of paintings produced before the 20th century were in the public domain and could be freely copied and sold. But it is not legal to sell a painting that appears to a reasonable person like a copy of a more recent, copyrighted work, he said.

The old bottles for this new w(h)ine? Still the same old racism-tinged stories from the 70s & 80s: Asian countries are bad! bad! and they’re hurting our business interests. What’s so sad about this particular whine is that it’s just sort of tossed in the mix to further taint the Chinese mass-art industry with Badness; the copyright material is almost completely gratuitous to the article. Nowhere in the article, for instance, does it describe any instances of a Western painting, still under copyright, that was actually duplicated. Nor are the copyright concerns ever discussed in the context of the US mass-art industry: if the US mass-art industry used to be such hot shit, then how did they deal with copyright issues attaching to not-very-original hotel art? China might like to know! But no — the copyright issue isn’t seriously discussed; it’s just tossed in, perhaps by order of editor, to lengthen a too-short piece.

So when writing a business story about mass art, why not just throw in some gratuitous discussion of the Bad Bad Chinese Communist Copiers? Everyone else does. Coverage of international copyright markets and issues is subtly infused with a significant racial dynamic. It’s not like I came up with this half-baked idea on my own — I came up with it after years of reading the same stories over and over and over again. Eventually, after reading yet one more article about how a developing nation is thumbing its nose at US copyright imperialism (ahem), I cottoned to the fact that I had read a lot more articles about Asian copyright infringement than any other kind.

I bet anyone else following these issues in the US has too. Consider how often we hear about the thriving Asian & South/Central American markets for illegally copied works (usually videos and recorded music). Those brown people sure are bad, disrespecting our copyrights and hurting our native copyright industries! Contrast the badness of people of color with the similarly thriving market in Russia & Poland, nations peopled with people of pallor. The only significant media coverage these markets got in recent memory was when the entertainment industry decided to drop its prices in Russia to compete with the ‘black’ market. ** Or what about Norway? It just doesn’t get any whiter than Norway, which not only has ‘black’ markets in copyrighted goods, but whose court system declared that Jon Lech Johansen, teen auteur of DeCSS, was A-okay. Finland is a veritable outlaw nation! Surely the press ‘tars’ the Finnish with the brush of piracy? Not.

The MPAA, god bless its tiny little nonracist copyright maximalist heart, wants to target all ‘pirate’ nations, including “Brazil, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Thailand.” (2003/Feb/16) The MPAA was particularly concerned with Russia and South Africa. But a LexisNexis Academic search for “(copyright w/5 (piracy or pirate)) AND (china or asia or korea)” in the business & finance section of the news returned 831 hits; whereas the same search, replacing the countries with (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway) produced 66 articles; adding in africa (russia or soviet or poland or finland or norway or africa) doubled the results to bring us to 130. (4 of the first 25 articles of this set headline only Asian countries!) Alas, I couldn’t really do a full-Asian search, which would have also included India, Pakistan, etc.; the Academic LexisNexis subscription I am using rejected search sets with over a thousand results. Media coverage of international copyright infringement and international markets in copyright infringed works seems to focus disproportionately on Asian nations.

It’s a convenient story for the American business press, after all. The Asian copyright violation story fits the larger narrative of an Asian threat to US industries, and simultaneously reinforces the image of unoriginal but but frighteningly efficient Asian copyists.

… So, okay, another bad article in a series of largely bad business articles about the entertainment industry and copyright infringement over the years. But the NYT ran this particular bad article simultaneously with another article, profiling an artist who truly is outright copying art, and not just public domain or arguably barely original works, but works that are famous, recognizable, and still under copyright restrictions. (Okay, possibly still barely original.)

From the copyright critical perspective, “Imitations That Transcend” was certainly better than “Original Chinese Copies”. “Imitations That Transcend” profiled Richard Pettibone, an artist who is grappling with questions of originality and the definition of art. By contrast, “Original Chinese Copies” alludes to copyright infringement as a means of villification of a competitive industry.

Of course, “Imitations That Transcend” is not without its problems. It mentions numerous male artists but neglects to mention virtually any female artists. Not surprising, perhaps: as the Guerilla Girls have long documented, even in the 21st century sexism flourishes within the art world. And as so much of the NYT’s writing, article describes the artistic ambitions of the art without actually engaging the ambition or analyzing them. I found that particularly ironic in an Arts article about an artist who deconstructs Art.

