Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading Response #8 - Who Owns What?

Often, what is offered on the internet, be it text, pictures, or video, seems free for the taking. After all, it is just a collection of bytes and/or pixels thrown onto the interweb by 'someone out there'. For instance, I've been in the habit of taking pictures off of a Google image search for a project or presentation whenever the need arose. Because of the simplicity and ease of access to these materials, I seldom thought about how they came to be or if I was even allowed to use them.

Fortunately, one of our readings was about the Creative Commons. This is a website where people who create 'creative work' can grant permissions to their work in a standardized way. Creators still have whatever ownership and copyright of their work, but they can specify use of them through Creative Commons. Therefore, going back to my careless self from earlier, I could ask Creative Commons to only display material in a search that it had licenses for. Then, I could simply take material, credit the creators, and not worry about infringing on copyrights or any other legalities. It's all pretty cool and obviously a very useful tool for students.

In out class, we sometimes have the opportunity to change works such as images to create our own, often different-looking work. Yet at what point does changing a work make it ours and not the original owner's? This question was addressed through two readings found a Wikipedia article and The Sloan Consortium. The Wikipedia article focused mostly on instances of art appropriation. One such example was of the artist Andy Warhol. In one case, he used photographs taken by someone else to silk-screen. He was eventually forced to pay royalties to the photographer. Yet the famous Campbell's soup cans he depicted were not considered to be infringing. Although he clearly used the company's cans as inspiration,   it was determined that the public was not going to see the work as depicting a competing product or being sponsored by Campbell's.

The Sloan Consortium tackles the issue by defining what derivative and transformative works are. Because derivative works don't really add anything new to the original work, they are still considered to be the original and have all of the copyrights and other legal ties intact. However, transformative works are different in that they build upon the original work and thus create something new. Thus, it is now not the original work and instead belongs to the 'transformer' of the piece.

Finally, we read a blog post titled "What Colour Are Your Bits?" The author essentially goes to say that in the world of creative work, ownership is dictated by where and who the work came from. This is likened to a certain adventure game in which characters have colors and are granted access to certain things based on their color. So for instance, you couldn't copy a copyrighted file, mix it with a non-copyrighted file and call it non-copyrighted. That's because this approach is 'color-blind' to where the file came from and in the legal world, people are not color-blind. Overall, the post is a fascinating read about the identity of works and how they can be seen differently.

Although I mostly agree with the above sources, I can't help but wonder how fair the whole process is. There seems to be a lot of guesswork involved and objectivity could easily be lost. Yet this seems to be the nature of artwork in general. We are bound to have similar ideas and/or methods to our artworks and deciphering what belongs to who looks to always be contested in the future.

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