Category: Copyright-Fair Use

Privatizing the cultural commons


I love this graphic, which sums up quite visually the intent behind the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The trade agreement, which has been negotiated in secret, represents how corporations are trying to enclosed and privatize the planetary cultural commons. You can read more about it here, or you can watch the video below (if you can’t see it, go here):

Say no to ACTA di QuadratureDuNet

Is the Great Fire Wall of China coming to the US through the back door?

This short video outlines the disturbing consequences if the newspeak-inspired bill, Protect IP Act, passes. Under the guise of piracy, civil law will be privatized. Entertainment companies can make claims against Websites without the opportunity to use the courts for appeal. Furthermore, because fair use remains ambiguous, will media critics be banned when they excerpt copyrighted materials for the purpose of criticism? Can Murdoch and his cronies take down critics like Media Matters for America on bogus infringement claims? What if an organization like Wikileaks is blocked due to the principle that leaked documents are copyrighted?

One of the biggest nightmares for media educators is a law like this that could give private companies more power to censor the Web. Already I have noticed a difference on YouTube. Every semester I post videos in my course Websites for the purpose of in-class critique. Increasingly these videos are being pulled down due to copyright claims. It is making it harder for me to teach and to perform my duty as a cultural citizen to critically engage the mediasphere. This majorly contradicts the State Department’s promotion of the Internet as a democratizing tool outside the United States.

There remains a moment when you can try to do something to keep the Internet open. Please go to the Demand Progress Website and send a letter to lawmakers today. And then spread the word.

Girl Talk: A contrarian view

Girl Talk is the darling of the copyleft movement, having been made a hero in a number of online documentaries, including RIP: A Remix Manifesto and Good Copy Bad Copy.* However, to paraphrase curmudgeon and village atheist Steve Albini, though sampling shouldn’t involve the law, we should still ask if it is art. I’m not talking here of sampling across the board, but about the music of Girl Talk.

To recap, GirlTalk (Gregg Gillis) is a likable Pittsburg native who works (worked?) as a scientist by day but is motivational remixologist by night. He mashes-up familiar and recognizable samples from across the frequency spectrum, using top 40 G-rated pop as a backdrop for hip hop MCs who deploy all kinds of R-rated words that would make suburbanites blush. Unfortunately, such a juxtaposition feels a bit like cultural imperialism, for the mixes appropriate the appropriators and lack the reverence that crate diggers have for musical tradition. To me Girl Talk is like snacking on an all you can eat bar at Sizzler. Yeah, it tastes relatively good (high in salt!), it’s cheap (or in this case, free), it can be fun if you are doing it with people you like, and it’s appealing to a wide audience. No harm, no foul.

Yet, why does listening to it make me mad?

I recently downloaded All Day after an initial burst of Twitter hype. As the soundtrack for my commute on the bus, I found it digestible and easy on my ears, but annoyingly simplistic and unartful. The opening track to All Day is a very long sample of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” It is so long that it might as well be a track from a Sabbath album with a few embellishments. It’s a fun listen, but where is the artistry of Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad which makes sampling an act of hermeneutics? PE’s music is not just ear candy but rich, layered, dense and cryptic. Or DJ Shadow who builds with an amazingly eclectic palette to create something entirely new? Or what about the innovative push of DJ technology by artists like Christian Marclay, Otomo Yoshihide, Philip Jeck, and Janek Schaefer? The great hip hop artists were always reverent to their sources by drawing on a sophisticated knowledge of jazz, soul, or funk. Girl Talk is more map than territory, like surfing the Internet without deep listening.

One of the questions pondered in RIP is whether Girl Talk’s music is piracy or something entirely unique, and whether or not it is creative. Well, I don’t want to side with the record companies to argue that he shouldn’t make the music he is creating, but I think calling it new or “creative” is almost an indefensible position considering the lack of innovation and novelty of the mixes. I agree that the sheer number of samples and their seamless editing is definitely part of the craft of DJing, but I think a DJ and musician do different things. I know because I have done both. Nonetheless, DJing can be high art. Watching turntablists like DJ Q-Bert, DJ Quest, or DJ Krush in action is a sublime experience. Editing this shit together on a laptop at home just isn’t the same. I’m guessing Girl Talk’s popularity is based on his live shows, which look really fun and intoxicating. I’m down with that. Certainly it’s a skill, I just don’t want to call it art nor do I feel like dancing with his big fan Paris Hilton.

