Re: The Politics of the Bootleg

From: Eli Horwatt (email suppressed)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2008 - 16:10:25 PDT

Though I sympathize with Jorge and Lisa insomuch as Ubu has allowed me to
see films I could not even find at large academic institutions and cannot
afford to rent, to argue that the dissemination of bootlegs is unstoppable
and should therefore be allowed, is bunk. It is an argument that has been
applied to any number of ethical situations but refuses to acknowledge the
fact that there is a very clear ethical violation.

Most copyright scholars of the Lawrence Lessig, Siva Vadhyanathan or Jane
Gaines mold don't argue that copyright is wrong--just that the laws have
become rather Draconian. The objections of contemporary artists to the
online dissemination of their work is their right. Sometimes, it makes
things difficult--but it's still their right to make whatever meager cash
they can to recoup their expenses and survive.

Most of us believe that we need to find some means of cheaply distributing
avant-garde films, perhaps in the mold of companies like Other Cinema (DVDs
for 19.95). Perhaps some artists will feel comfortable with new online
formats as computers begin to look more like TVs and TVs more like film
screens. Hopefully, we can create a network which offers memberships or
subscriptions, allows for downloading or streaming of avant-garde films and
provides reimbursement for filmmakers at a scale they have never before
seen. We should be looking for solutions like this.


Eli Horwatt
MA - York University
Cinema Studies

On Tue, Jun 10, 2008 at 6:20 PM, Jorge Amaro <email suppressed> wrote:

