aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, March 18, 2007
If you can’t beat ‘em don’t join ‘em
Jonathan Lethem didn’t.
Lately I’ve become fitful about some of the typical ways art is commodified. Despite making my living (mostly) by licensing my own copyrights, I found myself questioning some of the particular ways such rights are transacted, and even some of the premises underlying what’s called intellectual property. I read a lot of Lawrence Lessig and Siva Vaidhyanathan, who convinced me that technological progress - and globalization - made this a particularly contemporary issue. I also read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which persuaded me, paradoxically, that these issues are eternal ones, deeply embedded in the impulse to make any kind of art in the first place. I came away with the sense that artists ought to engage these questions directly, rather than leaving it entirely for corporations (on one side) and public advocates (on the other) to hash out. I also realized that sometimes giving things away - things that are usually seen to have an important and intrinsic ‘value’, like a film option - already felt like a meaningful part of what I do. I wanted to do more of it.
Find out more about Jonathan. He discusses the give away on Morning Edition. He’s interviewed about it on Fresh Air. His Harper’s piece last month, The Ecstacy of Influence, fired up the copyfight set. He discusses it on Radio Open Source. And he did an opening talk at last year’s Comedies of Fair U$e conference.
Lessig on Viacom, copyright, Congress & the courts
Larry Lessig says that with the Grokster decision the courts took up the copyright cudgel and now lawyers everywhere “get two bites at the copyright policy-making apple, one in Congress and one in the courts.”
That’s bad news for we copyleft copyfighters because it’s easier for content companies to get the votes they need in the latter, where there are far fewer needed (in Congress they need hundreds, in the courts just five):
Long ago, Justice Hugo Black argued that it was not up to the Supreme Court to keep the Constitution “in tune with the times.” And it is here that the cupidity of the court begins to matter. For by setting the precedent that the court is as entitled to keep the Copyright Act “in tune with the times” as Congress, it has created an incentive for companies like Viacom, no longer satisfied with a statute, to turn to the courts to get the law updated. Congress, of course, is perfectly capable of changing or removing the safe harbor provision to meet Viacom’s liking. But Viacom recognizes there’s no political support for the change it wants. It thus turns to a policy maker that doesn’t need political support - the Supreme Court.
The conservatives on the Supreme Court have long warned about just this dynamic. And while I remain a skeptic about deferring to Congress on constitutional matters, this case is a powerful lesson about the costs of judicial policy making in an area as complex as copyright. The Internet will now face years of uncertainty before this fundamental question about the meaning of a decade-old legislative deal gets resolved.
Poverty: Vollmann knows it when he sees it
"Poverty presents a host of challenges, but knowing it when we see it isn’t one of them,” says Walter Kirn in today’s NYTimes’ Book Review:
How does traveling the world asking poor people why they think they’re poor differ from traveling the world asking people in pain why they’re in pain or thirsty people why they thirst? Is this a serious, legitimate inquiry, or does it betray a certain faux-autism that might be better suited to performance art? These are two of my questions for William T. Vollmann, the prolific, award-winning novelist and journalist whose new book, “Poor People,” centers on just such a Pyrrhic, postmodern project: asking the unfathomable of the unfortunate and using their numbed, predictable responses as proof of their plight’s intractable mystery.
Vollmann opens his study of poverty by describing all the things he won’t do and setting forth his reasons for not doing them. For starters, because he considers himself “rich” and doesn’t wish to playact or condescend, he informs us he won’t follow the example of George Orwell in “Down and Out in Paris and London” and try to walk a mile in poor folks’ shoes. Nor will he emulate James Agee’s text in “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” (a book he regards as an “elitist expression of egalitarian longings") and tug at the heartstrings of the privileged while elevating the poor to sainthood. This is grandiose masochism, he suggests, and does the impoverished no good. He may be right about this, but I doubt it. Who but the rich can help the poor - or arrange things so they can more easily help themselves? And what does it matter if guilt moves them to do it? READ ON
Invisible octopus and urinal sculptures
Via Damn Cool Pics, “This Octopus turns invisible and visible at will..”
SEE ALSO: Damn cool urinals.