Author: Karl Fogel

Seder-Masochism Work-in-Progress Screening PosterThursday, April 21st, 7:30pm at IFC Center in New York City (323 6th Ave)

Work-in-Progress screening of “Seder-Masochism”, the upcoming new film by Question Copyright Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley.

Q&A to follow.

Advance ticket purchase required.

 This is not the finished filmThis is about 40 minutes of in-progress work — the core musical scenes, featuring, in Nina’s words, “Goats! Egypt! Plagues! Death! Idols! Commandments! Unsubtle phallic imagery! …and MORE!”  (And free matzoh.)  Q&A with Nina Paley will follow the screening.

Props to GKIDS for arranging this event!

See the announcement on Nina’s blog for more about the film, including a great set of sample stills and animations.

 

 

 

If you like Nina Paley’s work, and you like the fact that she supports her audience’s freedom to share, please consider donating to to the Artist-in-Residence Working Fund.  QuestionCopyright.org is a 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax-deductible in the U.S.

 

 

IdeasBy far the most popular article on this site (over half a million views now and counting) is The Surprising History of Copyright and the Promise of a Post-Copyright World.  Courtesy of Antonín Houska, it is now available in Czech (česky): Překvapivá historie copyrightu a příslib světa po něm.

Thank you, Antonín!

It’s also been translated into Chinese, Polish, Latvian, and Italian.  We’re very grateful to all the translators; it’s a lot of work for a piece of that length.  But the existence of these translations should also serve as a reminder of the vast amount of material in the world that would be translated if it weren’t restricted by copyright monopolies — a topic we’ve covered in depth before.

Happy New Year, everyone.  Let’s try to have more freedom in 2016 than we did in 2015.

This 18-minute talk is by far the best explanation I’ve seen yet of why you should question copyright.

In the last few years, I’ve watched QCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley refine her message about the harm of copyright and permission culture. Now it’s the most direct and most effective it’s ever been. If you want just one video to show people to explain to them what this movement is about, let this be the one. Nina tells an appreciative audience why she had to set her mind free in order to make art, and shows some wonderful clips from her next film Seder-Masochism — a film that simply couldn’t be made within the permission culture that Nina diagnoses so eloquently:



Happy Birthday cupcake.We’ve written about the Happy Birthday lawsuit here before.  Now it seems the case has reached a turning point — a “smoking gun” has been found, thanks to research in the files of the pro-monopoly side, Warner/Chappell: a copy of the “Happy Birthday” lyrics from 1922, that is, before the present-day copyright horizon.

The story (courtesy of Hollywood Reporter) is pretty fascinating in itself, but let’s go to town on the amazing claim Warner/Chappell seems to be making in response to this new discovery.  After all, what is QuestionCopyright.org for, if not going to town on the most absurd claims of the monopoly industry?

What Warner/Chapell seems to be saying is that even if it were found that the song lyrics existed in their current form in 1922 — that is, earlier than the current “earliest copyright horizon” — the fact that the 1922 copy of those lyrics might have been, at that time, a possible copyright infringement (which it obviously wasn’t, but we’ll leave that aside in order to grant the widest possible latitude to Warner/Chapell’s argument, for our own entertainment if nothing else) means that maybe the copyrights claimed later in 1935 are somehow still valid.  Or something?

But the mere existence of a version of a work before the horizon means that, even if that copy were in an copyright-infringing state at the time, whatever copyright it was infringing then must, clearly, have expired by now.  Because otherwise, the copyright horizon is not really a copyright horizon.  Unless you live in a world where time runs backwards and sideways, as Warner/Chapell perhaps does.

What this lawsuit really shows is what we’ve been arguing is the problem with broad information monopoly rights in general: once the state creates a monopoly, it creates a monopolist who owns it — or in this case imagines themselves to own it — and that monopolist will fight to the bitter end to keep it, against all reason and all evidence.  There is normally no representative of the public who has as clear and focused an interest in a given monopoly as its putative owner does; we just got lucky in this case that a filmmaker decided to take an interest in this one song.

Who will stand up for all the other songs?

Nina PaleyQCO Artist-in-Residence Nina Paley did an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit today, for “Fair Use” Week:

“Cartoonist, animator, and activist Nina Paley here to talk about making art and fair use!”

She was joined by lawyer Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge.

My favorite exchange from the AMA:

Q: Hi Nina! Big fan of Sita Sings the Blues. As you may probably be aware, the right-wing moral policing is at an all time high in India. What are your thoughts on censorship and its implications on artists?

A: Censorship: all the more reason to keep my work Free, open and decentralized. Centralized distribution is easy to censor. Decentralized distribution is impossible to censor.

Q: Is there such a thing as good censorship?

A: http://mimiandeunice.com/2011/06/07/censorship-vs-copyright/

See the full AMA here.

