Stephen Brown talking with the audience after the formal discussion.
Stephen Brown took over the Leona Wagner Black Box Wednesday, Sept. 5, to probe six panelists, in his capacity as moderator, on intellectual property—artistic or otherwise. After a frustrating experience trying to gain access to copyrighted songs in a recent dance performance, Brown called upon different figures in the playing field of ownership. As I entered the discussion, Josh Blumental elucidated a problem he had had: Blumental practices a specialized form of photography, and a man in Vienna took his .jpg files from online and started claiming that he took the photos himself. Brown and Blumental welcomed interjections from the audience as the disgruntled photographer outlined the paradoxical situation further as he explained that he refuses to digitize, and the only way to copyright his work is to send them a copy of his work, thus rendering legal action null.
Brown segued from panelist to panelist smoothly, and Aaron Moulton took the limelight (as the most interesting panelist of the evening, in my estimation). Moulton made “An Art Newspaper” called The Naughties that features deliberately stolen art, reframing them as pictures and advertisements to accompany fictional news stories. Moulton blocked most of his contributors’ names to evince a relinquishment of ownership, only allowing people for whom he has the utmost respect to have their name filter through, which I found somewhat hypocritical. Moulton said that he aims for this magazine to be The Onion of the unregulated art world. Moulton was amusingly indignant throughout the discussion, and seemed to be audience critics’ favorite target in a playful way.
Brown drew the attention back to him by playing an old track that a Canadian DJ of sorts, John Oswald, made by borrowing/pirating a James Brown song in an act he referred to as Plunderphonics. The material he created was eventually seized and destroyed. Brown then compared that track to Public Enemy’s use of the same James Brown track to raise the question of why it was OK for one and not the other. This transitioned nicely into the Stacey Richards’ spiel. Richards works for Warner Chappell as a Worldwide Catalog Relations Manager, and, as one might guess, her beef is with people stealing music as it became sensationalized during the Napster era and continuing onward. The main topic at this juncture was people’s feeling of entitlement to free music and whether or not people would actually pay for music if they felt that the artist deserved it. This issue was epitomized by Glen Warchol’s situation, where he was a journalist for the Tribune and Deseret News, and people felt entitled to free news on the web. Warchol’s story was easier for me to empathize with, as his field of work is becoming a dying form, and it was hard to feed the family and pay the bills as the newspaper industry began to dwindle while Internet advertising wasn’t lucrative. Warchol also proffered the perspective that the Internet is overtly democratic in that online bloggers and comment-ers can reject the notion that classic news sources are completely objective. He additionally turned our attention to an upcoming publication in northern Utah that will require people to pay for either the print or online edition, forecasting that journalism may find its footing solely in niche markets.
University of Utah Associate Professor Anne Jamison pulled the rope the other way as Brown let her take the stage with her take on ownership and intellectual property via her studies in fan fiction. Jamison elucidated that fan fiction existed before copyright laws, Sherlock Holmes being her case study with Holmes being killed off and riots in the street ensuing, which led to people’s hunger for this character resulting in their furthering of his existence through their own “spins”—as Jamison put it—on his story. One of Jamison’s main points was that fan fiction allows consumers to perpetuate the popularity of original texts and create fanaticism on the subject nonetheless, copyright infringement notwithstanding. Brown then led Jason Hill into the limelight, the lead software developer at Lost Wax Labs. Hill is a proponent of open-source code sharing and took us through a brief history of code development when everyone was excited to share code up until the '80s, when companies began to copyright their various lines of code. Hill practices and advocates free, libre, open source software (FLOSS) and helps plenty of people with their software woes. Hill contended that the outcomes from tackling software issues as a collective and having an inter-community dialogue are more effective than bogarting information, allowing people to be more productive in their technological endeavors.
The discussion was a success in that the audience and the panelists could make exchanges at will with due moderation from Brown. Culture Confidential's array of different panelists deepened the overarching topic of ownership of intellectual property and the implications they make for each person's field. As each panelist was done, the crowd was welcome to proffer their perspective, as one woman debated with Blumental on the likelihood of her own purchase of an artist's creation or someone's product, and whether or not her designation of the piece as being worth buying would actually compel her to pay for it. Blumental, who played the tragic hero of it all, contended that he would have consumers "pay for" his work in advance through conduits like Kickstarter. I would have liked to have seen a little more of a conclusion on part of each panelist as far as borrowing/stealing/pirating/etc. goes in terms of their respective fields of expertise. The panel discussion was a great experiment nonetheless, which I predict will develop into a smooth format for dialogue in its future manifestations. You can check out a portion of the discussion here, which will provide some insight as to how the next Culture Confidential pay play out on Tuesday, Sept. 18. at the Leona Wagner Black Box at the Rose Wagner for just $5.