Being “illegal” gives Girl Talk’s albums a veneer of legitimacy and rebelliousness. But this is hardly punk or anything avant-garde. Rather, it’s white middle class folk music. Again, I don’t mean to speak ill of something that gives a lot of people pleasure. I also know I’m coming off as a bit conservative, but I just wish our cultural heros were more interesting and cutting edge.

OK, bring on the noise!

* By the by, other great documentaries on the topic include Steal This Film and Copyright Criminals .

Drugged out butterfly hates bad publicity

The Lunesta ad parody that has survived fair use on YouTube (not the one I posted)

Apparently that cute little Lunesta butterfly flapping around in a corporate induced stupor is a rather pissy drug shill. I posted the Lunesta ad on my YouTube channel because I used it for teaching purposes in my courses. Accompanying the video I posted the following comment: “Corporation is a butterfly, replaces nature.”

To my chagrin YouTube users made lots of positive comments about the commercial, one stating that it was her four-year-old daughter’s favorite ad and thanked me for posting it. In fact, this has been a common trend: I post an ad for the purposes of criticism, and the commentators end up loving it. Go figure.

Anyhow, Sepracor, the maker or Lunesta, decided that an open media system is more than it can take. Too bad for them, because ultimately I made the one mistake of culture jamming: through my efforts to critique corporate brands, I end up giving them even more attention than they deserve, and hence more “mind share.”

Hey Sepracor, didn’t you learn anything from PT Barnum, who said there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

This, too me, is what I have been fearing about the future of the Web, and particular for those of us who teach media literacy. So far there has been a “hands off” approach from advertisers when it come to us using their work as part of our teaching materials. Either the Fair Use provision has kept them away, or we’re too few to care about. But you know the saying, you have free speech as long as no one listens to you.

Or put differently, does a copyright violation happen when a deconstruction takes place in the forest?

For what it’s worth, this is what the take down notice said (click here to see the rest):
Continue reading

Education wants to be free

The Mitochondrial Vertigo blog is one of the few places I’ve found that is focusing attention on the scary takedown of In case you missed out, was a grassroots file sharing site for academics (formal and informal), so blokes like myself could post PDFs of important chapters for our students to read (and to share with others) without going through the hassle of copyright clearance, which is increasingly a huge DRM finger up the arse. Not surprisingly, it’s megatextbook publisher McMillian/McGraw-Hill–the Monsanto of academics–who took a page from the music industry to shut down this Temporary Autonomous Zone of exchange. Ironically, every bit of technology and science that enables Macmillan/McGraw-Hill to be a scholastic monopoly was probably developed in open learning environments. No doubt Macmillan/McGraw-Hill would like to run the educational Web like its own plantation, despite the free and open access labor at the foundation of its distribution platform.

(Hear Clay Shirky rhapsodize on the Internet’s “cognitive surplus,” the kind of thing that provided for free thinking folks like us.)

Anyhow, there is a larger drama at play, which is about the war of e-readers and who has the right to read what and under what conditions. As Mitochondrial Vertigo argues, we should pay attention to the battle between Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, both of which I find to be rather scary devices when it come to books and copyright. This is part of a bigger war over the future of the Net, which every concerned citizen should get caught up on by reading Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (you can download the book for free here).

Here’s a choice quote from Mitochondrial Vertigo:

“The minds of the future lie within the Kindle v iPad wars, the habits of our thinking, our cups of coffee, and our licking of the page turning. The nice thing about technology, it always does MORE, it lets not only the cat, but its fleas and its dreams out of the bag. As Macmillan attacks file sharing in order to secure as much leverage as it can in its battle with Kindle and Amazon, the frayed hem edge of our complexity is showing. We must also reflect upon the fact that ‘We demand more content, faster (cheaper)!’ is what is behind many of our complaints when file-sharing is restricted, a demand worth inspecting.”

On this last point (demanding more faster and cheaper), it may be the case we want all our information/entertainment to be free and that has depended on a trade-off to allow ad creep into the vestibules of our lives. The alternative, DRM, makes pimping my eyeballs the better deal. Selling out screenspace to advertising is most certainly a Faustian pact, and it’s naive to assume that everything should be free just because we want it to be that way. On the other hand, as an old school punk, I feel like a barter economy keeps our culture honest. I’m never going to make money on my books anyways. What’s important is performance–what Radiohead and other rock bands have finally figured out as they watched their corporate overlords sue fans to recoup discretionary cocaine funds.