But it was the juxtaposition of “Imitations That Transcend” with “Original Chinese Copies” that really caught my eye, as a real-time demonstration of everything that was wrong with these articles, and, for that matter, a real-time demonstration also of Richard Pettibone’s alleged concerns with the definition of art and ideas, too. It’s too perfect. In the Arts section, we get a self-important article describing Real Art, but completely neglecting to actually connect the issues within the Art to any real world concerns or indeed any actual engagement with the issues the subject Artist purports to raise. And in the Business section, we get cheap villification of people of color (mere copiests in an ‘army’ warring against Fine American Art and artists’ colonies), softened by some gentle condescension of the Chinese artists’ individual human ambitions. Top it all off by the polite use of punctuation to allude to commentary without actually giving any: the ‘quality’ of the art is scare quoted, in lieu of actual discussion. And the ultimate irony, ‘Real Western Art!’ is given pride of place in the headline.

Hey, who needs artists to create irony, when you have the NYT editors.


* 3D Glasses of Power! Get them today! Feminism! Antiracism! Copyright Criticism! Knowledge is power, and with the 3D Glasses of Power!, you will have all the knowledge you can handle!

** Arrggh! [Tearing my hair out in frustration.] ‘Black’ market, indeed.

charles darwin’s posse

A friend passed me this stamp along with the following message for ‘pro-science subversives’:

Charles Darwin has a posse.

These stickers are being introduced to increase awareness and appreciation of Charles Darwin. His theory of natural selection provided a simple, non-supernatural explanation for how life on earth had evolved and continues to evolve. Although scientists worldwide view evolution and natural selection as completely uncontroversial, popular support in the United States is waning, especially with respect to the origin of humans. Without more public displays of affection for the theories of natural selection and evolution, it is likely that more and more schools will allow or even promote the teaching of evolution “alternatives” that invoke dabbling by supernatural entities. To provide some of the needed visible support for science and reason, please consider stickering something with his image. Sure, these efforts are probably completely futile, but wouldn’t you sleep better tonight knowing that you’ve done your part to delay our slip into Dark Ages II? Instructions and tips can be found below. Thanks!

http://www.swarthmore.edu/NatSci/cpurrin1/evolk12/posse/chazhasaposse.htm

… And in keeping with my passion for noting cultural begats, I note that designer Colin Purrington says of the image that

The overall design shamelessly emulates the “Andre The Giant Has A Posse” art project that I got to witness when I was a youth in Providence.

“André the Giant Has a Posse” was conceived by Frank Shepard Fairey and “at least one other unidentified person”. The WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] threatened a lawsuit (presumably right of publicity?) and the image mutated into a more iconic image with the words “OBEY” or “DISOBEY”. More info at obeygiant.com and Wikipedia.

air guitar … celebrity impersonations

The NYT ran this article from New York’s reigning air guitar champ. [NYT 7/”10″] I wonder if these rock’n’rollers acknowledge the debt they owe to drag queens and lip-syncing celebrity impersonators, who have been competitively dragging since at least the 30s? [see Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America’s First Gay and Lesbian Town (1993) and Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America (1972), both by Esther Newton.] Probably — “clothes make the air guitarist” according to the author, and the clothes seem to be fabulous: Brooklynite C-Diddy won the world crown in 2003 “festooned with a Hello Kitty breastplate and crimson kimono”, and the author’s costume is a “silver jumpsuit and star-spangled armbands filled with dry ice”.

Rock on, dudes! I can’t wait to go to my first drag king air guitar show.

copyrighted tattoos?

WebIndia has a report about a fight between a tattoo artist and a tattoo recipient. (I found it odd that it was listed in the sports page until I thought, hmm, maybe Beckham is some sort of athlete; then I remembered the soccer flick “Bend It Like Beckham” and suddenly the title made sense, and a search of wikipedia confirmed that indeed David Beckham is indeed the exact sort of athlete that would inspire youthful admiration.)

See also bella online, teen hollywood.com and contactmusic.com. A number of US-written articles seem a bit confused (or maybe they’re confusing me): in a situation involving a UK football star, and a UK tattoo artist, and where the inkwork presumably occurred in the UK — one wonders why bella online and defenestrate are citing to and discussing US law?

unsex me — no, really

  • Richard Nathan has written shakespeare parodies, and actually had them produced. I particularly like the title of “Scots on the Rocks” (MacBeth). Performance could be amusing — I did chuckle over Lady MacBeth’s “unsex me”:

    .
    .
    .
    S
    P
    O
    I
    L
    E
    R
    .
    .
    .

    (and when did it become the thing to do for mainstream media to provider spoiler warnings? it seemed like it was a fan/geek thing, and now all of a sudden, very very mainstream. or has it always been thus?)

    Act I, Scene 5:

    Lady MacBeth: Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here!

