My Life Without Technoviking: An Interview with Matthias Fritsch

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Matthias Fritsch is an independent artist from Berlin, most well known for his work Kneecam No 1—the live video that brought Technoviking to the internet. Over a decade after he uploaded the clip that went viral, Fritsch now is enduring a long legal battle with Technoviking himself, who sued for the reproduction, proliferation, and unwarranted use of his likeness. In response to the process, Fritsch is making The Story of Technoviking, a crowd-funded documentary that aims to shed light on the legal issues surrounding viral images. Below, Fritsch talks about what it’s like do battle in court with a viking, the ownership of images in the internet age, and hopes for his current project.

My Life Without Technoviking—since the trial began, Fritsch is no longer allowed to use images of the plaintiff's face.

DQ: Matthias, I'm of course curious about the video that originated it all. What was, for you, Kneecam No 1 (2000) before it became an internet meme? Why did you upload it to YouTube? Were you expecting such a viral reaction? What did you think when it happened?

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Christian Marclay in the New Yorker

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Great longread in the New Yorker this week about Christian Marclay's The Clock. Although I agree with Kenneth Goldsmith that the piece could benefit from greater discussion of the copyright issues he faced; the story behind how it was made is very compelling. It starts describing his move from New York, which meant leaving behind a larger apartment and boxes and boxes of bric-à-brac. In London his desktop became his studio:

Given his space constraints in London, Marclay decided that his first project would involve immaterial material—that is, digital media. Instead of wielding an X-Acto knife, he’d use Final Cut Pro. As he told me recently, sitting at his desk in Clerkenwell, “All I needed was this table and a computer” ....

“The Clock” is far too long to be presented on a DVD. The work is a computer program—coded by Mick Grierson, a professor at Goldsmiths College, in London—that, when booted, launches into whichever clip matches the time, down to the microsecond. The system, which archives the video and audio tracks separately, requires setup, and Marclay and a White Cube technician, Scott Martin, were present at virtually every city where the piece had been shown. (As carefully tended as the system is, mishaps can occur: at the Pompidou, “The Clock” mysteriously fell a few minutes en retard.)

If you're wondering why they aren't renting out bigger theaters for screenings, it's because the intimacy and the sound quality is so essential to the experience. The strength of The Clock lies in its uncanny intimacy, the ability to create a shared experience — a moment in time — between screen and audience. When you are stuggling to stay away at 4 am in the theater, the actors in the film clips are also yawning and sleepy-eyed ...

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Physibles

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The Pirate Bay just announced a new file type available on the site: "physibles," digital files for 3D printing. It expects in 20 years you'll be downloading sneakers. In the meantime there are lawn darts and plastic toys:

We're always trying to foresee the future a bit here at TPB. One of the things that we really know is that we as a society will always share. Digital communication has made that a lot easier and will continue to do so. And after the internets evolutionized data to go from analog to digital, it's time for the next step.

Today most data is born digitally. It's not about the transition from analog to digital anymore. We don't talk about how to rip anything without losing quality since we make perfect 1 to 1 digital copies of things. Music, movies, books, all come from the digital sphere. But we're physical people and we need objects to touch sometimes as well!

We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printersscanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.

The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We'll be able to print food for hungry people. We'll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We'll be able ...

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Rhizome Joins Jan 18 Internet Blackout to Raise Awareness of PIPA/SOPA

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Rhizome is joining sites like Reddit, Internet Archive, Wikipedia, and others tomorrow in blacking out our site for 24 hours to protest and raise awareness of PIPA and SOPA. We believe in an open internet and recommend other organizations consider participating in this important action.

For more information, please check out EFF's coverage of this and other "blacklist" creating legislation. Updates from the blog Tech Dirt are also essential reading. Further information and templates to join in the internet blackout are located on the site American Censorship.

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Stop the E-PARASITE Act

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CNET has a great analysis of SOPA ("Stop Online Privacy Act"), also known as the E-PARASITE Act ("Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act."): 

House leaders assured Silicon Valley they would correct serious defects in the Senate bill. Unfortunately, SOPA does just the opposite. It creates vague, sweeping new standards for secondary liability, drafted to ensure maximum litigation..

The House bill, for example, dubbed the "E-PARASITE Act," proposes alternative versions of several provisions from Protect IP, including new authority for the attorney general to cut off access and funding for "parasite" foreign Web sites. (SOPA requires the U.S. copyright czar to determine the extent to which these foreign infringers are actually harming U.S. interests, data collection that logically should precede such sweeping new powers.)