> So, by Ubu's own logic, for most of us the Ubu viewing experience will
> necessarily be the only one. And if Ubu is really interested in simply
> providing an educational reference, a bit of enticement to see the
> actual films, then why not limit their postings to snippets, samples,
> stills, etc.?
> How about the thousands of people that will never be able to attend
> actual screenings? Or are not film students? I believe in my humble
> opinion that Lisa is absolutely correct in her point of view. And I
> also believe that is better for a bootleg (copy of a film not
> commercialy available) to be online where anyone can see it for free
> than having some schmuck actually selling it on Ebay or other such
> places for his own personal profit.
> Furthermore is it not deminishing people's intelligence a lot,
> assuming that they dont know the difference between a film and a
> video? If not, why do people still flock to cinemas to watch Indiana
> Jones and other such films? They will be on an iPod close to you soon.
> as I said before, UBU just uploads what they find around on the
> internet. And if you are to chase everyone that does that, posts
> pictures on blogs etc like Lisa mentioned where will it end?
> In my opinion copyright should be valid to protect the artists wish
> and intention. Not to defend the economical interests of 3rd party
> groups. But once you make a film or write a book or publish photos,
> they have a life on their own, and its hard even impossible to control
> them. What exactly is the point to control them?
> love,
> j.
> 2008/6/10 Jonathan Walley <email suppressed>:
> > This is shaping up to be a very interesting and important discussion.
> I've
> > already posted one ridiculously verbose email on this subject, and don't
> > want to try the patience of my fellow Frameworkers, but there are a
> couple
> > points worth making in response to Lisa:
> >
> >> No one watching "Zorn's Lemma" on youtube or Ubu is going to mistake
> this
> >> for a cinematic experience. It is a reference. As are pictorial
> >> documentations of other visual art works in newspapers, magazines,
> blogs,
> >> flickr, etc.
> >
> > As a film professor, I have ample evidence to the contrary. My students
> > increasingly see no difference between watching films on the internet and
> > seeing them projected (competently and from legit sources) on the big
> > screen. Either they don't know or don't care about the differences. A few
> > years ago, I discovered that several students of mine in a documentary
> film
> > class were skipping screenings and watching the films on Google video,
> > Youtube, etc. They may not have mistaken the internet viewing for the
> real
> > thing, but they didn't care either way.
> >
> > All of us on Frameworks are very knowledgeable about the differences
> between
> > seeing a film as it was meant to be seen and seeing an impoverished copy
> of
> > it on the internet, but increasingly those values are becoming irrelevant
> to
> > the culture at large. Of course, part of my job as a professor is to show
> my
> > students why they should see the real thing - to teach them the
> differences
> > and explain why those differences are important. But I'm realistic about
> how
> > many students I will ultimately reach with my message.
> >
> > Moreover, as I tried to show in my last post on Ubu (see below if you can
> > stand it), their own statements are self-contradictory where this issue
> is
> > concerned. Ubu admits to the poor quality of their videos, and pays lip
> > service to the value of seeing the actual films in good projection,
> praising
> > the institutions that show experimental cinema. But at the same time, Ubu
> > laments the impossibility for most of us (due to financial limitations or
> > geography) to ever see the films as they were meant to be seen. So, by
> Ubu's
> > own logic, for most of us the Ubu viewing experience will necessarily be
> the
> > only one. And if Ubu is really interested in simply providing an
> educational
> > reference, a bit of enticement to see the actual films, then why not
> limit
> > their postings to snippets, samples, stills, etc.?
> >
> >
> >> Copyright exists to protect corporations not artists. It seems like an
> >> obvious point, but one that has been lost in this discussion.
> >
> > You might find fault with copyright law, or the very concept of
> copyright,
> > but this statement isn't right. Corporations may be the most vocal and
> > litigious where copyright is concerned, but that doesn't mean that
> copyright
> > is only relevant to corporations. Nor does it mean that the benefit of
> > copyright is only monetary. Tony's email about individual ownership from
> the
> > other day speaks to this very point. I'd only add that one benefit of
> > copyright for an individual artist is that it gives them the option to
> deny
> > sites like Ubuweb the right to, in effect, misrepresent their work by
> making
> > it available in such terrible quality. I'd also say, and many others here
> > have made this point before, that copyright protects institutions like
> > Canyon and the Filmmakers' Coop, who do important work in making these
> films
> > available - and not in the interest of making tons of money.
> >
> > Summer on Frameworks - always fun!
> >
> > Best wishes,
> >
> > Jonathan
> >
> > Jonathan Walley
> > Assistant Professor, Cinema Department
> > Denison University
> > Granville, Ohio 43023
> >
> >
> >
> > David (et. al.),
> >
> > I'm afraid I can't share your enthusiasm for Ubuweb, at least in so far
> as
> > avant-garde film is concerned. Though as a scholar of
> > avant-garde/experimental cinema I have occasionally found myself lost
> amidst
> > Ubu's large assortment of films, ultimately I have to object to Ubu's
> > methods and rhetoric.
> >
> > You wrote, "Perhaps different artistic disciplines have failed understand
> > each others ways of working." I think this is absolutely the case, though
> > I'd say it's a one-sided misunderstanding - Ubu's of the practices of the
> > avant-garde film world. Setting aside the copyright question (perhaps not
> so
> > easy to set aside, but for the sake of argument...), reading a poem
> online
> > is no different from reading it in an "official" published version.
