copying is not theft

no it ain’t.

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20 Responses to copying is not theft

  1. janet5 says:

    I’m waiting for the response by the Bicycle Manufacturers of Cartoonia.

    Would I feel differently if I had to make a (modest) living off art/music/writing, etc.? I don’t know, except that I get the feeling we are now in the days of everyone needing a day job in order to do their art, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and probably better than the Recording Arts Industry of Cartoonia ™ scamming everyone’s livelihood.

    I am too wishy-washy. Feel free to crush me with your powerful rhetoric.

  2. steve says:

    I don’t know, except that I get the feeling we are now in the days of everyone needing a day job in order to do their art, too.

    This probably has more to do with an over-supply of creative types and a lack of demand, rather than the copying thing. I guess copying does undercut the profits of the big publishers, making them less likley to give the little guy a break. But it’s not really the main reason.

    I think it has always been the case that most people who wanted to write / make music / do art never really made any money from it. There’s just a widespread meme now of “not being able to get into the industry” because there are so many people who want those kind of jobs, and there are still so few jobs.

    And why are there so many pople wanting these jobs? I qeuestion the idea that it is because they are more fun. I think it is really because they have a cooler image than other ways to make money. It is seen as somehow challenging the system, while still making money off it.

    I blame punk rock for this, personally. I blame it for the idea that you can be a eccentric creative type, somehow making good money while operating “outside the system”. I blame it for the idea that you can have a runaway cult sucess while never giving up your anti-capitalist ideals.

    It’s all bogus. People just end up professing to hate the very industries they secretly want to succeed in.

  3. Janet says:

    I mean, yes – and totally bonus for me (lacking greater than average amounts of creativity OR sex appeal OR marketing savvy). When did we reach the point when you had to pose as a creative artiste type (who, preferably, dropped OUT of the liberal arts college after the parents spent 200K, but before actually getting a degree) to be considered a ‘legit’ artist? Did Chuck Berry or Pete Townshend or Chrissie Hynde really give a shit? When did it suddenly become cool to kiss the Man’s ass (and to sell yer little indie ditty to the Man for His car commercial on tv) instead of just playing what you wanted to play and saying f— you?

    Oh, wait. This is just me being cynical, because I did the whole college thing and sold out and don’t play music anymore.

  4. steve says:

    For the record, I totally enjoyed my useless liberal arts degree. I even added on a Doctor of Useless Things, adding on an extra four years. Best time. I worked my butt off and got the hell library tan.

    But I never anticipated a glittering career on the back of it. I agree, it is somewhat embarrasing when people seem to feel entitled to a really well-paid job on the back of their creative writing major or degree in poop studies. Um….hello?

    While I’m ranting: Boy, does it does irritate me when people do liberal arts degrees, slack aroud trying to do as little work as possible to get pass grades, then complain coz they can’t get jobs. Like: “Hi, I’m doing philosophy and poetry and art and sociology. But actually I spend all day at the bar because I’m just sooo baaaaad and different.”

    But yeah, copying. I got some of my work copied once. it was weird.

  5. chartreuseviolet says:

    contrary to my better sense, i am going to post something. bear in mind, i’m sitting here with the psuedo-flu, freezing under a broken furnace and watching the ants crawl across my t-shirt in the public housing i am about to lose.
    i never thought i’d live this long. i never thought i’d get an education past the sixth grade–the very place i started from when i entered university at 16 yrs old. my mother was trying to finish her masters when she became quadriplegic, but beyond that, no one in my family had gone to college and only my mother graduated from high school. so i have the expensive liberal arts degree and i had to earn every psychologically and culturally alienating moment of it.

