I had the opportunity to join my friend Eric at the New York Public Library tonight to hear from Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey, and Steven Johnson (event details). Lessig began with his Remix presentation, which I had never seen live. He is an incredible presenter and works wonders with Keynote, but even more impressive is the passion with which he articulates his understanding of modern cultural exchange and expression.
Some seem to have forgotten that copyright law exists not to protect profit and extinguish any attempt at derivation, but to encourage and protect incentives for creation. Without copyright, art could not support the artist. Artists, frustrated by their inability to generate revenues from their creations, would turn away from their passion and talent, and leave the rest of us in a cultural vacuum. Copyright, however, like all law, is subject to abuse. Some wish to include in the notion of ‘protection of art,’ all works that draw any material substance from that which came before them. This includes, but is not limited to, a video of a baby dancing to vague echos of a Prince song. The mother who made this video uploaded it to YouTube to share with the child’s grandmother. Shortly after, she was served with a takedown notice from Prince’s representatives.
This is just one example of the abuse of copyright law. “Fair use” should be clarified to include any transformative work of art. Duplication should be prosecuted, but creation and derivation, timeless elements of artistic expression, should be unequivocally encouraged.
As I left the New York Public Library (but not until after a Tim Wu showed up to ask Lessig a question), I checked Twitterfon for Twitter updates. Lo and behold, I had a reply waiting from @metmuseum.
Some background: yesterday I posted a photo that I had taken in Times Square on the way home from work of a massive Metropolitan Museum of Art advertisement. The caption attributed the photo in the ad to a photographer (who I have yet to track down) “via Flickr” and what I imagine is a Creative Commons license (another Lessig endeavor). I thought this was so cool that I wanted to share it with my friends. After posting to Tumblr, a link was automatically posted to my Twitter account. I can only imagine that whoever runs @metmuseum tracks “metropolitan museum of art” in Twitter Search and came across my picture, prompting the following reply:
So there we are. After posting a picture I came across in Times Square, that had been licensed from an amateur photographer under the Creative Commons license, my post, syndicated across the Twitter universe using the amazing search function, ended up in front of the 1500 eyeballs that follow @metmuseum.
This is the power of collective online engagement in action. This is the next generation of creative expression colliding with a brave new social universe. A young New Yorker walks out of a lecture on free culture by the leading expert in the field (that he heard about from said expert’s blog/twitter) to find himself getting credit, before a crowd of 1500, for a picture of a picture that was only made possible by the very system that our leading expert works so hard to fight for!
Ok fine, maybe it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe it’s a taste of things to come. I’m putting my money on the latter.
Update 2 – Correction: it looks like the photo was posted to Flickr without a Creative Commons license.