    The witches move to center stage, singing and dancing. Lady Macbeth doesn’t notice them.

    WITCHES
    (singing)
    We’ll unsex you here!
    Do not show any doubt or fear!
    Just growl and sneer,
    Scratch your crotch,
    And swig a beer!
    And we’ll unsex you here!

    The witches gesture magically. There is an explosion of flash powder, and suddenly Lady Macbeth has become a man – a tall, waspish man, with a neat little mustache. I will continue to refer to Lady Macbeth as “she” in the stage directions, but starting from here, for as long as she lives, she should be portrayed by a man.

    and later:

    Act 5, Scene 5:

    Two servants enter, carrying the body of the Queen. It is the female version of the Queen, as she was before she was un-sexed. The servants lay the body of the Queen before Macbeth.

blatant copyright infringement!

Cool archive of NYC hip-hop posters from late 70s/early 80s. Reprinted without any permission from the poster designer(s), so far as I can tell. Why, that’s blatant COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT !!! Why, s/he’s a — a — a Pirate, that’s what. A Pirate and a Thief. Posting this archive, without seeking the copyright owner’s permission and perhaps paying a handsome licensing fee, why that’s like taking the lawnmower out of the garage of the poor hapless poster designer(s) or their great grandchildren or maybe their corporate assignees.

Luckily the US Copyright Office is looking into the problem of orphan works. Orphan works are those works that are copyrighted, but you can’t locate the copyright-holder to ask their permission to do something with the work.

Why is this a problem? Well, thanks to the 1976 Copyright Act (USC Title 17), all fixed works of original authorship are automatically copyrighted, without the copyright owner having to do anything (like putting a © symbol on the item). So, you know, that post-it note you left for your spouse/mate this morning — that’s protected by copyright! You “fixed” it by writing it down, and the threshold of “originality” is very low — so nobody better mess with your copyright by trying to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform or display, or derive any works from that post-it note, without your permission. And those hip-hop party flyers? They too were copyrighted upon fixation, and whether or not the creators felt the need for or intended to have criminal and civil penalties attached to their illicit reproduction. [See also US DOJ.] Illicit reproduction any time within 70 years after the original creator died, I might add.

Deep breath. The wicked foolishness of some laws just makes me kinda crazy. Sorry for the heavy sarcasm. Especially sorry for heaping scorn upon the value of the post-its and email jottings of the world, which are richly deserving of all the copyright protection that can be mustered for them. If we don’t copyright everything, then some iota of value might possibly escape exploitation! Oops. Sorry, slipped again. Sarcasm ranting hat officially OFF, and Serious Working hat, back on.

hearing on federal prosecution of artist

Federal prosecutors responded yesterday (5/17) to a motion to dismiss federal wire fraud charges against artist Steven Kurtz (Critical Art Ensemble). This bizarre & ridiculous prosecution continues against all common sense, which I can only guess is par for the course for the Ashcroft/Gonzalez DOJ.

derived from: ap 5/17 and caedefensefund.org press release 5/17

2008/4/25 update: Nice to be able to come back to something with a happy ending, even years later. Sivacracy reports that the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the criminal indictments were dismissed. Finally some freakin’ justice.

some fun parodies & pastiches

Civil Rights Leader Calls for Copyright Civil Disobedience

“I would call upon everyone who has access to ‘Eyes on the Prize’ to openly violate any and all laws regarding its showing,” says civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot, who led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and today is a program manager for the D.C. Department of Human Services.

from daily kos 1/17; and see also wired 12/22 and on the commons 1/18 and Toronto Globe & Mail 1/17.

santorum

The American Dialect Society has recognized Dan Savage’s efforts on behalf of the word santorum, “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”:

The Most Outrageous category is tricky; we never agree whether it’s the word itself that’s outrageous (typically for having some vulgar element, as in 2003’s winner, cliterati, for “prominent feminists”) or the concept (as with 2002’s neuticles, “false testicles for neutered pets”). This year the strongest contender was santorum, defined (and heavily promoted) by sex writer Dan Savage—in a campaign to besmirch the name of right-wing Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum—as “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” We dismissed one potential problem—that newspapers wouldn’t print the term if it won—on the grounds that we shouldn’t censor ourselves. And indeed, in the afternoon’s voting, santorum did win, but many newspapers simply skipped this category in their coverage. So much for academic freedom.

— Slate 1/11 Linguists Gone Wild! – Why “wardrobe malfunction” wasn’t the Word of the Year. By Jesse Sheidlower

some observations about library architecture

The 10th anniversary of SF MOMA prompted an article in SFGate today [1/13] about MOMA’s architectural values, functionality as an art museum, and fitness into the SOMA neighborhood. I particularly liked the opening observation:

A big problem with architectural criticism is that buildings often are treated as if they are inert works of art, sculptures on a grand scale. The day they’re unveiled is the day they’re best judged.