The money thing will have to be worked out, one way or another. Meanwhile, as long as I can show up and teach, and at the end of the day go home to eat a fresh meal and sleep in a warm bed, I’m happy. But for that we need public education–another seemingly lost cause these days. Quite honestly, my own profession is collapsing like all others, and it’s hard for me to foresee who will pay for education when growing food will increasingly become a priority. As a brown thumb, I wonder if being an intellectual will be relevant in the future. I can only hope.

Lessig on Colbert

I just started reading Lessig’s Remix, perhaps the most accessible of his books. He makes a great comparison between “read only” versus “read/write” culture. Colbert does a great job of playing devil’s advocate. Lessig seems a little flustered. I’m not sure why, he must know it’s a put-on.

Here is a dance remix of the interview.

Downloading the public domain

James Boyle has a written an important book, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, which you can also download for free from his site. He has the following intriguing proposition:

In the tradition of the environmental movement, which first invented and then sought to protect something called “the environment,” Boyle hopes that we can first understand and then protect the public domain – the ecological center of the “information environment.”

I’m in the process of trying to link network media practices with the environment. In other words, is there an ecological architecture behind new media practices that can be made more evident in order to encourage new business practices? Part of which means open systems and sharing. As the following snip from his Website attests, Boyle believes you can give something away and sell it simultaneously. True enough. I often prefer a book as opposed to a PDF, so usually after reviewing a PDF of a book, and I like it, I’ll buy it. Also, as a college professor (wow, it sounds weird saying that), I find copyright restrictions an unbearably difficult barrier for exposing students to a lot of material that, if forced to make them buy, I usually won’t, especially considering the onerous pricing of textbooks.

You might wonder why I didn’t go this route with my own book. It was my sincere desire to publish with a the Creative Commons license, but the publisher didn’t understand the concept (it was hard enough to get the copyright in my name as opposed to the publisher). In the future, I hope to publish using Creative Commons. Boyle argues the benefits below.

Questions from Authors.. | The Public Domain |:

[For] an academic who wants to write a book that isn’t directly aimed at the mass market, (The Particle Physics Diet, How to Use the Secrets of Behavioral Economics to Improve your Golf Game, Secret Dating Strategies of Accountants etc.) but which has substantial potential reach in lots of different types of audience — academic and lay — the CC license might well be the best strategy in terms of sales. There the key thing is reaching your potential readers when you don’t know exactly who or where they are. And free (potentially viral) distribution does that extremely well. Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks is a nice example of this phenomenon. It turns out that many more people than one would imagine are fascinated by the economic characteristics of networks, peer production and so on.

What use is intellectual property on a dead planet?

If nature evolves based on open source and networked architecture, then it makes sense that our media should do so as well. The following article makes the argument more acute: climate change media should be open for all educational purposes. I couldn’t agree more. (I recommend clicking through and reading the whole article.)

P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » What use is intellectual property on a dead planet?:

Films and television programmes about climate change should be made freely available beyond their initial broadcast, argues Nalaka Gunawardene.

Films and television programmes about climate change should be designated a ‘copyright free zone’.

This was the call made by broadcasters and independent film-makers at an Asian media workshop held in Tokyo last month (October).

For years, broadcasters have dutifully reported on evolving scientific and political aspects of climate change. They have also made or carried excellent documentaries analysing causes of, and solutions to, the problem. But these are often not widely available, because of tight copyright restrictions.

Limited distribution

Most media companies hang on to their products for years, sometimes long after they have recovered their full investment.

Even when film-makers or producers themselves want their creations to circulate beyond broadcasts, company policies get in the way. In large broadcast or film production companies, lawyers and accountants — not journalists or producers — decide how and where content is distributed.

It isn’t just climate-related films that are locked up with copyright restrictions. Every year, hundreds of television programmes or video films — many supported by public, corporate or philanthropic funds — are made on a variety of development and conservation topics.

These are typically aired once, twice or at best a few times and then relegated to a shelf somewhere. A few may be released on DVD or adapted for online use. But the majority goes into archival ‘black holes’, from where they might never emerge again.

Yet most of these films have a long shelf life and could serve multiple secondary uses outside the broadcast industry.

Thanks Peter!

