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Copyright Radical

Picture_48Check out this just-posted interview with Negativland's Mark Hosler on MNstories.

He says "You don't get total control" when you put a creative work out into the world. If you want total control, keep it in your bedroom.

I tend to agree. That's not to say you shouldn't get paid for your creative work. But if you put something out into the public consciousness, you've already surrendered how that work will be perceived, contextualized, and interpreted. Or even mentally remixed, you might say.

Our lives are mashups. The whole fucking world is a mashup.

For this reason I'm increasingly against the "No Derivatives" clause of Creative Commons licenses. Let me give you an example. A couple weeks ago I was feeling a bit dispirited about staying up all night doing web production. A piece of art by Hugh Macleod *almost* represented how I felt. It was a purple scribble that said "We can't go on like this." I made it red and changed it to say "I can't go on like this" and posted it on my blog.

While Hugh kindly says I can do whatever I want with his art for personal use, his CC license says "No derivatives." Those conflict. That license says I can look at his work, and remix it in my head, and create a personalized version of it, but I can't show anybody. I can't recreate or regurgitate my experience of Hugh's art - according to that CC license. Well, I say I can and I do.

This is particularly true in the digital age. Hugh is not losing anything (especially monetarily) by my personal remix of his art. You can say the same of using commercial music and images in your videos. If you're not trying to redistribute or profit from another's copyrighted work, why NOT include it in your creative palette?

The world around us is our creative palette. We have the right to express the world around us, as artists and human beings.


May 13, 2006 at 01:36 PM in Copyright | Permalink


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» On the shackles of Creative Commons no-derivatives licensing from loadedpun
When I graduated from University, my final project was a give away. I set up the back of my van and parked it in the gallery lot, wide open, and invited anyone who wished to take away my work. The culmination of five years of art making was gone within... [Read More]

Tracked on May 18, 2006 2:39:20 PM


hey, there's a lot of grey areas and it ain't my fault ;-)

Posted by: Hugh MacLeod at May 13, 2006 7:13:39 PM

haha... sorry to use you as an example.
it was really the first time i realized I wasn't completely on board with "No Derivatives." thanks for being cool about it. :-)

oh, i could go on and on about this, but it's saturday night.

Posted by: chuck at May 13, 2006 8:11:51 PM

Coincidently, I was scouring archive.org's video the other day looking for mashup fodder. After searching different keywords, I'd parse through the results and promptly remove any that were Non-Derivatives. Before even previewing the video.

I think we're very close to having 2 different, parallel tracks of cultural artifacts - the Open and the Closed.

The Open will become more interesting and useful, while the Closed will be ignored.

Posted by: Garrick Van Buren at May 13, 2006 9:57:24 PM

Yes, there's a lot of gray areas. I understand your frustration, especially when whatever you're making would just be perfect if only you could put this clip or song or image into it.

However, on the flip side, as someone licensing creative work under CC-licenses to other people to use freely, I can see why No-Derivs exists. It makes me very uneasy to think of my work being remixed or mashed up or whatever for political purposes or hate speech or something else I personally don't support. I think in those particular cases having the remixer contact the artist in question for permission is appropriate, even though having a CC-license is supposed to take the burden off the remixers.

It's a slippery slope I'm standing on, but speaking as a theoretical "little guy," it's a tough call to make. Guess it just means I haven't fully given myself to freeing culture!

Posted by: kathryn at May 14, 2006 1:28:35 AM

no, i totally understand that. that's the more reasonable position really. :-)
we don't want our creative babies to be abused out there in the wild wild world.

the thing is, the hate speech or political remixer *probably* wouldn't ask you anyway. really, it's just impossible to control. and the only way it's worth pursuing legally is if a commercial entity is using your work -- a scenario where i think you should have more control (compared to Negativland).

i also think that full cultural and creative freedom is worth some risk.

i also think, i'm still thinking about all this and might change my mind tomorrow.

Posted by: chuck at May 14, 2006 2:44:58 AM

Very interesting discussion.