Snowdrift.coop logo.Snowdrift.coop has been quietly building a platform for sustainably supporting libre digital works — “a matching patronage system funding freely-licensed works”, in their words.  Snowdrift is trying something different: instead of the all-or-nothing, one-time lump sum style of funding that gets lots of projects out of the starting gate but doesn’t stay with them as they grow, Snowdrift has developed a peer-matched patronage model in which people say “I’ll give a certain amount more for every person who joins me in funding this project, up my personal limit”.  See their illustrated introduction for an overview, or their detailed explanation.

Snowdrift.coop is now very close to launch, and they’ve been running a funding campaign to get the last pieces put in place.  They’ve received generous support from Linux Fund and Aleph Objects, among others (I just donated $50 myself).  If you think a sustainable funding platform for free/libre digital works is a good idea — and I’m betting you probably do, if you’re here reading this — then please donate to the Snowdrift.coop launch campaign today (and select a donation reward, including customized Snowdrift snow gear at a high enough donation level).

Yes, Snowdrift is an experiment, but it’s a good idea and has the chance to create a new world of sustainable crowdfunding for libre works.  If it succeeds, we all win.

Here’s that donation page again.

Happy New Year!

Internet Archive logo.For the remainder of 2014 — just a few hours, depending on your time zone — a supporter is matching donations to the Internet Archive at 2-to-1.  If you give $50, that’s $150 total for the Archive.

Please donate now.  The Internet Archive saves the Internet… literally!  From founder Brewster Kahle’s end-of-year message:

I’ve always believed in libraries. The digital world is no different. We need a library for the digital generation. A place we can all go to learn and explore.

 

Our children will learn from whatever is accessible to them. As parents, teachers and librarians, we should put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. At the Internet Archive we are striving to make our cultural treasures accessible to everyone. Forever.

 

Technologically—we now have the possibility of doing this–making knowledge massively accessible.

 

At the Internet Archive, we’ve preserved 430 billion web pages. People download 20 million books on our site each month. We get more visitors in a year than most libraries do in a lifetime. The key is to keep improving—and to keep it free. That’s where you can help us.

 

The Internet Archive is a non-profit library built on trust. We don’t run ads. We don’t sell your personal information—in fact, to protect your privacy we don’t even save your IP address. But we still need to pay for servers, staff and bandwidth.

I just gave $100, resulting in $300 for the Internet Archive.  Please make me look cheap!

FSCONS 2014 logoFSCONS 2014 in Göteborg, Sweden is wonderful: a whole conference of people deeply committed to freedom and actively implementing it.

My keynote talk at 2pm today is entitled “Invisible Monopolies and the Language of Freedom”; clicking that link will take you to the slides.

Among other things, I’ll be talking about the origins and history of copyright, about censorship of translations, about the words we use, about the Declared-Value System, and of course about the BookLiberator (which you can buy from our online store or build yourself).

That’s all for now.  Back to the conference!

 

globeQuestion Copyright recently signed on to an open letter to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), calling on them to withdraw the counterproductive model licenses they have been promoting for use in publishing research articles.  (STM has written a response, but unfortunately it does not seriously address the very real issues raised in the original letter.)

To understand the problem with STM’s model licenses, you need to understand the problem of “license proliferation”.  License proliferation is the phenomenon of institutions coming up with their own slightly different — or sometimes significantly different — copyright licenses, each with its own idiosyncratic terminology and conditions.  The problem with this is that if everyone distributes work under a custom license, no one can really re-use or redistribute anyone’s works in practice (even when redistribution is the licensor’s explicit goal), because it takes too much time to read and evaluate all those different licenses.  Furthermore,  such licenses are often not compatible with each other, which makes remixing difficult or impossible.

Creative Commons came along and basically solved this problem years ago.  They offer a very small set of easily comprehensible, professionally drafted licenses, several of which are genuine Free Culture licenses and entirely suitable for scholarly publishing.  STM should just recommend that research articles be published under those licenses.  There is no need for this new set of model licenses — that just creates a problem for everyone.  Creative Commons already solved this; STM should not help unsolve it.

The original letter (which has 77 signatories and counting) explains this very well:

The Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers has recently released a set of model licenses for research articles. In their current formulation, these licenses would limit the use, reuse and exploitation of research. They would make it difficult, confusing or impossible to combine these research outputs with other public resources and sources of knowledge to the benefit of both science and society. There are many issues with these licenses, but the most important is that they are not compatible with any of the globally used Creative Commons licenses. For this reason, we call on the STM Association to withdraw them and commit to working within the Creative Commons framework.

