I have licensed my images (and my words) under the flexible and user-friendly terms of Creative Commons for the past four years, allowing non-commercial users "to copy, distribute and transmit the work" under the following conditions: the user "must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work)". They must neither use the work for commercial purposes nor "alter, transform, or build upon the work" without my explicit permission.Operating under this license is a fair and effective way of allowing reasonable public engagement with my work and my ideas and effectively 'unleashes' it so it can be reproduced and shared freely without impinging on those rights from which I might derive the most financial benefit, now or in the future, or on other rights I might have, such as 'fair dealing' or fair use rights, so-called moral rights, or even the rights of others either in the work itself or in how the work is used, notably privacy rights.Many artists think that Creative Commons undermines their rights. They clearly don't understand that while it allows others limited use of one's work, it doesn't support, in any way, the idea that someone can steal it and claim it as their own.The specific terms of the Creative Commons license I use precludes the 'mash-up' of my work without permission or, worse, attribution. On a personal level, I like to think that others can draw whatever they think they need from what I do – quote it, adapt it, synthesize it, copy parts of it, whatever – to create something distinctively different, providing they acknowledge me as the source. There is a big difference between plagiarism and appropriation, just as there is between forgery and reproduction.Using another's work as a starting point is not at all new. Artists have fed off each others' ideas, themes and subject matter for several hundred years. The 'modern' tendency towards appropriation took root with Andy Warhol, whose unabashedly literal reproduction of press images and package design in the 1960s ruptured once comfortable boundaries between inspired originality and 'copying'. Warhol's soup cans, soap boxes and screen-printed multiples of Elvis were important and liberating in their day. They appear a bit mundane now, especially given how easy technology has made replication of any sort. But Warhol's real innovation was recognising long before any venture-funded dot.com entrepreneur that attention was a form of currency. He was unperturbed when his own works – even images of him personally – were copied, re-worked and widely distributed. For him, as for the web generation he has inspired, ubiquity had replaced rarity as the key element of defining value.In the new economic reality of the art world, increased awareness promotes increased opportunities for artists to exploit not only their work but themselves. The locus of value is shifting – from the 'product' to the 'producer'. Unquestionably, the wider distribution of 'product' (even if it's free product, shared without restriction) enhances the audience's awareness and with it, the value, of the producer. As artists, we need to be focussing less on preserving our rights in our product and more on enhancing the value of ourselves as producers and being imaginative about how we exploit and extract that value. Above: an iPhone self-portrait at The Cullen Hotel, in Melbourne
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Shifting With The Paradigm
A lot of artists and photographers warn against the unauthorised use of images from their web sites, even if such use is 'non-commercial'. I can't help feeling that they're shooting themselves in the foot.Copyright is a contentious issue. Like many other visual artists, composers and writers, I've thought hard about the consequences of relinquishing control over my work. Not that I have much choice in the matter: every image I upload to the web is likely be downloaded by someone else and re-distributed without my permission. And now that we all have cell-phone cameras that can SMS, email and access the web, even works in the real world can be captured and shared with ease. Nevertheless, the disadvantages of restricting the distribution of my work far outweigh the advantages. Unfettered sharing encourages a wider awareness of my work and me.