> Indeed,
> > reading a sixth-generation photocopy of the poem, so long as I can make
> out
> > the words, will still give me the same experience as reading the work in
> a
> > book. But obviously this isn't the case with film, as the halting,
> pebbly,
> > index-card-sized reproductions of the films on Ubu attest. And these are
> > primarily taken from low-quality bootleg sources to begin with. To quote
> > David Lynch: you haven't seen the film if you've seen it "on a fucking
> > telephone."
> >
> > In short, "comprehensiveness" isn't the only issue here.
> >
> > I know that Ubu attempts to address the poor quality of its
> reproductions.
> > From the website: "We realize that the films we are presenting are of
> poor
> > quality. It's not a bad thing; in fact, the best thing that can happen is
> > that seeing a crummy shockwave file will make you want to make a trip to
> New
> > York to the Anthology Film Archives or the Lux Cinema in London (or other
> > places around the world showing similar fare). Next best case scenario
> will
> > be that you will be enticed to purchase a high quality DVD from the noble
> > folks trying to get these works out into the world. Believe me, they're
> not
> > doing it for the money." And in a recent interview, Goldsmith reiterates
> > this position: "There is nothing that will replace sitting in a dark
> theater
> > on a huge 35mm screen with a group of warm like-minded bodies enjoying a
> > beautiful film. But unfortunately most of us don't live anywhere near the
> > place--the three places in the world where those things happen to be
> shown
> > regularly. So this is not meant to be the real thing because it's not the
> > real thing--it's a snapshot--it's a poor substitution. And we like the
> idea
> > that the film quality is bad because it's going to make you want to go
> out
> > and see the thing for real" (from
> >
> >
> > [By the way, though there are plenty of other people affiliated with
> Ubu's,
> > the consistent similarities between its language and statements that
> > Goldsmith has made in interviews suggests that he really is "Ubu
> Imperator,"
> > if you will.]
> >
> > But this doesn't solve anything, and indeed Ubu's position is
> > self-contradictory and sometimes downright arrogant. Ignoring the fact
> that
> > Goldsmith doesn't seem to be aware of the difference between 35mm and
> 16mm,
> > the latter of which is almost exclusively the original medium of the
> films
> > on his website, he's talking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one
> > hand, we should support the wonderful institutions that bring us
> avant-garde
> > film; on the other, they make the films "absurdly priced or insanely hard
> to
> > procure" by charging "hefty rental fees" (also from the Ubu site). Most
> of
> > us can't afford to see "real" avant-garde films, either because of the
> > expense of rentals and equipment or because we can't toddle off to NYC or
> > London every week; but then, seeing these "snapshots" will apparently
> > inspire us to spend the money we don't have to get to these cities as
> often
> > as possible to see the real thing. More contradiction: artists' work on
> Ubu
> > is "cared for and displayed in a sympathetic context," and if they don't
> > want it posted on Ubu, "fair enough: it belongs to them, after all;" but
> > those artists who, for whatever reason, prefer not to allow their work to
> > appear on Ubu are placed in the hall of shame. These artists, according
> to
> > Ubu, would "be wise to take a page from Cory Doctorow's essay Giving it
> Away
> > and to take his advice that 'Being well-enough known to be pirated is a
> > crowning achievement. I'd rather stake my future on a literature that
> people
> > care about enough to steal than devote my life to a form that has no home
> in
> > the dominant medium of the century.'" The all-knowing Ubu concludes,
> "Wise
> > up, folks. It's later than you think."
> >
> > Aside from the contradictory nature of these statements (we love these
> > artists until they ask to have their material removed from our site, then
> we
> > pout), Ubu's policy makes no allowance for the possibility that
> individual
> > artists may have all sorts of legitimate reasons for denying Ubu
> permission
> > to reproduce their work. One very good reason, for instance, would be the
> > aforementioned terrible quality of the films on Ubu. Another might be
> that
> > the artist prefers another venue (such as the ones Tony has mentioned in
> his
> > posts - indeed, Tony's own website,, includes
> images,
> > texts, and full-length compositions, and the Vasulka site Tony describes
> is
> > awesome). Ubu's call to these artists to "wise up" and get with it
> strikes
> > me as the height of arrogance, and makes Ubu's praises of independent
> > filmmakers ring hollow (just as their praises of institutions like FMC
> ring
> > hollow in light of Ubu's suggestion that you have to be Rockefeller to
> > afford renting from them). Goldsmith apparently doesn't consider that his
> > position on free access is the only one; his statements smack of hubris,
> of
> > trying to "out avant-garde" avant-garde artists, a sort of avant-garde
> pope
> > who excommunicates those who aren't down with the right dogma.
> >
> > As Tony pointed out, there is a lot of mean-spiritedness on Ubu, which is
> > disheartening. But it is compounded by the ignorance Goldsmith displays
> of
> > the culture in which the films he presents were (and are) made,
> circulated,
> > and seen. This is my biggest problem with Ubu: its model may work for
> > poetry, but film - specifically avant-garde film - represents a very
> > different institution and artistic culture. Preaching to avant-garde
> > filmmakers who resist Ubu's model as a result of these differences,
> > especially when you don't appear to understand their position in the
> first
> > place, is, well, bad.
> >
> > Best,
> >
> > Jonathan
> >
> > Jonathan Walley
> > Assistant Professor, Cinema Department
> > Denison University
> > Granville, Ohio 43023
> >
> >
> >
> > __________________________________________________________________
> > For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.
> >
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.