    i have come to accept in the last couple months that i am dying to eat and breathe “art”, whatever that means and regardless of how pretentious it sounds. it is the horror of rising expectations that put me here, not entitlement. i do feel that i have paid my dues in one sense– college hell, my daughter having suffered from my own inattention and abuse from babysitters, and my own abuse at the hands of people in the scene or anyone else i opened up to. but at the bottom of all of it, i feel a sense of responsibility towards all the people who i’ve known that are not here. they knew, and i know, that art is not a put-on, it is a method of testimony, of transformation, and the only legal means of escaping poverty, beyond sports, that is readily visible to those of us in the gutter. it is difficult to tolerate the burden without any outlet, and to open yourself up to the emotional process while earning a living. i can only speak for myself, but trying to go to law school while writing about the cycle of incest in my family is not something i want to do. or the more realistic situation of working nights stocking grocery shelves and writing about post-tribal self-hatred. and maybe punkrock is to blame. inspiration is a funny thing, but i don’t think what i want, or what many people want, is unreasonable. i don’t expect this will make much sense to anyone and it might even offend, but i hope it comes across the way i intend– i’m struggling with the nature of “creative life” right now, and i am not doing well mentally, but i continue to have faith in the regenerative and real power of art in spite of how crass the world is. TMI.

    • steve says:

      I don’t really see what is to argue with here violet, although you seem to have been expecting some opposition.

      I am all for people using art as a form of self-expression and emancipation in the way you describe.

      I’m just not into the following kind of person:

      “I’m so creative” + “I’m so different and outside the system” + “I’m too cool to try very hard” + “I secretly want to be wealthy and famous” + “I disrespect the industry I’m working in because it’s all about money” + “It’s so unfair I can’t get a break.”

      There’s no such thing as a punk rock star.

  6. steve says:

    Why does it irritate you “when people do liberal arts degrees, slack around trying to do as little work as possible to get pass grades, then complain coz they can’t get jobs?”

    Because a degree like that is so obviously designed to improve the self rather than improve the career chances. Do it for yourself or not at all.

    If you are slacking around, you might as well not bother. Your lack of respect for “the system” is actually a lack of respect for yourself. No-one forces people to study liberal arts.

    I feel quite strongly about this because of all the dipshits I had to teach in English and History, who never did any reading, copied their assingments off wikipedia, acted like they were somehow cheating “the system,” and then complained when I failed them. What a pathetic waste of everyone’s time.

    • steve says:

      There are degrees specifically for people who just want to sit behind a desk telling other people what to do. They are called MANAGEMENT. or ACCOUNTING. Or BUSINESS STUDIES.

      My class on the poetry of Andrew Marvell won’t be nearly as much help to you.

      And personally I was never told that useles liberal arts was just what you did if you wanted to succeed. In fact, I had everyone trying to talk me out of it.

  7. chartreuseviolet says:

    i’m not expecting opposition per se, but i can see how someone could take what i say the wrong way. i agree with mack despite how irritated i am by hipsters who do not even care for the “art” they make. i’ve had to contend with them too much for my taste.
    although i had the intention of bettering myself and all that with college, i was also told that it was some mystical pinnacle of being that one had to have to be successful. these days, at least in the U.S., a bachelors is the equivilent of a high school diploma and you damn near have to go to university to evade minimum wage jobs. if you suck at the other stuff or actually care about art you’re going to wind up in a liberal arts program for lack of better options. when you graduate it is natural to feel that you’ve earned something and might want a job somewhere other than online stock brokerage or telemarketing middle management, maybe even in your field of study. but i’ve assisted enough instructors to understand your frustration, and i’m not one of those students anyway. i tortured myself with an uneccessary thesis and a constant 4.0, and ideally, i want to make a little niche for myself someday, not get rich pretending to despise everything. i am not a cynic, therefore my chances of sucess among the ever-present youth market are zero anyway.
    i think actually we’re on the same side– neither of us wants to see art mocked by the bullshit fakers parading their wallets around these days. i just don’t think that some modicum of success or employment must be mutually exclusive from a related education or artistic aspiration, even though i know how highly unlikely it might be. the whole star thing is fucking bullshit designed to cash in on dangerously short-lived and unstable, approval-starved people. it’s sad and i have no need of it.

  8. janet5 says:

    Of course, RIAA is probably a trademark. So they will sue you, too.