Posted by: David at May 14, 2006 7:33:22 AM

Brand-appropriate and culturally-appropriated are two separate and distinct issues. Producers only have control over the former. The later happens when work is released into the wild. William Gibson's quote, "The street has its own use for things" comes to mind here.

Ironically, making it easy for supporters to spread a message also makes it easy for detractors to spread a message - they are both sides of the same coin.

Posted by: Garrick Van Buren at May 15, 2006 7:02:44 AM

Brand-appropriate and culturally-appropriated are two separate and distinct issues. Producers only have control over the former. The later happens when work is released into the wild. William Gibson's quote, "The street has its own use for things" comes to mind here.

Ironically, making it easy for supporters to spread a message also makes it easy for detractors to spread a message - they are both sides of the same coin.

Posted by: Garrick Van Buren at May 15, 2006 7:02:59 AM

It really isn't a one line answer; there are a lot of if, then, but's to this issue. I think (and I mean as of now because I too may change my mind soon) that media is put "out there" to entertain, to enrich life. When I sample Danny Elfman's "Breakfast Machine" and juxtapose it with the Toobin' video, I'm building my own media on top of Mr. Elfman's -- as his audio compliments my video. I don't claim to have created his work, and I give him credit. Everyone builds off of others to make their own media. Unless they've been cut off from civilization, other works influence them -- directly or creatively.

I got just as mad when I learned that Erik Jarvik copyrighted and wouldn't release his findings on the transitional form Ichthyostega for 50 years. It's the same thing with the stem cell research; copyrighted studies make for a very slow discovery process. Science and (as far is I'm concerned) media are only made better by building upon old ideas and works; original productions are always good, but we can't forget the mashups.

Sorry for the long idea, I just woke up and saw this great conversation.

Posted by: Dan at May 15, 2006 7:20:32 AM

Hey, as always, nice work, man. We should put you on the tele!

Posted by: Rex at May 16, 2006 12:28:15 AM

This is a great discussion, one that I don't think we should ever stop talking about and reviewing.

That being said, I don't see the problem with choices. The cc licences give content creators choices. Someone above mentioned that when they are looking for mixup fodder, the 'closed' material gets ignored. That's fine, that works.

If someone isn't concerned with their message being changed, or used for someone else's commercial gain, then they don't have to choose the licence for that material :)

I rarely use non-derivs. The only time is when I have a message that I would like to stay intact. If someone wants to use a portion of that in a 'conversation', or a rebuttal, or whatever then isn't fair-use the route to take on that? That works.

Posted by: Devlon at May 17, 2006 10:17:32 AM

Freedom is an interesting concept. something we all want for ourselves.

the odd bit about ads made me laugh. creation for pay. even negativland has limits!

Posted by: Anne Walk at May 17, 2006 6:27:41 PM

I find this whole conversation very interesting. When I discovered CC licensing I went wild. It makes perfect sense in relation to the realities of the internet. I think there are just some growing pains with how people use it.

The one thing I am surprised about is how often the non-derivative licence is used. Artists often want to use the work of others but then carefully guard their own creations.

Posted by: Kevin at May 17, 2006 8:00:41 PM

(replying to Devlon again here)

You know how Fair Use overrides all of that, right? If you're using a work in a critique or (perhaps) news situation, it doesn't matter what your CC license says. If you put a work out there, then it's available for critique.

The argument here is that Artistic Use has the same merit.

Posted by: chuck at May 17, 2006 9:16:17 PM

Chuck: It looks like I shot my argument in the foot a bit bringing up Fair Use :)

I am by no means very educated in the subject (copyright, etc.) I am speaking as a layman but I wonder if it is art's ambiguity that might reduce it's merit when being compared to typical fair use (news, critique)

Posted by: Devlon at May 18, 2006 12:22:35 PM

it's my understanding that artistic merit already has fair use coverage under a traditional copyright. does in canada, anyway.

Posted by: Anne Walk at May 18, 2006 5:22:23 PM

this is a great post. But I wonder what the strategy to better copyright laws are?
--break the law so much by remixing commercial music
--or ignore commercial music and pioneer a new land till they come over to our party.

Posted by: jay dedman at Apr 5, 2007 12:29:34 PM