Google being evil

I suggest you go and read the full post from Palms Out who are claiming that Google is removing posts from Blogger (which it owns) that contain copyright violations in the form of song files. Scary.

Palms Out Sounds:

For all of you who are wondering what has happened with Remix Sunday, let me offer a brief explanation:

Google, the IFPI & the RIAA have begun a campaign against all the music blogs hosted on – especially high profile blogs, like Palms Out.

This first started a couple of months ago, but only hit Palms Out about a month ago.

Without warning, Google removed three old posts from the blog, and offered no explanation. They then followed by removing Remix Sunday 131, and 132- and offered a brief explanation. Keep in mind, there is no actual copyrighted content uploaded by Palms Out that is hosted on any of Google’s servers, only hyperlinks.

(Thanks Peter!)

Pirate’s dilemma redux

I think this video does a better job of explaining the Pirate’s Dilemma than the book. The material lends itself to an audiovisual medium, and can spread more rapidly via the net. I’m for the ideas in the book, but I found it a little too superficial and lacking in some good, wholesome theory. But I’m down with the concept, so let the video proliferate and multiply!

No worries AP, we don’t need your stickin’ content


Old media always goes to war with the new. So the following news is hardly surprising. Too bad for AP. They have no idea what they will be missing, which is a ringside seat to the next media revolution.

AP vs Bloggers: The Mainstream Media Declares War on Blogs:

But lets look a little deeper here, because this isn’t a case of one small media company taking on blogs, this is nearly the entire print media, and for good measure television and radio as well. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which is the vast majority of all mainstream media outlets. Through AP the mainstream media has declared war on blogging, and established law isn’t going to stop them trying to milk every last cent they can from bloggers who may not know any better, and like the music and movie industry before them, they will attempt to pick off blogs one by one with legal threats. Internecine warfare perhaps?

Could it also be the last throws of an empire of news exclusivity that stands on the precipice of defeat? Perhaps not into oblivion in a Battle of the Bulge, but more along the lines of the The Second Battle of the Somme? I don’t subscribe to the mainstream media will die meme that is often a popular call in some blogging circles, but there’s little doubt, proven by evidence that the mainstream media has entered a period of contraction in the English speaking world, a contraction of which at the moment knows no end.


When a copy infringement falls in the Web forest, does it make a sound? Now it does, thanks to YouTomb, which tracks YouTube take-downs, kinda like an info control zeitgeist reader. There’s even a stats page to monitor the biggest control freaks.


YouTomb is a research project of MIT Free Culture. The purpose of the project is to investigate what kind of videos are subject to takedown notices due to allegations of copyright infringement with particular emphasis on those for which the takedown may be mistaken. Although our initial focus is on videos hosted by YouTube, we are interested in other video collections as well.

The mother of intervention

Zappa pixelated

In Germany the Zappa estate is suing the Arf Society– producers of Zappanale, a three day tribute festival that features cover bands and “Zappa-esque rock”– for trademark infringement. Spiegel Online sums up the paradox:
Mother of Intervention: Zappa Festival Defends Itself from … Zappa – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News:

In the end, it all depends on how you define Frank Zappa. Either the outspoken rock legend was a beacon of freedom and independence belonging to all who hoped for a better political future free from pervasive government interference or he was an awe-inspiringly multifaceted musician whose unique sound and one-of-a-kind presentation is what keeps people listening today.

RIAA losing culture war, gets more sociopathic


OK, let’s get one thing straight, the RIAA represents the true counterculture. They have their heads so far up their paradigmatic arse that they are now promoting shrill profiling that equates music piracy sd being a gateway to terrorism. With this kind of logic, half the population will end up in Guantanamo Bay. See the video linked below and pity the fools.

RIAA: Murderers, Terrorists, And Other Criminal Minds May Be Graduating To Pirating Music:

Yesterday the RIAA-produced video In Trial, which covers the societal dangers of music piracy, made its way out to torrent sites, and among its contents are instructions on how to get RIAA investigators qualified as expert witnesses, a guide to identifying pirated CDs, and the above bit, about the links between people who profit from pirated music and people who deal weapons, populate terror cells, and murder their fellow man for sport. Surely I’m not the only person who thinks that this particular bit on the “kill ’em all” impulses of miscreants dealing in fifth-generation copies of Graduation would hit home a little more effectively if it were accompanied by a bangin’ soundtrack?

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