Week 9 English 516

Bound By Law

Keith Aoki, James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins

This is not my first time reading this comic, and probably won’t be the last.  I think it works really well as an explanation about copyright law.  My only real criticism surrounds the charts on pages 10 and 11.  There are some redundant categories on the right hand side of the chart on page 10, and it’s sort of annoying that the column on page 11 isn’t visible alongside the chart on page 10 it connects to.  These are minor complaints, and the comic makes some interesting observations about copyright law, while providing a fairly thorough explanation in an accessible format.

Frankly, copyright law is both important and complicated, and I have a feeling something new will occur to me each time I go through this piece. Mainly I wonder what happened to cause the extension to 95 years or life + 70 years.  It seems to coincide approximately with the notion that personal intellectual property is infused with intrinsic rights.  I can’t help but feel it’s another symptom of individualist culture.  An increasingly anxious individualistic culture, fed fear by the all-mighty capitalists.

Is covering a band’s song a tribute but recording exactly as a band sings it a violation of copyright?  This ties into the other piece where they differentiate between description and depiction.  As near as I can tell, the covered song would be a depiction (protected by law) while the recording would be a description (not protected by law).  There are so many situations that are more complicated than that, such as the one in:

Cloud Gate: Challenging Responsibility

Jeff Ward

“the depiction of professional regulation was minimized…the focus was the threat of public space itself being copyrighted” (p 68)  This is interesting as really the debate boils down to whether something is fair use, relating to such dichotomies as commercial/non-commercial, professional/amateur, for profit/nonprofit and the like.  Yet the debate is more concerned over the regulation of the Commons.  It would be interesting to see a bit more history on the treatment of items considered to be “in the Commons” (vs. in a private domain).  The park Cloud Gate is in (Millennium Park) is a public space, but sculptures (among other things) can have a more complicated etiology, and the question of what the public is allowed to do with these “cultural products” is left open.

“The transformation of Cloud Gate from a work of art into a politicized work of art negotiates the boundaries of both legal and aesthetic discourse” (p 69)  All copyright issues fall into this swampland between the law and the arts, yes?  “Photography by the general public, considered to fall within the realm of “fair use,” is exempt” (p 70).  Right.  Simple! (no)  It is further problematized by the very nature of the work for Cloud Gate; the whole thing being essentially a group of mirrors means it is a depictive piece of sculpture, its surface reflecting the public domain.  It is certainly not as descriptive as photography, but you could have a very clear mirror in/as a piece of art that was…and what then?  Mirrors always seem to be in a place with blurred lines…so to speak.

Always a fan of semi-outlandish futuristic predictions, Walter Benjamin’s prediction of the end of some older art mediums is not that laughable, but it does conflict with reality in way parallel to the predictions for what would happen to books upon the advent of digitization.  I just can’t see efficiency beating aesthetic for the human race, not completely.  It goes against our nature.

The author claims that the fees paid by the photographers both started the controversy and “signal utility. Useful articles cannot be protected under U.S. copyright”. (p 73)  Soooo…it’s usefulness comes from its status as a copyrighted work of art, and useful articles can’t be protected by copyright?  Hmmm.


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