Redefining Property: Lessons from American History

Jack Valenti, former head of the MPAA E. N. Elliott

Jack Valenti: "We are facing a very new and a very troubling assault on our fiscal security, on our very economic life and we are facing it from a thing called the video cassette recorder and its necessary companion called the blank tape." [1]

E. N. Elliott: "(W)itness...the existence of the 'underground railroad,' and of a party in the North organized for the express purpose of robbing the citizens of the Southern States of their property...." [2]

Why do discussions of Free Culture trigger such strong emotional response?

People hold very strongly to ideas about the meaning of property. Jill Lepore, in a New Yorker Article called "The Politics of Death" (Nov. 30, 2009, p. 62) writes:

life, liberty, and property are the rights that Americans talk about, and fight over....Taking a long view of American history, it's possible to argue that each of these rights has led to a fracture in the body politic, a dispute in which there seemed no room for compromise. ...a swirl of disputed ideas have gathered around each of these contested rights. But, from one era to the next, the ideas have been different.

Lepore's article concerns itself primarily with "life" politics: " the past half century, Americans have been fighting over the right to life." But immediately prior to that statement lies this rich, enlightening paragraph about historic changes in Americans' ideas about property:

Copying Is Not Theft (Minute Meme #1)

Flattr this

Copying Is Not Theft is the first meme in our Minute Memes series and was supported by a grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Animation, lyrics, and tune by Nina Paley. Music arranged by Nik Phelps; vocals by Connie Champagne. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In addition to YouTube, we've also uploaded it to the Internet Archive, where you can not only play it but also download the entire video in various formats:

Just The Music:



Other Arrangements

Before we released this final version, we put up a draft version with a "scratch" track in which Nina Paley herself sang the tune, and asked others to do their own arrangements. The comments below link to some of the responses. The remixing doesn't have to stop now, of course. In free culture, there's no such thing as "a final version", there's only "our final version" — just because it's final for us doesn't mean it's final for you. Any interested musicians/sound designers can re-release the whole thing with their own tracks and appropriate credits. Just add and remove sound credits as needed. The fonts are Gill Sans and Gill Sans Ultra Bold. Be sure to keep the CC-BY-SA symbols on all the credits — you'll be releasing your modifications under the same license.

Copying is not theft. Stealing a thing leaves one less left Copying it makes one thing more; that's what copying's for. Copying is not theft. If I copy yours you have it too One for me and one for you That's what copies can do If I steal your bicycle you have to take the bus, but if I just copy it there's one for each of us! Making more of a thing, that is what we call "copying" Sharing ideas with everyone That's why copying is FUN!

This track is 90 (or 180) beats per minute. The animation is 24 frames per second, with one beat every 8 frames.

There's a great video of Nina Paley singing the song at a DIY conference — maybe worth watching to get a sense of how she hears the song in her head:

A real standout among the arrangements is this punk-surrealist remash by Norman Szabo:

copybunny floats in the clouds


Free Culture, Book Freedom: Prof. Gabriella Coleman of NYU

Professor Gabriella Coleman

Over the last couple of years, book piracy has gone from a furtive, limited activity to something approaching a political movement.

If you're not familiar with what's been going on in the world of online book sharing, or how it relates to the larger free culture movement, there are two recent interviews with Prof. Gabriella Coleman of New York University worth listening to:

In the Radio Berkman interview, listen especially for the section starting at 4:40:

"Digital piracy online has produced a commons. I mean let's talk about book piracy today. It is unbelievable, the amount of books being shared, combined with, in the case of aaaarg, discussion. There's actually a community. But it's illegal, full on, right? And so there's definitely this legal commons and illegal commons, and I do think it's important to recognize the ... similarities and differences. In some ways, the pirate commons is valuable precisely because of its transgression, and its message that sometimes the law is overbearing, and legal solutions, even lauadable ones like Creative Commons, are not simply enough. And so from my ... more activist perspective, I think a healthy ecology has both legal and illegal ... modes of organizing, as opposed to playing a politics of the 'authentic' versus 'inauthentic' modes of sharing."


Subscribe to RSS