Re: The Politics of the Bootleg

From: Thomas McCormack (email suppressed)
Date: Wed Jun 11 2008 - 10:21:03 PDT

I think it's important to make a distinction between the ideological
components being discussed and then the practical matter of artists being
able to make a living. (Also, perhaps, ideological, but I think my
distinction will become clear.)
In our current system, the desire for artists to be able to make money is
tied up with the idea that artists should have complete and utter control
over their work. These things are not actually mutually inclusive. Under the
system of patronage, for example, it was not the case that making a living
being an artist meant being proprietary about your work. As the internet
grows, and "intellectual property" becomes harder and harder to manage, it's
possible that new systems will have to be devised to figure out how exactly
artists can make a living.
It's hard for artists to make a decent living (as many Frameworkers are well
aware), but criticizing copyright laws is not an attack on artists, it is an
attack on the system, one that currently facilitates making a living (or
not), but one that could, and most likely will in some way (possibly for the
worse), change.
It seems to be taken for granted by many people on this thread that artists
should have complete control over everything they do and make, forever and
ever. I'd like to suggest that it is possible that making art is actually an
act of giving over a little bit of oneself (or one's property, work, etc.)
to the greater community, and inherent in that act is generosity and a
sacrifice of control. While I agree that living artists should be able, to
the extent that they wish to, to control how their work is seen, I believe
that eventually we have to consider the possibility that art is a
community-owned object that is free for everyone to do with it what they
wish. For example, people, I think, generally would not be pleased if the
great-great-ad-finitum-grandson of Homer began getting very litigious over
the Odyssey, because with works of antiquity we all take for granted the
community ownership. Clearly there's no exact point where we can say that a
work passes from the individual to the community, but I think the author's
death would be a pretty good time, if we had to assign one. I think many
peoples strong feelings about artists maintaining control over how their
work is seen, are really sublimated hostilities pertaining to how difficult
it is to be an artist in modern society. It makes sense that because we live
in a community that often seems hostile to art, artists often become hostile
to that community.
I can't defend the fact that ubu makes it difficult for many people who are
trying to do good things, but I can say that the degradation of quality is
just something that happens, as is the greater access it allows. Many people
don't believe you "can read" poetry in translation but you can certainly
read something, have some experience, etc. Eventually, I don't believe
artists should have the right to prevent people from translating their
works, whatever form (degradation) that translation might take. Without
translation (almost always degradation) we would have no history that could
be accessed by anyone but the highly specialized. Without these various
forms of degradation, we would live in a world of intellectual poverty. Just
one example Ernest Hemingway, who spoke no Russian, could not have Leo
Tolstoy, who wrote no English. This is what I mean by community. I don't
think Leo Tolstoy, had he wanted to, should have had the right to prevent
translation, at least after he passed away. It would rob the community of
too much; regardless of the fact that translation probably robs Tolstoy's
work of some of its power. People are often hostile to this kind of
thinking, because, again, they relate it to the fact that it is so hard to
make money, and our current system puts so much weight on "control" and
"rights" and gives artists so little respect. But I think, in fact, that
when artists sacrifice this kind of "control," it is the very thing that
demands so much respect.
Figuring out how this will all work in an age where intellectual property
laws are increasingly problematic will be interesting and, I'm sure,
difficult. But, as these things are being figured out, I hope art-loving
citizens like the Frameworkers don't automatically support many bad
fixed-ideas that are really symptoms of having to exist within the current
system. I also hope forward-thinking people like ubuweb put more thought
into working out systems that can benefit artists as well as the community,
and stop being shameless and smug.

I think this book, by Lewis Hyde, says much of the above in a better form

On Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 12:19 PM, Jonathan Walley <email suppressed>

