Sound and Vid, Wk 1: Response to Readings
plagiarism, appropriation, lifting, copying, stealing, riffing, capturing… la dee da.
Tbh, I’m slightly overwhelmed by all the things I want to say about the readings/videos we had to watch this week. I got a little into the idea of copying/replication in my ICM Wk 1 HW , so I was immediately intrigued by our selection of readings. So as a disclaimer, I’m not sure I’m going to get to everything that I want to say in here (nor say it as eloquently as I would like), but, I’ll try my darndest. So, outlined below are some of my major thoughts regarding the material:
1. Walter Benjamin and Art’s Aura
Much of the discussion surrounding copyright is predicated on this notion (and assumption, really) of art having this special position in our (western) society. Lethem argues that art exists as both something inalienable yet still able to be commodified. Of course, couldn’t help but think of Walter Benjamin’s essay, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ which I haven’t read in several years but do recall that it had a lot to do the belief that art has a certain aura that imbues it with mystical properties and revered status. I think a lot of notions about the need to “protect” certain artistic pieces from pirating, remixing and the like comes from this notion of art as a supernatural creation. People find accusations of plagiarism troubling because it puts into question philosophical notions of artistic integrity and the “creative genius.” What’s interesting to me is the specific historical, political, cultural context that copyright infringement really became an issue AKA rise and maturation of capitalism. As mentioned in Drew Christie’s “Allergy to Originality” piece, originality didn’t become a concept until the late 18th century. As art became seen increasingly as a commodity and a signifier of prestige (cue: Bourdieu’s concept of Cultural Capital) and we just became obsessed with generating profit from anything that we could, of course people are going to eke out as much money as they can from an object or event. So while Disney gorged himself on classic fairy tales, those iterations are for that corporation’s profit and their’s alone.
Still, worth mentioning that traditionally in other societies around the world, art did not occupy such a prestigious position. There’s some very interesting reading out there regarding intellectual property rights and commodification of Australian Aboriginal art, an art form that has only recently become commercialized (Fred Myers is an Anthro Dept. Prof at NYU and his book, Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art is what I’m referring to).
A piece of art’s aura extends to its creator, who is often given an almost god-like appraisal. These artists become a way through which the public can both humanize an artistic creation, but also deify its creator. This also gets into our (Western) obsession with individuality, divine invention while sidelining more historically-accurate narratives of communal efforts and workshop productions. I think we like the story of the lone wolf artist because we can empathize and try to emulate that type of effort. Every time they mentioned Bob Dylan’s name in these pieces, this is what popped into my brain.
3. “Imperial Plagiarism” and white boyz stealing and profiting
On thing I found troubling about this pro-pirating, etc. rhetoric that was especially pervasive in the Lethem and Ferguson pieces was that many times these instances of “borrowing” occur in the form of a person in a position of privilege taking from those without, and then receiving credit and financial renumeration. This subject also gets touched on in the “On the Rights of Molotov Man” piece, as one artist notes, “Who owns the rights to this man’s struggle?” and Meiselas specifically notes that the painting diminishes the subject’s act of defiance. Our society casts the artist (often white, often male) as prophet and genius, even while they are blatantly stealing/co-opting the narratives and styles of minorities. Amandla Sternberg’s great video does a solid job at explaining this phenomenon and provides plenty of examples. But suffice to say, there’s a long history of people in positions of power cribbing from sources of compromised people and making money off of it. I think this is also based in Western ideals of racial bias and the industry’s notion of how we can make things more consumable to a racial majority.
4. Jungian ideas of archetypes
Again, reaching back to some long ago reading, but didn’t Jung have notions about a shared cultural knowledge in our DNA? That certain archetypes exist and get passed on from generation? Certainly we can look at Joseph Campbell’s Hero Cycle and note how many tales follow a similar pattern, or even how certain folk tales have the exact same plot. Just look at the myth of Cupid and Psyche and compare it to the fairy tales East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Beauty and the Beast. See any familiarities?
5. Virality, meme-ification, new forms of profit-making
So as new forms of (social) media proliferate, of course people are finding new ways of making money off of them, while also making moves to protect their “intellectual” property. A recent case that exemplifies this most interestingly was the Wheezing Duck vine. Vice did an interview with the guy who made the video and they specifically get into how the video went viral because someone else copied it. A quick excerpt:
The video really went viral after a guy named Charlie Murphy uploaded to Vine. Have you contacted him? What’s the deal there?
I’ve never done anything like this before, but I expected it to be stolen. Charlie has made people so interested in the video, so I can’t be angry about that. But I hope he remembers who the original owner is. It was posted without permission from me and Viral Hog.
So, are you trying to get him to take his copy of the video down?
I understand Viral Hog has reached out to him. They asked me if they should get the video removed or if I wanted Charlie’s version on the internet. We came to the conclusion that keeping it online was the best thing for the video.
When I first read this I was like, dude, what is Viral Hog? Woah, they have found a market for distributing and licensing viral videos. This is a thing. This is the world we live in. Film a video of wheezing ducks and suddenly that’s protected property.
There was also recently a hub bub about Internet star comedian THE FAT JEW and how he was accused of plagiarism for reposting content to his social media accounts without proper attribution. Comics get fired up about that shit. Look! Forbes even wrote an article entitled, “The Fat Jew, Plagiarism and Copyright Law”. According to my friend who just started following him on Instagram, he now properly cites his sources.
6. lastly –
did ya see The New inquiry’s latest issue (.pdf), Counterfeit? The content fits in well to this discussion.