    I guess my original comment wasn’t really about ‘being a star’ or even becoming rich off one’s art/music/writing – more like an ethical dilemma* about whether, if I knew I actually was having a negative impact on someone’s livelihood, I would be more critical of copying. I just don’t know. I’m trying (slowly, and with difficulty) to do some research on the legal concept of moral rights, which sounds nice and upright but which is often used to justify (say) 90-year copyrights and posthumous royalties, among other things. But surely there are also moral rights that can justify opposition to capitalism, or community interests in culture, or a spirit of sharing, mixing, and re-appropriation?

    Maybe I just need more coffee (or more sleep).
    * A liberal arts-induced paragraph. I intentionally got a liberal arts degree so that I would have another four years to think about precisely what I did not want to do with my life. It worked.

  9. steve says:

    I really don’t think this is a boring conversation.

    But surely there are also moral rights that can justify opposition to capitalism, or community interests in culture, or a spirit of sharing, mixing, and re-appropriation?

    The spirit of a lot of Lawrence Lessig’s work is precisely about the moral right of people to engage in this sort of ‘Read-Write’ culture. He argues that the restrictions of copyright are actually serving as a restriction of people’s moral freedom, rather than to protect artist’s moral rights. “Remix” is worth a read.

    I kind of agree with this basic idea, but kind of not.

    On one hand I think that the corporations do tend to use conceptions of ethics and morality in order to protect their own interests: “How dare you take away money from these creative artists?” actually means “we want to conrtrol the means of cultural production and we want most of you to be passive buyers of it”. I don’t actually think Rupert Murdoch really cares about the terrible moral crime of “theft”, for an obvious example.

    On the other hand, I’m kinda glad that there are large structures there to make and distribute genuinely good product – and I think a lot of the stuff that comes out of amateur “remix” or Read-Write culture is actually really bad, ordinary product, which would be greatly improved if the artist were forced to hone and develop their work in order to gain wider acceptance, and also if there were a higher premium on originality in our society.

    I think all this is totally related to the notion of “stardom” that I brought up. For sure, the democratisation of culture through copying and so forth means the end of mega-profits for some music companies, and this can be seen as a good thing. But I suspect that still, a huge proportion of those entering the music game, and other fields like art and writing and so on, have a traditional notion of “sucess” in mind, and in their minds, it still looks like money and travel and all the rest of it. I know I do, when it comes to writing fiction. I think a lot of people just wouldn’t do it, if they didn’t have that dream.

    It’s like we’re killing off the notion of the “professional creative”, by democratising things to the point where everyone is a potential producer, and now art has little or no monetary value because everyone makes it, and it is freely available to all, and can be endlessly copied, etc.

    I think there’s something being lost in the total democratisation of culture. Professional organisations, like publishers and so on, do ask people to develop shared conceptions of quality and try to acheive it. They ask people to lift their game as high as possible. They ask people to hone their work as much as they can before trying to make money from it. People just don’t try as hard with amateur stuff. They don’t take it as serioulsy. A lot of people just don’t buy amateur stuff because they know they can get similar stuff for free, and becuase it is just not seen as being “about” money.

    Ideally, in a democratised culture, we’d all be busting our arses trying to make the best possible art / writing / zines / whatever without any hope of rising above others in our field, because no-one “rises above” in a level field.

    But I suspect that without the competitive element that comes from trying to “make it”, most people will not actually make their best art.

    • k- says:

      I disagree 115%.

      Also, Steve wrote: I blame punk rock for this, personally. I blame it for the idea that you can be a eccentric creative type, somehow making good money while operating “outside the system”. I blame it for the idea that you can have a runaway cult sucess while never giving up your anti-capitalist ideals.

      That was the idea behind punk? I thought the idea was that we should stop being passive consumers and start being active agents of cultural production. I don’t necessarily see this as the democratization of art, where there is some level playing field. Rather, the DIY ethos is more about the process of empowerment and disalienation. The market is still free to reward those who convince others that their product is more desirable. But punk helps erode the construct between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, on the one hand, and on the other, destabilized the myth of the artist/professional that is central to the commodification of certain elements of a consumer culture.