> Dear Lisa,
> Your emails - in response to mine and Tony's - raise lots of interesting
> points. First, it's interesting to me that you're talking about editions,
> galleries, collectors, etc. These entities are part of the gallery art
> world, but not of the experimental film world; they are part of a system of
> circulation that has been created to (ideally) benefit artists and operates
> with the artists' blessings (e.g. preview copies or sample jpegs sent from
> galleries to collectors/potential buyers). These things are not really part
> of the practices of experimental cinema, which has a different machinery in
> place by which work is distributed, exhibited, and paid for. Ubu is
> operating entirely outside of this system, which is one reason I don't agree
> with the analogy you make between what Ubu does and the practice of making
> preview copies available, etc.
> I think Sam is right on when he says "The difference [between Jonas Mekas
> showing work on the web and Ubu doing the same] is Jonas has also
> proactively helped build institutions to exhibit the work properly &
> preserve it." After all, Ubu isn't a) working with the artists whose films
> it shows, b) taking care to see that those works are of a high quality, or
> c) working - as a gallery might - to see that the "represented" artists are
> getting some kind of benefit from having their work on Ubu (Ubu CLAIMS that
> the artists benefit from this because the work gets out there and the
> notoriety of its makers increases, but I'm not at all convinced that the
> mere presence of work on Ubu, especially given the poor quality of the
> video, automatically equates to more notoriety - and as others here have
> pointed out, artists might want more than just exposure).
> What's more, I think Ubu is overstating - at least to a degree - the
> difficulties that these institutions "impose" on the masses being able to
> see avant-garde films, and is doing so to its benefit. The scarcity of
> avant-garde film is a real problem, but some of what turns up on Ubu is
> commercially available in legit forms - some of it can even be found at
> decent rental stores and on Netflix.
> That being said, I would be interested to hear from folks in the know as to
> whether or not Ubu is indeed stimulating film rentals from places like FMC,
> Canyon, Lux, ReVoir, etc. I'm not sure it can be proven absolutely, but what
> about it folks? Are the films that appear on Ubu seeing any increase in
> rentals?
> Of course, that wouldn't vindicate Ubu, for all the reasons that have
> already been raised in this discussion. And this brings me to my/your last
> point. In all honesty, Lisa, I think you're giving Ubu too much credit - and
> yourself, as a teacher, not enough - for your students' increased interest
> in and demand for experimental film holdings at SUNY-B. Ubu may have been a
> helpful resource for you, but you're the one who made the resource
> effective, placing it in an educational context that must have included all
> manner of other materials (readings, screenings, discussions, lectures,
> other online resources, and so on). And I'm sure you could have generated
> the same amount of interest and passion among your students without Ubu.
> Best regards,
> Jonathan
> p.s. I realize that many filmmakers make preview copies of their work
> available and allow images of said work to appear on the web, but, again,
> they are working within a system by their own choice, in a way that directly
> benefits them, and that preserves the visual quality of their work.
> Jonathan Walley
> Assistant Professor, Cinema Department
> Denison University
> Granville, Ohio 43023
> On Jun 11, 2008, at 8:22 AM, Lisa Oppenheim wrote:
> Hi Tony-
>> But there still is a difference between when you or I sell a work and
>> something that is obviously a 'preview copy'. Which exists outside the
>> edition and is not rented or sold. It is a DVD and it has the movie on it,
>> but is not the work. Similarly, I would still argue that no one is going to
>> confuse a tiny low res quicktime file on their desktop with the flickr with
>> the 'work.' People are with it enough to know that they are not looking at
>> the actual piece, only a cruddy crude copy for reference, as with a preview
>> copy.
>> Your gallery might send jpegs of your work to collectors, but no one
>> thinks those are the actual works. No one buys a jpeg, they buy the work. I
>> think therefore it is not a stretch to say that a quicktime clip of one of
>> your or my films is not the work.
>> Anyway, not sure if you want to deal with this stuff in the days before
>> the big thing at the Tate. But good luck! I wish I was there to see it an
>> everyone in London should definitely go!
>> Lisa
>> -------- Original Message --------
>>> Subject: Re: The Politics of the Bootleg
>>> From: Tony Conrad <email suppressed>
>>> Date: Wed, June 11, 2008 10:25 am
>>> To: email suppressed
>>> Hi Lisa---------
>>> You're getting into a mixed terrain here: we are not talking about
>>> citation, or appropriation, or
>>> brief quotations, as your remarks suggest, when you give as examples
>>> "youtube clip(s)" or "video
>>> taped off a monitor." That is, this is not about "representations" of
>>> the work, but the work
>>> itself, in its various forms. When a feature film is sold on DVD, that's
>>> not called
>>> a "representation" of the work; it is called the work.
>>> ---------t0ny
>>> On Wed Jun 11 1:31 , Lisa Oppenheim <email suppressed> sent:
>>> >Tony- I love your work. And I have enormous respect for you and your
>>> practice. Hell, you named
>>> the Velvet fucking Underground. But on this point I think you have it
>>> wrong. It is not about your
>>> work or the way it disseminated, it is about representations of the
>>> work. Who owns a youtube clip
>>> of a video taped off a monitor? Is that the work? That's like saying a
>>> postcard of the Mona Lisa
>>> is the intellectual property of Leonardo.
>>> >Much respect,
>>> >Lisa
>>> >
> __________________________________________________________________
> For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.

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