Archive for the ‘copyright’ Category

copyright and surrealism/dadaism

October 6, 2007

Some of my recent research was about the effect of digital copyright laws on the practice of dadaist photomontage. That involves appropriating images, often from popular culture, then juxtaposing these images with other images and/or text to create new meanings. Often those new meanings are satirical, but there are no rules about that. Needless to say, on image-sharing web sites this art form cannot be practiced. Yes you can do photomontage, but keep it to your own images and don’t enter into visual dialog with mass culture.

I was seeing that as one of the excesses of the digital copyright regime, but something has happened this week that makes me wonder if indeed those who I thought were fascist copyright freaks are not actually surrealist conceptual artists working with society as their canvas.

So what happened? The Canadian Mint has declared that it owns the words “one cent”, and it owns the image of that coin (also called a penny), and needs to be paid money for the use thereof. It has actually sent a bill for over $47,000 to the OneCentNow campaign, which is a good start. Think of the scope of this one: all the coinage of all countries using decimal currency could fall under this copyright claim, and every time anyone advertises the price of their goods they should pay a royalty to the Canadian Mint, and so on. And it is cheap at the price, compared to what happened to Jammie Thomas over her music downloads.

I’m so glad my name is not Penny.

That’s my two cents worth anyway (uh oh).


Cultural dialog – how to get away with it.

September 27, 2007

There’s a fun page over at The Adventures of Accordion Guy, about scenes from The Simpsons and the movies that they parody. It isn’t complete, and as the titles of the movies aren’t listed yet the source can be a bit obscure. But the visual connection comes across straight away. Down in the comments, someone has noted that Citizen Kane is the movie most often parodied, to the extent that almost the whole thing could be assembled from clips of The Simpsons. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that if I want to include Bart or Lisa, or any Simpson’s character, in an artwork I can’t. I actually do want to use Nelson, saying har-har and pointing, and Mr Burns would come in handy at times.

Jonathan Lethem describes the artist’s predicament well in an interview in Salon

I could write a whole book detailing the plot of a “Simpsons” episode, describing Homer’s yellow skin and protuberant eyes, and no one would ever be able to block my choice as an artist there, or make it too expensive for me to do it. But if a visual artist or a filmmaker or a digital montage maker tried to capture that image, which is just part of a visual language that is floating around, they don’t have my freedom.

How to get away with it: a) work for a Hollywood studio b) format shift in such a way that it is difficult for copyright owners to get you. Adapt a film clip to a cartoon, adapt a cartoon to a novel. But if you want to simply speak the language of the culture around you, even just to provide context and background, the price is beyond reach.

Edit: Dario says this content comes from a Spanish site called and has asked me to give credit to them:

Edit: I so wish I could read Spanish. That site looks so good – apart from the usual copyright takedowns from YouTube. How long will it take for Hollywood to learn that this promotes their stuff?

permission culture

July 26, 2007

I’m not sure if people are able to comment yet. I’m working on that bug, which I believe has something to do with Edublogs’ need to counter a recent deluge of comment spam.

However, I am aware that I need to talk more about what “permission culture” is and why it matters.

It hinges on a discursive shift that has recently taken place in relation to copyright. Originally copyright was enacted to encourage the publication of creative works. However, copyright term has been repeatedly extended, and there is a real prospect that it may become effectively permanent. The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 has criminalised much of what once was cultural dialogue (this is one of the reasons I write this blog). So-called “Free Trade Agreements” are extending US intellectual property (IP) law to many other jurisdictions throughout the world – sometimes even without the protections the USA itself has (e.g. South Korea was recently forced to give up fair use).

The sum of these things has led to stifling of innovation, creating situations where for example “the lawyers decide what’s allowed in a film” (Lessig, 2001, p4) and “creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators of the past” (Lessig, 2004). I believe that it was in one of Lessig’s works that I first saw the term “permission culture”, describing this situation.

This is reminiscent of Derrida’s satirically imagined world (Striphas and McLeod, 2006, p128):

where every idea or nuanced turn of phrase is private property, where ownership of a cultural text is divided up and assigned to various stockholders.

The opposite of permission culture is free culture. Lessig has written a book about that. As in a free market, a free culture does not mean that nothing has a price, or that people shouldn’t get paid. As Richard Stallman famously said in relation to the development of the Free Software Foundation, “it is free as in freedom, not free as in beer”.

My hope is that the paranoid bureacratic resposes to The War Against Terror (TWAT) as described in the two previous posts will, by their bizarre impracticality and institutionalised absurdism, actually end up helping to counter permission culture rather than adding to it. But then again, they might not…


Lessig, L. 2001. The Future of Ideas. New York: Random House.

Lessig, L. 2004. Free Culture – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. Penguin Press.

Striphas, T. and McLeod, K. 2006. Strategic Improprieties: Cultural Studies, The Everyday, and the Politics of Intellectual properties. Cultural Studies Vol. 20, Nos 2/3 March/May 2006, pp. 119/144. can be downloaded via