In fact, even the most meticulous creation is a work in progress that reveals itself over time and is defined in part by its surroundings[.]

This is a common problem with library architectural projects, which too often result in designs of grand buildings that are architectural plums, but are not well-suited for their function as a library. The designers and library committees treat the library building as an inert work of art rather than as a functional building. They do beautifully on opening day and arouse many oohs and ahhs but over time the staff and patrons are forced to live with and adapt to features that are essentially library-unfriendly.

For instance, my pet peeve in modern library architecture is the giant atrium. So many public libraries do as SF Public Library (late 90s) has done — create a large atrium running up & down the center of the building. They make a lovely space for civic entertainments but the big open space is not functional for a library — not for creating reading / study space, not for archiving books, not for providing access to information. It wastes energy, creates a draft, carries sound, and while it’s entertaining sometimes for people on the top floors to people-watch, it invariably renders the first floor under the atrium inhospitable and useful only as a passageway. Huntsville, Alabama’s public library (mid-80s) did likewise, but in a smaller library the sins are proportionally more minor. Chicago Public Library‘s giant new downtown main branch (early 90s) managed to take the cold feel of the atrium and extend it even to its non-atrium spaces.

The SF MOMA article author, John King, also rants about SF MOMA’s atrium. I’m even more uninformed about museum architecture criticism than library architecture criticism — I’m not even a Power User of museums — but it seems to me that while the functionality of the museum as warehouse-for-art [or whatever] might pose a similar problem, the overall function of the museum as an artpiece in itself might make the atrium more justifiable in the museum context than in the library context. This is not to say that libraries shouldn’t be works of art in themselves; they should; but the art should flow with the functionality, not against it. It may be that atria in art museums flows with that functionality in a way that it doesn’t flow with the functionality of libraries.

Some cities of course get their library architecture right. Berkeley Public Library (Berkeley, CA) rehabbed its downtown library, retaining the lovely exterior. There is an atrium, but for only three floors, it’s tolerable, and better done than San Francisco, still allowing the library to retain some warmth. [Berkeley Public also has one of my favorite branch libraries, the North Branch, which has an exceptionally warm and friendly design.]

Boston Public Library married its beautiful, historic old facility to a modern new facility (90s?). While the new facility isn’t beautiful,* and has, yes, the dreaded atrium, the BPL atrium is reasonably functional, or at least, minimally disruptive. The atrium itself is relatively small. And in a city like Boston, the front area/entryway necessarily becomes a passageway rather than a habitable space, because of the drafts and chills thru much of the year. So the passage-ness of the space is less wasteful than it might otherwise be. More importantly, by coupling the old facility with the new facility, BPL managed to marry form to function. The old library now contains reading rooms and research and reference collections. You can appreciate the historical architecture and design elements while working at the slower pace that the functions designate. On the other hand, the new addition contains the higher-traffic programs — the circulating collections and the lively programs (children’s, literacy, friends of the library). On a minor technical note, BPL didn’t succeed in matching floor heights between the old and new sections — hardly any project does — but it’s certainly not as bad as at some libraries I’ve often used [University of Kentucky main library in the early 1990s; University of Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, Library in the early 2000s, with its North Addition].

The new Seattle Public Library (2004), from what I’ve heard, has some interesting features that attempt to break new ground in librariness — for instance, the book stacks on the inclining ramps. Over time we’ll see how library/user-friendly and workable these features really are.


* I may just be prejudiced against 20th century architecture, which is just so extraordinarily bleak and geometric and barren of fun design elements. The designers did a few nice things — I like the curvey arches at the entrance, and while it’s a bit warehouse-like, it’s an elegant warehouse. Some photos.

emma goldman documentary

A good friend taped the Emma Goldman documentary a few months ago, but I hadn’t watched it until this weekend — I was captive in a TV room while packing, and didn’t want to take a VHS tape to my new home which will have neither a VCR nor a TV.

A few nits to pick:

  • One, no anarchists interviewed! Nice to have some social activists (velvet revolution guy) and commentators (Tony Kushner, playwright) interviewed, but no self-defined anarchists?
  • Two, so funny how they have to do the free love re-creation with actual nekkid sex.
  • No discussion of Emma’s visit to Spain during the Spanish Civil War and revolutionary period. Which impressed her and, I think, rejuvenated her spirits in the post-Bolshevik disappointment.

Still, though. Emma Goldman documentary. Cool.