Similar to RiP: A Remix Manifesto, Jonathan Lethem’s article “The Ecstasy of Influence” discusses the issues of copyright and copyleft in our ever-growing society. After reading a lot of you all’s posts about this article, I won’t bother you with the background details of Lethem’s argument. Instead, I’d rather bring up two quotes that really got my mind going when I read this essay and see what you all have to say about them.
“Artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.”
This was the first quote that really struck me. Now, the topic of this statement is people who recreate an artist’s work. This is not about people downloading a song and putting it on their mp3 player. More so a person who makes a music video collage for his favorite song, or a person who parodies a song, or a person who remixes a song. The song/video is then uploaded online perhaps. And then, perhaps the music label of that artist requests that the person remove the file from online because it illegally uses their material. These people are just, as Lethem puts it, “exalting and enshrining” these songs. By alienating fans from using art a second time, Lethem argues that it takes the artistic merit out of the work. Lethem argues that “art” can be defined by the act of giving. Art is given to people. Something that is made to be sold may not be considered art. There’s a large grey area here of artists having to sell their art (or be patronized) to live, but that’s an aside point for my discussion here. I’m concerned with how the art industries are alienating their patrons (the fans, who purchase paintings, songs, albums, what have you) by telling them what they can and cannot do with the things they have purchased.
Consider this: producers of Shakespeare plays commonly revamp the scripts by changing the setting or time of the plot. Romeo and Juliet in current day Manhattan as children of mob-bosses. Othello and Iago as business men. Etc, etc. We don’t consider these adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays as copyright infringements. I think it would be safe to say that most people consider them artist trial and errors, or at least as ways to reinterpret and offer Shakespeare’s plots (which are taken from older plots anyway. But that’s another post). What is so different about someone remixing a song?
“If we devalue and obscure the gift-economy function of our art practices, we turn our works into nothing more than advertisements for themselves”
I think this is really where the art industry is taking us, and it loving the journey. I stated in an earlier post that now-a-days you don’t necessarily just buy an album of music. Instead, you buy a brand, an image, a gimmick, a cool factor. Essentially, you buy an advertisement for the record label. The sad thing is that corporations and companies are more than happy to turn art into ads in order to make a dollar for themselves. Why do you think music labels fight so hard against an artist when they want to release a free album. That promotes a change in the industry the labels don’t want.
This is turning into a very long post so I’ll cut it here. To make my long post short, I loved Lethem’s article, and I’m totally on board with the copyleft movement! 😀