Re: [Frameworks] UBU - Not Pirates. A response to the UBU thread

From: David Tetzlaff (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Oct 16 2010 - 04:30:45 PDT

Anita Ponton makes several crucial points. I was going to post about a
couple of them, but Anita has put them out there in a more calm and
collegial form than I would have. I shall add only a bit of elaboration.

> If I steal your watch you no longer have that watch. But - if I
> make a copy of that that watch you still have your watch and I only
> have a copy, not your watch. Then there are two watches.

Anyone who has ever been the victim of actual theft knows how hurtful
it is. I've had people break into my car and my garage space and steal
my stuff. Even if the stuff is of limited value, you feel violated,
unsafe. And if that watch, say, was a cheap Timex that was a hand-me-
down from your late beloved grandpa, your emotions have been cruelly

On the other hand, if an individual bootlegs your film, you not only
still have your film, you still have the integrity of your life. The
vast majority of piracy is done by private individuals, and circulated
if at all in private forums, and the author will never even know of
the existence of the illegal copies.*

As such, to equate piracy with theft is morally dishonest, and an
insult to the victims of actual theft. Piracy may be wrong, but it is
a fundamentally different act than (literal) stealing,

* [To be clear, in contrast, the majority of pirated _copies_ of
things in circulation are produced by clearly criminal, large scale
enterprises, mostly in Asia, for the purpose of resale for profit. But
they're after Sandra Bullock, not Stan Brakhage).]

> Piracy, Intellectual Property and Copyright are terms that were
> devised to suit the existing business models for the music and film
> industry, and ratified with the help of the various worldwide legal
> systems that enshrine the right to profit (not on behalf of the
> creator but on behalf of the business).

Well, that's certainly true of the discourse of 'Intellectual
Property,' but for the term 'copyright' as the quote from Jefferson
posted earlier in this thread indicated, not so much, as it was
formulated specifically NOT to imply ownership, but that time-limited
monopoly intended to provide an incentive for new creative production.

The term 'piracy' is also a more contested terrain, as it was largely
chosen and remains embraced by the pirates themselves. The referent is
not the fact that pirates actually stole things, but that they were
often outsiders liberating resources hoarded by an unjust aristocracy.
There's a kind of Robin-Hood element in pirate mythos, however limited
that was in pirate fact. Which is why the corporations generally avoid
the term in favor of the 'copying is THEFT" formulation.

> They do not now, nor have they ever favoured the artists who create
> the content that is then sold and sold again to the consumer, who
> pays not the artist but the record company, film studio, gallerist
> or collector.

Absolutely. This is not a matter of interpretation but of empirical
fact that can be traced through legal records. Copyright law was long
ago hijacked by monied interests and has acted as a bludgeon against
independent artists, and utterly failed to protect them. You can look
it up!

> Intellectual property is an oxymoron. I do not own ideas. Not even
> my own.

Bingo again! When Mark Toscano asks:

> When someone is the sole author of a film, why don't they have
> control over whether they want to change or destroy it?

the answer is, "because no one is actually the sole author of any
text." The original theory of copyright posits that all ideas are
owned by the public in part because the generation of creation work
was recognized as an interactive process. Each 'new' idea incorporates
or builds on a history of ideas, without which the 'new' idea could
not have been possible. And creative work is only a physical object
until it is read, interpreted and invested with meaning or affect by
some viewer. It's not art until it is received as art. With
experimental film especially, that reception will encompass a lot of
different interpretations. In the language of semiotics, experimental
films are very 'open' texts. They prod creative responses from
viewers, rather than merely activating pre-digested interpretive
frames, which is an essential part of their aesthetic value.

Even an filmmaker as idiosyncratic, innovative, and invested in the
Romantic mythos of the artiste as Stan Brakhage acknowledged his debt
not just to other filmmakers, but to poets. From what I've read
(Marilyn can correct me if I've gotten this wrong) he understood his
work not as belonging just to himself, but to an artistic tradition.
He valued the artist indeed, but he valued the art even more, yes?
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