Category: Art

Things I've Been Caught Up With

Apologies for neglecting this blog for a bit. I'm have got lots of drafts saved so some more posts are on their way.

I wanted to announce that in conjunction with my day-to-day job as Outreach Manager at Creative Commons, I'm now working at Eyebeam (a digital arts space in Chelsea) a day or two a week as a research associate with Michael Mandiberg and Patrick Davison. Michael and Patrick and I are developing a project called "One for the Commons" for Eyebeam's Open Culture group which will help contemporary and notable (notable as defined by Wikipedia's hive mind) artists release their work into the commons. We've done a lot of work to prepare the project, but there's still a bit more to do before the site launches; you should see something here about it soon.

I've also joined the board of Rhizome, which is an digital art organization at the New Museum. This is a great honor and I'm looking forward to helping them grow. You can help Rhizome now by purchasing space on their $50,000 homepage; an homage to the original Million Dollar Homepage. Also check out my 35 Million Pixel Animated gif from 2006.

Aside from that, I've been Creative Commons stuff has taken up most of my other time. It's been great, we've seen a lot of interesting and fantastic things happen in 2009, and there is lots more to do. In case you don't follow my twitter/facebook feed, I was recently on RTE Radio 1 in Ireland talking with Dave Fanning about the future of the music industry, and today I'll be on a panel at Cardozo talking about why Network Neutrality is important for Creative Commons.

Also, I posted a trance mix I made in high school and got a funny (positive) reaction on facebook about it. Download DJ_Mecredis_-_Bad_Old_Trance.mp3 or listen here:

A Spoon Full of Penis^H^H^H^H^H Audience Makes the Public Domain Go Down

I've been working as a photographer for MoMA's PopRally for the last year or so and it has quickly become one of my favorite live events to work for. Last Tuesday was "PopRally: Silent But Deadly", and the evening's entertainment would come in form of comedy from and about public domain films. Max Silvestri, a friend and comedian I booked for a Creative Commons Salon was the MC for the night and started off the evening explaining how he was planning on curating MoMA's Department of Internet Funny Pictures. Above, you can see him highlighting a photo he found on the Internet of a snow penis made in a pickup truck.

What was so special about Tuesday (besides the fact that I took the time to read the instruction manual for my flash prior to showing up) was that MoMA packed the house showing restored mostly-public domain silent films with live improvised piano accompaniment by Ben Model. If you've ever watched a silent film, this should surprise you.

On top of that, MoMA featured awesome remixes of those films afterwards. Having taken a couple of film classes and fancying myself a basic appreciation of the history of photography, I know why silent films are historically important but I've always had a hard time actually sitting through them. I've occasionally downloaded some from the Internet Archive, but never found them particularly engaging or watchable.

But sitting and laughing with the audience at MoMA, I finally understood the appeal of the silent film -- it was the presence of an audience affirming and interpreting the screen that allowed me to enjoy it. Since there was no dialog, we, the audience, had to create and share what we thought was happening on screen with our laughter and reactions.

In other words, you're not supposed to watch silent films by yourself; they require group dynamics to really come alive. This may apply to contemporary film, and may be a reason year after year, Hollywood still breaks box office records despite panicked proclamations that the sky is falling. Theater experiences are highly rivalrous and I think this PopRally really demonstrates why theaters and real live audiences are still very important.

My favorite part of the evening were the remixes that various comedians were commissioned to do. They make less sense without first seeing the original films (none of which seem available online in their entirety), but here's one that I think definitely works by Joe Mande:

The Knockout: 15 Years Later from Joe Mande on Vimeo.

If you're not already signed up for PopRally, do not hesitate to join their mailing list, and buy your tickets early because they almost always sell out.

(The ^H's in the title of this blog post are explained here.)

Soulja Boy Now Officially Sending Takedown Notices

A story told in three videos:

1. "Original" Soulja Boy Video **

2. Students for Free Culture board member and friend Kevin Driscoll teaching ROLFcon nerds how to do SouljaBoy:3. Kevin responding to his Soulja Boy takedown notice:

It seems that Kevin's video has become the victim of YouTube's auto-takedown robots. Good thing he posted it to as well. More info on the ROFLcon blog.

**Soulja Boy's YouTube channel doesn't allow me to embed his video into this blog, and despite my halfhearted attempts at circumventing this "feature" I wasn't able to post it with the others. I can't believe I'm arguing for the right to embed a video, or even that it would be possible to deny me the right to do so, but this is what happens when we rely on proprietary video codecs like Flash.

Yes We Did.

I just wanted to thank everyone I know right now for helping Barack Obama win this presidency. Your effort in this campaign made the difference, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for making change happen this election.

As a way to move on, I've created a site with my friend Sorrel, called "Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out" where we are collecting farewell notes for Bush. Think of it as catharsis politics.

The basic idea is that you e-mail us your images, words, and ideas and we'll compile them into a book that we'll try and get into Bush's hands before Obama is sworn in. All submitted works must be licensed under CC's Attribution license. We want as much participation in this as possible, so please let everyone you know about this project.