Once the Justice Department determines a site "or a portion thereof" is "committing or facilitating" certain copyright and trademark violations, it can apply for court orders that would force ISPs and others who maintain DNS lookup tables to block access to the site.

Search engines (a term broadly defined that includes any website with a "search" field), along with payment processors and advertising networks, can also be forced to cut ties with the parasites. Operators of innocent sites have limited ability to challenge the Justice Department's decision before or after action is taken.

SOPA also includes its own version of another Senate bill, which would make it a felony to stream copyrighted works. The House version allows prosecution of anyone who "willfully" includes protected content without permission, including, for example, YouTube videos where copyrighted music is covered or even played in the background.

While supporters deny that such minimal infractions would meet the bill's definition of "willfully," the actual text suggests otherwise. Prosecutors need only demonstrate ...

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We Copy Like We Breathe: Cory Doctorow's SIGGRAPH 2011 Keynote

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Still image from Cory Doctorow's Keynote speech at SIGGRAPH 2011

When Cory Doctorow started his Keynote speech at this year's SIGGRAPH conference he started bravely by granting the audience "unequivocal permission to record video, audio, and to use those recordings ... in all media now known or yet to be invented throughout the known universe." This past Wednesday, two days after the speech, the Keynote was available on YouTube.

In the speech, Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing, outlined copyright and digital rights management's current state of affairs by providing details and examples that took the conversation far beyond the typically polarized copyright debate that divides the analysis into two mutually exclusive parts - either bad or good. In warming up to a proposal of his own set of laws he outlined an important issue that affects those experimenting on multiple portable platforms such as the iPhone, iPad, Android, and other emerging devices. Apple worked as the central example because of their sophisticated management of DRM, supported by the fact that they are generally good at what they do. Doctorow's concern about Apple's proprietary restrictions on transferring purchases from iTunes or the App Store were compounded by a recent announcement in the Guardian that German patent court has granted Apple a preliminary injunction that would prevent any import of Samsung's new Galaxy tablet into the country. This is certainly a concern for consumers and adds to the importance of Doctorow’s speech - but it’s an even bigger concern for artists who are experimenting on these platforms. As more artists make apps for the App Store they are opting into a restricted environment. If a consumer buys their app, and wants to transfer it to another device, they have no recourse except to ask Apple for permission ...

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Comment: There’s No Such Thing as a Compulsory License for a Photo

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My friend Andy has a terrific post up about his ordeal settling with the photographer Jay Maisel over the threat of a copyright lawsuit. Chances are if, you’re reading this, you know about that. If you haven’t ready Andy’s story, go and read it and then come back.

There’s one pointed question I’ve seen crop up in a number of conversations about the settlement:

Isn’t it wrong that Andy chose to pay the licensing fees for the music but not for the photograph?

This question makes the assumption that Andy could have paid the licensing fees to Maisel like he did for the music. He couldn’t have. This is because Jay Maisel refused to license the image and there’s no compulsory license for photography like there is for musical compositions.

A compulsory license is what it sounds like: the owner of the underlying musical composition is required, by law, to license it to anyone who wants to use it at a predetermined rate. This prohibits song writers from picking and choosing who gets to perform their works. It also allows Andy to license, at a fair rate, the underlying song compositions from a Miles Davis album to make a new album of original recordings (remember, copyrights to recordings are different from copyrights to the compositions of a song).

The copyright of photographic works, unlike works of music composition, is not subject to a compulsory license.

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Letter from Campbell Soup Product Manager to Andy Warhol (1964)

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In light of Andy Baio's settlement with Jay Maisel, this 1964 letter from the Campbell Soup product manager to Andy Warhol serves as the ideal way to respond to transformative works:

Transcript:

Campbell SOUP Company
CAMDEN 1, NEW JERSEY

May 19, 1964

Mr. A. Warhol
1342 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York

Dear Mr. Warhol:

I have followed your career for some time. Your work has evoked a great deal of interest here at Campbell Soup Company for obvious reasons.

At one time I had hoped to be able to acquire one of your Campbell Soup label paintings - but I'm afraid you have gotten much too expensive for me.

I did want to tell you, however, that we admired your work and I have since learned that you like Tomato Soup. I am taking the liberty of having a couple of cases of our Tomato Soup delivered to you at this address.