      I’m not sure how we got on that liberal arts education, but I do believe this is the most activity this site has seen in awhile.

  10. steve says:

    Dude, I’m going to download it but then review it. That way it counts as reasonable use.

    Oh and by the way it’s “Youth is Wasted ON the Young.” Not BY the Young. Let’s get that right.

  11. steve says:

    I got a lot to say here. This has actually been one of the central philosophical concerns of my life. It is like AZ Greg’s “Am I Really Philosophically Opposed to Late Capitalism Or Am I Just Really Lazy?” In fact it is the same question, really.

    I guess what I am really trying to do is advocate the separation of punk / DIY on one hand and professional credibility and success on the other. I think that both are fine things to aim for – let’s just not get them confused.

    That was the idea behind punk? I thought the idea was that we should stop being passive consumers and start being active agents of cultural production….etc etc etc

    Kevin, I agree with all that, but you may be a pretty unique individual in seeing that clearly as an ideal and applying it in the way you live.

    I think for a great majority of people, punk as an image is a much more powerful force than punk as an ideal. And punk as an image has always contained a considerable amount of traditional rock star-ism, commercial success combined with the sort of “devil-may-care” flamboyance that is only actually feasible when you are making a fair bit of money.

    The idea of “making it” without losing street credibility is powerful and insidious. I would guess that ultimately, most creative people I have ever met in punk / alternative circles espouse DIY principles on one level but hold out hopes of major commercial success on a much deeper and more profound level. It’s human nature to strive for something and punk doesn’t really provide anything.

    This explains all the folks I know in alternative bands who have become jaded and disillusioned because what they were trying to do didn’t “work out” or “succeed.” Wait, was it supposed to succeed, beyond being an end in itself? I thought the idea was to live out of vans, and be kings of the open road, free of the daily grind. And we did it. And that’s all.

    This disillusionment turns out to be a lot more than the cynicism of age. There’s a definite sense with some people that they feel the entire system has let them down, even though they claimed to be operating outside it, or in opposition to it.

    This paradoxical attitude to society and success explains other behavior as well. For example, the approach of people doing liberal arts uni degrees who don’t do any work. This is not only pointless, it’s also professional suicide. But it often gets done in the name of “non-conformity”, when it is actually done out of laziness and lack of direction.

    Basically, “Alternative / punk credibility”, I take to be one of the most ridiculous notions ever constructed, and an idea that ties up a lot of people in philosophical knots, people who genuinely do want to be traditionally successful, but do not wish to appear to be aiming for that, and can’t reconcile their supposed anti-capitalist views with a very powerful image of what success looks like, an image that lies deep in the heart of punk rock.

    I would hold out my own muzak as an example of DIY creativity done in a spirit of generosity, without any aspirations of commercial success or fame, other than the hope my gear will pay for itself. And it could be a lot better if I tried harder, but I have no reason to do so.

    But in my writing / academic life, I aim for commercial success and attempt to be as professional as possible. There’s nothing punk / alternative about it. Even if I were writing in an alternative type genre (which I’m not) I would still honestly admit to myself that I wanted a big publishing deal and all that came from it.

    Steve sez: But I suspect that without the competitive element that comes from trying to “make it”, most people will not actually make their best art.

    Mack and Kevin sez: I disagree 100%….115%

    OK, I better define “make it.”

    To start with, I’m pretty sure most of the world’s best classical instrumentalists are the way they are through hard work and training trying to make it in a professional system. Artists, too. Dancers. Journalists and a lot of other writers. Film makers. It goes on.

    And even if you are totally self taught, if you want to be be great, you gotta be busting your guts. You gotta be spending hours every day trying as hard as possible. And you gotta be talking to people about your work, and their work, and listening to what they say, and forming your own views and trying to constantly make what you do better based on all of that.

    And if you can manage to do that outside of trying to “make it” in a professional context, then good luck to you. But your best option will be to create a kind of community of learning within your own scene, and “make it” within that.