Moving on from Copyleft

I'm no longer using CC's Attribution ShareAlike for my photos, and have switched to requiring just Attribution when my photos are used. This post will hopefully explain why I switched, and present some ideas and critiques about copyleft with respect to photography.

When I first started my photoblog, in late February of 2005, I was releasing my images under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial so that you could use my photos so long as you gave me attribution and didn't use them commercially:

This photo was originally released under a NonCommercial license.

After working at CC for the summer as their intern, I began to rethink my reasoning for choosing this license. The free software camp adamantly opposed putting commercial restrictions on software in the name of freedom, and therefore some opposed putting NonCommercial restrictions on free culture. Richard Stallman, the progenitor of free software, didn't oppose CC's NonCommercial license, so much as our other licenses for more technical reasons. Since CC has retired our Developing Nations License and Sampling License, it remains to seen whether he'll endorse CC now.

Anyway, Attribution-ShareAlike, Creative Commons' copyleft license, was the recommended solution to achieving some of the goals that people thought they wanted with CC's NonCommercial license. Afraid that someone is going resell remixes of your work? If they have to release those remixes under the same license in which you gave it to them (put simply, the principle of ShareAlike and copyleft), then they'll have no financial incentive to sell it, because the license will allow sharing and future commercial exploitation by the public. This, the reasoning goes, should make authors feel better about their work being commercially resold if and when that were to happen.

Putting aside questions about commercial advertising exploiting copylefted work, I then switched my photo's Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

My Tonka Beans make it to the Wall Street JournalMany of my photos have been used by mainstream publications without my permission (that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned) because I've put them under a Creative Commons license.

Up until today, I had had most of my photos licensed under this license, and found wonderful uses of them by places like Popular Science, the Wall Street Journal, and of course, Wikipedia. It has since become very clear to me that there is a continuum, and that the more liberally you release a work, the better it can flow into the world.

It is for this reason and the ones below, that I am now removing the "copyleft" requirement of my photos. That is, I am removing the ShareAlike condition on my work, and releasing them under purely Attribution. This means you can mash up my photos, remix them, use them commercially, and do basically whatever you want, with absolutely no obligation above giving me proper attribution and stating that the original was released under a CC Attribution license.

Here are some more thoughts on why copyleft and photography aren't a great fit:

  • Copyleft is difficult to explain for most people unfamiliar with software, much less licensing, and it imposes a further transaction cost on people using my work. When I'm negotiating with people who hire me to take photos for events or portraits, the basic notion of attribution is very easy to explain. However, copyleft takes precious time and negotiating energy to further explain. Since I'd rather have my work used than not, most of the time I just waive ShareAlike anyway. This is the standard complaint levied against copyleft in the decades-old war between permissive licenses and copyleft licenses. Google, for example, chose the permissive Apache license (basically the software equivalent to CC's Attribution license) for their Android platform because it not only allows the codebase to be open source / free software, but because it encourages other companies to adopt it without further complications to their work flow and software stacks.
  • Similarly, most people ignore copyleft when they don't understand it. I'm torn about whether this should be a distinct point from the one above, but I think there's a difference between the cost of explaining copyleft, and the cost of using copylefted work. I have found numerous examples of when people use my images, and either don't want to pay attention to the ShareAlike condition, so they just ignore it, or they don't understand it in the first place. Besides having to explain copyleft, this forces me to punish the reuser with more work, something I'm not comfortable with doing when I should be the one that is thankful that someone else is reusing my photos.
  • The legal ground for what constitutes a "derivative" of a photographic work is less than clear. Therefore, it is unclear when parent works must be released under the ShareAlike license when they use my photo. For example, if someone takes my photo from Flickr (which was under a BY-SA license) and uses it in a mainstream newspaper, are they obligated to release the article that uses the photo under BY-SA or the newspaper or neither? The license states that derivatives must be licensed and shared in the same way, but there is a split circuit decision on whether a derivative is created by re-contextualizing a photo. Wikipedia has a "Reusing Content from Wikipedia" page that basically dodges the question.

    More importantly, its not just the courts who are split on this decision. Some people believe that copylefted material should not place an undue burden on mainstream press when using photos, and others believe that the press shouldn't be allowed to use work without giving up something a little themselves, namely the exclusive rights monopoly over the encompassing work.

    Needless to say, this is a frustrating fact of copyleft for photography that blurs the lines in a way similar to the NonCommercial issue. Deciding "What is a derivative?" looks, in some cases, as challenging as deciding "What is NonCommercial?"

