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

From: Steve Polta (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Oct 16 2010 - 11:29:01 PDT

It's amazing how this conversation keeps returning. UBU's practices and ethics, then artists' vs. viewers' rights in re work, then income, then copyright. Not always in this order but as a complicated cluster of ideas. Again and again, over the years, this conversation has come around.

David Teztlaff introduces the concept of violation—violation as a response to breaking and entering, physical theft, invasion, beyond a sense of loss of property, a sense of unsafe-ness.

In terms of this ever-returning conversation, it's notable that it almost always begins with an expression of a similar sense of violation—that somehow a filmmaker or film has been treated disrespectfully. David discounts the validity of this expression in comparison to actual theft—and I do not dispute this. But it should be noted that many artists *do* feel a sense of violation and disrespect at such practices as UBU's (for example).

Maybe these artists shouldn't feel this way. Maybe they should get with it and embrace this new media world. It's notable that the course of these discussions there is almost always a *rapid* shift away from these charged emotional issues into a vigorous discussion of copyright, legality and the rights of those who wish to access works. These voices are loud and use a rationalist language that deflects the discussion into these new terms.

In trying to figure out my personal position on these issues I keep this in mind. I tend to empathize with this sense of violation (although I'm pretty sure that none of my own works have been pirated). There is the suggestion that this sense of violation is erroneous, that those who feel this way are misguided. But this sense of violation is a common emotion and strong in many filmmakers (many many of whom are not active on Frameworks). Is the sense misguided? Are we just old and in the way? I dunno. But I thank David for introducing the idea for our collective consideration.

Steve Polta

--- On Sat, 10/16/10, David Tetzlaff <email suppressed> wrote:

From: David Tetzlaff <email suppressed>
Subject: Re: [Frameworks] UBU - Not Pirates. A response to the UBU thread
To: "Experimental Film Discussion List" <email suppressed>
Date: Saturday, October 16, 2010, 4:30 AM

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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