    So, basically, to make great art, you either have to be trying to advance your art within a professional sphere or community, or you have to be trying to advance it by gaining more widespread acceptance from people, eventually leading to commercial success.

    If you don’t do this, then your work will not only amateurish but theoretically baseless. It will just be whatever you happened to do. Some might like it, but I don’t think it will be great, and it certainly won’t be the best you could do.

    In fact, I’d argue that such a totally de-professionalized view of art actually feeds back into the whole “cult of the artist” thing that punk was supposed to be about knocking over. It says “some people are just naturally talented and they will naturally be more sucessful. If you aren’t one of those, there’s not much you can do, because professionalism is for squares.”

    I repeat – “alternative credibility” is a bad joke. It’s a form of stubborn innocence, and it ties people up in knots.

    • Great Southern Steve says:

      While I see no objective standard to great art, I see that nearly all my favourite art was borne out of very, very hard work, and I respect that.

      Personally, I think you might be trying to justify your desire for monetary reward by convincing yourself that this desire will make you a better producer of cultural product.

      Yeah maybe but this is better than convincing oneself that failure to achieve success is somehow a sign of artistic and cultural merit. If people’s lives are so pure and free from cultural hypocrisy, then why are they so goddamn disappointed?

  12. janet5 says:

    We could get even more activity on this site if everyone would just use the words “Republican vaginas” in their posts.

    I have Lessig’s book on my list of things to read, as well as Joanna Demers’ book, Steal This Music, about remixing/reappropriation.

    Part of my confusion or ambivalence comes from feeling like there are some really good arguments challenging what you [Kevin] describe as the “commodification of certain elements of consumer culture,” such as artistic output and cultural labor, but there are some arguments that make me less comfortable, too. Arguments for decommodification – if I’m understanding the term – can be democratic and empowering, but they can also have very conservative or reactionary consequences.

    This issue of moral rights has been used, for example, in France, to argue that many forms of art are not commodities but are distinctive contributions to culture that therefore deserve special protection from the market. That seems reasonable to me, at least on the face of it. One implication is that something like a Monet painting is not, actually, the legal equivalent of a pair of shoelaces or a coffee-maker – the Monet painting earns royalties for the Monet estate every time it is sold, and will continue to do so in perpetuity (if I understand correctly). But for the same reasons, France has fanatically endorsed extending copyright protection and has attempted to go after infringers (and downloaders and copiers) in a seriously nasty way, because they are claimed to be a threat to the special values attributed to artists and artistic production. So. . . well, I’ve sort of argued myself into a corner. So I’ll stop.

    Maybe I’m too hung up on the idea that art and music are special. I have a tendency to create really elaborate moral dilemmas for myself on the basis of pretty much nothing. This is an interesting discussion, even though (as usual) I find myself mostly agreeing with mostly everyone. I clearly haven’t thought about this as much as others have (and yet, I need to share my opinion).

  13. Great Southern Steve says:

    Shocking outcome: search results for “republican vagina” prove deeply depressing.

    Anyway, thanks for putting my rambling into context, Janet. I guess I am arguing for the commodification of art, in the sense that I believe in the professional standards that are required to make art that is worth commodifying, and I think that a great deal of amateur art inspired by the DIY ethos is rubbish, and could be greatly improved if people either tried harder, or not at all.

    This does not translate into saying I am against piracy. It’s just that piracy cuts back to the deeper issue of the worth of art and the right of people to make money from it.

    • Great Southern Steve says:

      No I have never been to the MOMA.

      I take your point though. A lot if stuff does just suck, regardless of ethos.

      At least those cats get a little cash, though.

  14. janet5 says:

    Actually, um, I didn’t see your post because I was busy composing mine and re-checking the grammar a million times and not noticing that another reply had been posted. But I don’t think you were rambling. I guess. . . you and Kevin and Mack are all making points that are challenging me to articulate some of the incoherent thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. And I still feel very, very incoherent.

  15. k- says:

    Nice Joy Division cover.

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