…copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation. (Jonathan Lethem)
I would be honored if someone actually saw fit to reuse anything I write in this blog. Re-publishing someones work or writing in subsequent explorations of a topic is nothing but a pure compliment in my mind. Even if used as a counterpoint to the message being expressed, significance of the original writing is established. One may argue that I clearly don’t expect to pay my rent with the sale of these blog posts (actually, on the contrary, I essentially pay a hefty tuition that indirectly contributes to my inspiration to write them). But what do those artists who are literally fed by their work feel? Strangely, I think they might feel quite like me.
I have rarely met an artist who finds no joy in what they create. Even an inkling of that sentiment would immediately turn me off to their work. So would art happen if people weren’t paid? Duh. However, proposing that all art be free is ridiculous…that would inhibit many artists who rely on income to create new art. But there are other perspectives that bridge the gap between total monetary copyright coverage and completely free and open-source art. Perhaps in reverting back to a form of John Locke’s well-defined “supply and demand”, Radiohead pay a great tribute to their countryman over 4 centuries later. Radiohead, though not the originators of the concept by any means, created the most visible rendition of “pay-what-you-wish” with their album In Rainbows. By giving people the choice they can define the market and the value of the music rather than being told that the new Justin Beiber album is worth as much as the Ozzy Osbourne record. Much of the music I “try out” I download for free.For In Rainbows, I paid 10£.
Lethem believes that when looked at from another angle, one that is very economically significant in this era, “copyright” is not a right, but a monopoly on use. Bilions of dollars are lost and gained based on formation or blocking of monopolies by large corporations and the government, respectively. Are artists monopolizing letters, words, sounds…by putting them in small combinations and saying don’t touch? Maybe it is a question of time. Current copyrights on art and music are measured in decades. How far does the radio-wave of Metallica’s baseline have to travel outside the atmosphere and through the galaxy before it becomes universal? Personally I think that it would be fair to give an artist 1 year of absolute copyright (no re-use at all without permission or royalty) before opening the work up for sampling and iteration. At no point would it be legal for anyone to sell the original unaltered work for profit without the artists permission. If everyone made their art pay-what-you-wish it would all sell for true market value OR everyone would take everything for free and we would have self-imposed communism…wouldn’t that be telling?!
Thanks Fred (Flintstone).
Enough scary stuff… The thought of loving an object or idea into its “real” form was well expressed by a character in the Velveteen Rabbit, perhaps one of my favorite childhood books. “Real isn’t how you are made…It’s a thing that happens to you…” ~old Skin Horse (Margery Williams) Fortunately, this concept was blatantly re-used and very slightly rephrased in one of my favorite “kids” movies, Toy Story. Similarly, pieces of art, even if viewed by a lover of the artist, grow on a person over time and have more and more significance as they begin to relate to the lives and experiences (and eventually memories) of the viewer. Many of the musical greats, like Dylan for example, seem to understand this and encourage their works to be spread and reused freely and in turn receive the honor of being a part of new art and ideas.
Regarding the documentation of human history, my opinion is rigid. A candid photo of a person acting in a significant cultural and political event belong to everyone. It is ridiculous to consider privatizing history. There seems to be plenty of censorship in the world already without documenters keeping more from the public. This becomes even more important when considering how influential media has proven in times of need or conflict. The photographer of the molotov man saw and understood a certain context to the man’s situation but others might have seen it entirely different at the same moment and location, and have clearly seen different perspectives after the fact. Only the subject of the photo could actually describe his intention…maybe he saw it like Banksy…