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

From: Jonathan Walley (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Oct 17 2010 - 08:45:27 PDT

Like Steve, I have been thinking through the issues that have been
raised in this discussion. My mind is far from made up, which I feel
is the most sensible position to take at this point in time, but a few
thoughts occasioned by this discussion:

I think it's entirely reasonable for artists to feel violated when
their work appears on the web without their permission, and that this
violation isn't simply a matter of the artist's "property," and any
possible income-generating potential that property may have, being
"stolen" from them. Neither lengthy diatribes against copyright, nor
invocations of the "free exchange of ideas" in the brave new internet
world, address the feeling that something has been "taken away." I'm
trying, myself, to understand this sense.

It's not simply that their work has been reproduced without
permission, but that it has been reproduced under very poor conditions
in which the viewing of the work is almost meaningless. This was one
of my biggest complaints about UBU in particular - if one labors over
an audio-visual work (sometimes for years), and then sees that work
reproduced in halting, pixelly video the size of a business card, with
little or no accompanying text or discussion to contextualize it, I'd
say that disappointment is a rational response. And if any objections
they raise are met with shaming, with an uncritical parroting of the
rhetoric of the digital revolution ("wise up, it's later than you
think," was what it said on UBU's "wall of shame" page), then that
sense of disappointment could easily turn to one of violation.

I realize that the wall of shame is gone, and I'm glad, but a pretty
strong whiff of "get with it, you luddites" remained, IMO.
Particularly off-putting was UBU's tendency to talk out of both sides
of its mouth when it came to the people and organizations who have
been building and sustaining experimental film/video culture since
before Ken Goldsmith was born: here are some links to wonderful
institutions like Filmmakers' Coop, Canyon, and LUX (you know, those
organizations that charge exorbitant rental fees and make experimental
film "insanely hard to procure"). Our videos will encourage people to
seek out more experimental film (nevermind that we've already said
it's impossible for anyone not living in a major city to do that).

I guess what this adds up to, for me, is that UBU positioned itself as
the "solution" to the "problem" of experimental film culture, as if
the people whose work has defined that culture ("community," "world,"
"tradition," if you prefer) were incapable of doing so themselves.
Indeed, UBU's barbs toward those artists who preferred not to have
their work on UBU were phrased as though UBU's model of internet
distribution/exhibition was the only one. But plenty of filmmakers,
curators, etc. have created and/or participated in web and other forms
of digital distribution and exhibition. LUX's website, TANKtv, not to
mention scores of artists' websites expose viewers to experimental
film - including clips and full-length videos - and in ways that seem
much more meaningful and compelling than UBU's. And more and more
filmmakers are releasing DVDs of their work, including some old-timers
who once took a pretty hard film purist line.

Which is what troubles me to see people so ready to accept the
anecdotal evidence that UBU has elevated experimental film's cultural
profile (and rental fees). If anything, I'd say UBU is at least as
much a beneficiary of this elevation - which has primarily been
accomplished "from the inside" of experimental film - as a cause. If
attendance at Anthology is up, if rental fees at Canyon are at stable,
if more people are indeed getting exposure to experimental film/video,
I'd put UBU pretty low on the list of people to credit.

I think this last point crystallizes some of the disappointment and
negativity expressed toward UBU on this list. Those who have voiced
skepticism, even outright hostility, toward UBU can't simply be
dismissed as dupes of a corporate ideology of intellectual property
and copyright, or as dinosaurs clinging to old ways, old ideas, and
old technologies. Everyone on this list, I'd venture, is committed to
increasing experimental film's visibility and to the spread of radical
ideas, images, works. But the most meaningful exposure to experimental
film is not going to come from a file dump spearheaded by someone who
doesn't seem to know the difference between 35mm and 16mm film
(something I once read in an interview with Goldsmith) and who was so
sanguine about attacking filmmakers whose work made his site possible.
It's going to come from a more concerted, thoughtful, and
knowledgeable effort by filmmakers and related critics, scholars,
curators, etc. Perhaps the best thing UBU has done is throw this fact
into relief.

I'd just like to say that this thread (now unravelling into multiple
threads) represents the best of Frameworks, I think; there have been a
number of passionate, provocative contributions, and for the most part
the sense of civility and community hasn't been lost.

Best wishes,
Jonathan Walley
Department of Cinema
Denison University
email suppressed

On Oct 16, 2010, at 2:29 PM, Steve Polta wrote:

> 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
> violated.
> 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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