Think of the Creative Commons licenses as an immune response to the disease of current U.S. and international copyright laws.  Those laws are maximally restrictive by default, and lead, as diseases often do, to very bad consequences.  By using Creative Commons licenses, particularly the fully-freedom-compatible ones, you can ensure that you and your works are never part of the problem: you will not transmit the disease to others.

If the CC licenses are an immune response, then STM’s suggestion that different, special licenses are somehow necessary for scholarly publishing is an allergic response.  Like many allergic responses, if it continues unchecked, it can grow to be as bad as the original disease.

A drawing on an artist.  How recursive.There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Crooked Timber in response to a an article by Henry Farrell about Astra Taylor’s book The People’s Platform.

But our post here is just about one great comment from that discussion.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that our post here is one great comment from that discussion, because I can’t think of any better way to say what Clay Shirky said in his comment than the way he said it.

So, since we’re always yammering on about the “permission culture” and how problematic it is, I thought, what the heck, let’s just take a chance and publish Clay Shirky’s comment as an article without asking him first.  If he’s unhappy about it, we’ll take it down, of course, but my guess is that Clay would agree that his spot-on point about the economic inevitability, throughout history, of the “struggling artist” deserves wider attention:

I’ve yet to read the book (getting it now, on your rec, Henry), so I’ll confine myself to reacting to your writing here, starting with your framing of the question: “If there isn’t an economic model for producing culture in some kind of self-sustaining way, will it get produced?”

 

To which the answer is that of course it will get produced. Culture always gets produced, by definition. You can’t have a group of humans living together who don’t produce some artifacts and behaviors that constitute their culture, including cultures who not only don’t have professional artists, they don’t have the concept of money.

 

Since this answer borders on the tautological, I think that this can’t be what you meant, so I will substitute what I think the question behind that observation is (and you’ll tell me if I’m wrong): If the marketplace that forms around cultural production does not produce, on average, a living wage for the producers of that culture, shouldn’t we expect cultural impoverishment to flow outwards from the impoverishment of the individual artists?

 

Now part of that answer comes down to personal taste — in the same way Katie Roiphe argues that feminism, as practiced, has ruined the novel, as produced, it would be possible to prefer the art of the ’70s to today’s, and to link that to the ways that, say, the Talking Heads or Robert Wilson’s Byrd Hoffman folks could support themselves in a way that isn’t possible today, and that these circumstances led to art you prefer. (Dave Hickey often advances just this argument.) There’s no real counter-argument, given the lack of taste accountants.

 

But part of that question is purely economic, and from my point of view, understanding the economics of cultural production comes down to a single home truth: more people want to make things than other people want the things those first people have made.

 

Always. This is always true. The economy where an artist couldn’t make a killing but could make a living has never existed. Being a working artist is such a desirable state that people are willing to endure penury and suffering for a shot at the big time. The hazing rituals of rejection letters, pawned instruments, and shows closing out of town simply reduced the pool of creators to the point where it looked like supply and demand were more in balance than today. This illusion could only be sustained by ignoring the vast majority of people who wanted to do that work but abandoned hope early and left not public trace of their aspirations.

 

What the internet does is to decouple fame and fortune*, so that the cadre of people who make things no longer need to ask anyone for help or permission before making those self-same things public. And the resulting flood of public work has revealed that there are many more talented people around than were surfaced when highlighting the work of a young artist entailed significant financial risk on the part of the people who could reach an audience. Now, we makers can reach the audience more directly.

 

90% of what we make is crap, as has been long noted, but the increased volume and increasingly sophisticated filters mean that the good stuff can be plucked from the crap without subjecting the average viewer to the average quality work. (This is also the answer to Freddie’s question as to what will replace the old model, which is “This. You’re living in the replacement of the old model.”)

 

And the massively increased denominator of available work means the numerator of cultural spending is spread much more thinly. A handful of stars still do well — some, who produce physical objects or live performances, are doing better than ever — but the pool of people who can share our work for no money, or make a little on the side, has increased so vastly that there is no comparison between the pool of people showing their work in public in the 1970s vs. now.

 

It is a category error to assume that there has always been some moderately-sized group of creators who are talented but not destined for stardom, and in the old days those people did OK while today they are immiserated.

 

Many of the people lamenting not being able to make a living from their work today would not have been able to under the old system either, but they imagine that they would have been among that system’s rare winners, rather than being part of the far larger group who was dissuaded from their dreams of being paid to create without ever having even been able to show their work in public.

 

There has never been a normal way in the US to be a self-supporting creator. The consolation prize today is that does not mean also not getting some of the public attention creators typically crave. The economic side-effect of the widely increased scope for that attention is the economic effects you are wondering about.

 

*http://www.shirky.com/writings/fame_vs_fortune.html

 

By the way, if you liked that, check out his later comment in the same discussion.  More Shirky, please!  (Commenters bobmcmanus and Trader Joe apparently agree.)