  • Copyleft for photos doesn't make as much sense as it does for software. Richard Stallman's idea behind copyleft was to not only protect his work from becoming proprietary (and therefore locking him out of his own work), but to encourage people who built upon it to release those modifications back into the community. Building upon the work of others in photography does not require access to the source, even if you make the crass analogy that negatives (or RAW files) are the photography equivalent of source code, because all you need to learn and build upon photography is visual access to the final works. When I as a photographer, build upon the work of Diane Arbus or Andreas Gursky, my community does not need to have access to my negatives or RAW files to benefit from the changes I made based on an original photographer's work, all they need is visual access to my end result. And I don't buy the argument that access to my negatives or RAW files is just as valuable as access to a software application's source code, because the negatives and RAW files are essentially unedited and unprocessed. I also don't buy the argument that compiling a program is like exposing a negative. Where a compiled application fundamentally obscures the underlying source, an exposed negative only partially edits the underlying source -- you can still learn from the photo and build upon it, and even arguably share it.

So with that, all 3,330 of my flickr photos are now under CC's Attribution 2.0 license, and all photos on my photoblog are as well. Enjoy!

The RIAA Has Already Implemented Collective Licensing

The RIAA Logo.

Indulge with me in a thought experiment.

Suppose you download thousands of MP3s over filesharing networks, and then, one day, you get nailed with the threat of a lawsuit from the RIAA. The RIAA then asks you to pay a fee to settle it now, so that you don't face huge infringement costs. You agree to do so, using your credit card, over the phone with an anonymous settlement representative (not actually a lawyer).

How is this that much different from collective licensing like ASCAP? The idea behind collective licensing for file sharing is to enable users to share files freely while paying a fee, similar to how radio stations and restaurants pay a fee to play whatever music they want. The details might get hideously complicated and I have serious reservations about adding more taxes to my ISP connection, but I do believe collective licensing is the only way out of the woods for those in the entertainment industry not interested in real sharing.

Anyway, what is the difference between how the RIAA is implementing their lawsuit campaign, and the way collective licenses might work for file sharing? You're paying a 'one-time' fee to settle your debts to the recording industries for revenues they think you cost them while downloading and sharing files.

There are some differences. For one, the settlement fee the second time around is likely to be a lot higher and perhaps the RIAA won't even offer you the right to settle the next time they contact you. You would probably end up in court facing massive statutory fines with no option of settlement. Second, the settlement fee is probably a lot higher than what the market would decide on. And finally, the settlement fee is being extracted by threat of impending lawsuit, not subscription obligation.

But the fundamentals of the transaction are very similar: users are already engaging in filesharing, the RIAA threatens with large fines if they don't pay a fee, and then, when they do pay the fee, they're off the hook for the time being.

The RIAA, knowingly or not, has effectively painted their way into a corner supporting collective licensing as the future of their business model. Whether or not the campaign is profitable is a matter of debate, but with fewer than 1% of RIAA victims choosing to fight the lawsuits, the math is in their favor: 30,000 lawsuits multiplied by a conservative $2,500 per settlement garners the RIAA at least $75,000,000 over the course of their anti-filesharing inquisition. While the payouts do not exactly make up for lost revenue from the death of their cash cow, and granted the settlements have been totally ineffective stopping file sharing, someone at the RIAA must have done the math and realized the settlements are now a full fledged revenue stream.

So while the RIAA may huff and puff and say the lawsuits are about punishing people for 'making available' (an specious legal argument to begin with) and exposing the rampant theft of our cultural heritage perpetrated by America's youth, we should really see them for what they are: an adaptation by a business to secure a new source of revenue.

The pity it in all is that the RIAA is ruining lives by doing so. If they were to just embrace collective licensing as a legitimate form of revenue, there would be a lot less friction in the marketplace for music and filesharing.

*Note that this post doesn't take into account the differences between collective licensing and voluntary collective licensing, and over simplifies the whole topic quite a bit, and for that, please accept my apologies.

Just to be perfectly clear, Michel Gondry is not missing

Michel Gondry is missing.

I ran into this poster walking around with Thessaly on Sunday. I took a photo and sent it to Flickr. I added a caption disclaiming it as being probably a hoax (I actually said it was probably a lame marketing ploy).

Then Gothamist blogged about the posters the next day using my photo.

Thankfully, today I received a message from Gondry's office saying that no, he was not in fact missing:

Hi. I would like to make it perfectly clear that Michel Gondry has absolutely nothing to do with this at all. It is not a marketing campaign. These postings are the independent act of someone not associated with Michel Gondry or any of his work or projects. We would prefer that these signs be removed whenever possible. Thank you. -Office of Michel Gondry.

Does this mean I get to be in the next Michel Gondry music video?

Crowd Sourcing Crowd Sourcing (or self-referential Human Intelligence Tasks)

I've created a self-referential Human Intelligence Task on Amazon's Mechanical Turk.

The task is to create more Human Intelligence Tasks that might be interesting or neat or funny. If I find any good ones, I'll implement those.

I'm currently paying participants $.15 per idea, though I have no idea if this is a reasonable amount of money to compensate someone for coming up with the brilliant kind of ideas already on the site:

I've pleged $33 to this task, so that means I should have roughly 200 (minus some fees, etc.) ideas by the end of it. Go lazyweb!