Copywrong

11 03 2012

There was a time when artists mixed their own paints and jealously guarded the secret of their pigments. Masters were know for their trademark shades of white or green. It seems odd now to think that someone could claim a color and not allow anyone else to use it, but this was also the prerogative of royalty. Kings came down hard on anyone who tried to get away with using or selling their distinctive shade of blue or purple.

Long before the digital revolution, the Dadaists started assembling bits and pieces of found objects, text and printed images, to create something new, something that made its own statement. As technology has advanced, as the number of images and quantity of audio bombarding us has increased, so has the use of collage and remixing. In the bubbling, rich ferment of the Internet, artists, musicians and fans share and remix, morphing songs, ripping and recasting clips of video, playing with techniques and memes.

Art has gone to a meta-level. The new pigments are pictures themselves; instead of choosing and blending colors, the artist is choosing and blending iconic images. The new notes and scales are songs themselves, and the instrument they are played on is the computer. Our culture has become the palette. It is a fascinating reinterpretation of what music is, what art is, what creativity is, a natural consequence of our media-soaked lives.

Copyright laws walk a fine line, allowing certain leeway for this creativity.  Occasionally, an artist will be made an example of.  It is a pointless and archaic exercise. Trying to enforce copyright with these artists of collage, remixing and sampling makes about as much sense as trying to copyright Van Dyke brown, corduroy, or the key of C.

The defiant persistence of innumerable artists and Internet creators are forcing further redefinitions of copyright and trademark. It’s risky business.   Money and power create tyrants, and these tyrannosaurids will from time to time try to reassert their dominion over Mouse or Hit.

But artists have always been ready and willing to take chances.  Ultimately something like Creative Commons must replace the notion of copyright.

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One response

16 03 2012
Terri Bruce

Malcolm Gladwell had a piece on this a few years back (I just finished reading “What the Dog Saw” in which he reprinted the artice) that really made me think. The underlying premise of his argument was the tug of war between “new words to describe old ideas” and “old words to describe new ideas.” Apparently current copyright law protects the former; the latter is illegal. But it sort of seems to me that it would make more sense, as you argue, that the latter should be protected, too (or perhaps even ‘instead of’). Interesting!

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