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Thoughts on Appropriation

This week's readings:
The Ecstacy of Influence
The Rights of Molotov Man
Artist Admits Using Other Photo for ‘Hope’ Poster
Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media

I’m not sure how much more is worth saying about appropriation, orifices like the RIAA /MPAA, and the sad state of copyright law. Lawrence Lessig’s free culture pitch articulates the history of copyright and the necessity of a commons with plenty of precision and conviction. Clearly, any spirit of creative protection in copyright law has lost out to greed. Our best (and last) hope is either the noble contrarians at Creative Commons, or the collective realization that we're all felons in the eyes of copyright law, so the law had better change. I wouldn't bet on either.

So, Marshall McLuhan's work held my interest more tenaciously than Susan Meiselas's self-righteous kvetching or Shepard Fairey's (perhaps predictable?) back-stabbing dishonesty.

McLuhan's take on the significance of how we communicate (rather than what we communicate) is often renowned as creepily prescient of modern times. I should reserve judgment until I've finished the book, but once again I think the web and computation have disrupted the thesis. Unlike print, or radio, or television, or film, computational media lend themselves to transmogrification between traditional forms. How could you begin to classify the web as hot or cold, when it entangles so many divergent media into one? At ITP, it seems like our mode of production emphasizes creation and manipulation of media over content, a lateral move that might emphasize McLuhan's "medium is the message" conclusion.

[ For discussion: The problem with digital abstraction... who can own a sequence of bits, when the content actually lies in the interpretation of that data, and not necessarily in the sequence itself? For example, I could write a song that happened to use the exact same bit sequence that describes Meiselas's molotov man. When the bits are played as an mp3, it's one thing, when interpreted as, say, a jpeg, they become something else. Who owns what? Can you really own a string of 0s and 1s that could have been generated and interpreted in any number of ways? ]

October 26 2009 at 12 AM