We wish you continued success and good fortune.

Cordially,

(Signed, 'William P. MacFarland')

William P. MacFarland
Product Marketing Manager

via Daniel Jalkut, Dan Abrams

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Andy Baio Writes About Settling Out of Court Over Pixel Art Depiction of Miles Davis

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Andy Baio (who took part in this year's Seven on Seven) writes about settling out of court for the pixel art cover to Kind of Bloop, his Kickstarter-funded "8-Bit Tribute to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue." As Baio explains, "the fact that I settled is not an admission of guilt. My lawyers and I firmly believe that the pixel art is 'fair use' and [Jay] Maisel and his counsel firmly disagree. I settled for one reason: this was the least expensive option available."

Baio goes on to explain how difficult it is to claim fair use in practice:

If you're borrowing inspiration from any copyrighted material, even if it seems clear to you that your use is transformational, you're in danger. If your use is commercial and/or potentially objectionable, seek permission (though there's no guarantee it'll be granted) or be prepared to defend yourself in court.

Anyone can file a lawsuit and the costs of defending yourself against a claim are high, regardless of how strong your case is. Combined with vague standards, the result is a chilling effect for every independent artist hoping to build upon or reference copyrighted works.

Also, as Marc Hedlund at O'Reilly Radar points out, "Andy negotiated the right to post the full story to his blog. That in itself is a huge accomplishment and service -- almost always, DMCA claims that end in settlement include a ban on speaking publicly about it. You should read the story, and when you do, consider that this happens all the time and we usually never hear about it."

Update: Mat Honan at Gizmodo has more, including this quote from Baio, "My lawyers and I firmly believed that I was legally in the right. But it doesn't matter, fair use doesn't protect you unless you're willing to pay to defend yourself. The average copyright case costs $310,000 to litigate when there's less than $1 million at risk."

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John Young and Deborah Natsios (Cryptome.org) Interviewed in DOMUS

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The founders of Cryptome.org, architects John Young and Deborah Natsios, are interviewed in Domus magazine as part of their open source themed issue:

How did Cryptome begin?

Deborah: Our collaboration started some time late in 1993. We went online in the Internet's early infancy, its seminal moments. Quite quickly we became involved in these new online environments and communities that were positioning themselves on the front line of the politics of information. John's involvement with the Cypherpunk Listserv was a transformative moment—Cypherpunk was dealing with issues of cryptography and freedom of information, and was way more advanced than anything that architectural practice was interested in at the time. For a long time we were the only architects in a milieu of technologists, cryptographers, hackers—we experienced a very peculiar kind of isolation in those years.

John: Cypherpunk was completely different from anything that existed at the time. It was all about taking over the world by undermining institutions and authorities. Cypherpunk did not have any interest in design, or had never heard of it, or possibly just didn't care. On the other side, we were surrounded by architects and designers who were not interested in anything that might disturb the opportunity of getting work, anything that might hinder their careers. It was then that it started to dawn on us that the Internet was going to become an advertising medium, as it has become for designers and architects. Even today, there are thousands of websites about getting work and showing portfolios, but nothing even remotely disruptive. Cypherpunk was out to undermine precisely that.

What made you perceive the disruptive potential of the Internet in relation to the politics of information as something necessary at that time?

Deborah: I think the politics of these "new technology" people in the design world is very problematic. Architects are by and large engaged in a kind of ornamental politics—a telegenic, photogenic and glossy politics that is unerringly safe. They won't put their careers on the line, they won't be visited by the authorities, they won't be subpoenaed for a federal criminal trial—all of which has happened to us. Is your work pulling the tail of the tiger? Are the authorities appearing at your door with warnings? Very few architects can say that. There is a certain abdication of engagement in the circles of mainstream production as tools of change—exhibitions, magazines and so on play their own role in this game.

John: We are not aware of anyone else in the design world who is engaged in the sort of practice we are engaged in. And even if they were, you would never find out about them through the architectural and design media—they would be too bizarre to be associated with. What the architecture world does have is a particular breed of architects who are highly practised at being embraced for their "outsiderness". Being a professional outsider as a promotional schtick: they are welcome and there are budgets for them. So one option is to be mildly controversial, and get invited to places to give talks and do museum shows. The other is to actually do something that will really piss people off, to the extent they will never want to invite you again or have anything to do with you

via Adrian Chen

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