Tag Archives: appropriation

A Partly Automated Sonnet-Cento About Copyright Present and Future

This partly automated sonnet-cento, about copyright present and future, is composed of lines from my tweets with the technical help of Poetweet (which I can’t stop using, now that #writing201 has alerted me to it).

“Can’t we cut a little bit more, drawn from our collective pasts”

you to go to jail for sharing files
despite undecided legal challenge
and anti-democratic trade deals
poverty and climate change

and clarify notice-and-notice
amendments on controversial
users with baseless legal threats
for the use of copyrighted material

information in payment demands
models and monopolistic advantage
emphasis on the need for balance
use of Canada’s cultural heritage

exec started making some calls
your personal information to trolls

Recherche du tapes perdu

It seemed enchanted to manipulate magnetic tape, the very stuff of real studios, as if you were the next step after producer and engineer and mastering. Somehow, your little black plastic envoy conveyed that churning thing you meant. (Wilson R6)

Amidst the many adventures of a trans-Canadian July vacation, I was bequeathed with a box of old audio cassettes that had somehow been lurking, overlooked, in my parents’ basement for a good many years. (Later on our vacation, I was surprised to see audiocassettes for sale in a Toronto Chinatown shop.) Very few of these are commercial tapes, many more are personal mixtapes–most of them completely unlabelled. So I’ve dusted off the Walkman to give these tapes a fresh audition as my workday soundtrack.

The mixtapes are mostly of the recorded-from-radio variety, and these are chiefly comprised of: recordings of CHUM FM middle-of-the-road playlists and “Sunday Night Funnies” shows from the mid-1980s; recordings of CFNY chart and request shows from the late 1980s; and recordings of college radio house music shows from the mid-1990s. There are some lost classics amidst these reels: not just great tracks but accidental fragments of broadcast history. Like erstwhile CFNY DJ Steve Anthony introducing “Love will tear us apart” with a blackly comic dig at Canadian radio regulations:

Hi there, Steve Anthony at 9:03 and, uh, one of our many CRTC regulations requires that we play music by a band that contains dead people: Joy Division on The Spirit!*

Some excellent** tunes that I’ve rediscovered (including some Canadian ones) are:

What’s really eerie about listening to these tapes again is how quickly, like within the first few notes, I can identify a song that I haven’t heard in decades — and then sing along, or at least hum the tune. Don’t my synapses have anything better to do than archive forgotten one-hit wonders and art-school tracks? There’s an interesting literature on music, psychology, and neurology that I’ve been meaning to read (see Works Consulted below), and it likely has something to say on the fact — as Friedrich Kittler puts it — that “we all know hits and rock songs by heart precisely because there is no reason to memorize them anymore” (Kittler 80).

On one hand, these tapes are like a short, roughly drafted chapter in the imaginary Bildungsroman that would chronicle the development of my musical tastes; on the other, it’s a set of murmuring echoes from within the cast-off husks of previous selves, discarded subjectivities. They’re a time capsule filled with nonsequiturs from a past somebody, or somebodies, improbably claiming to have been me.

* CFNY, before it became the Cobain-clone sausage party called “The Edge,” was known as “The Spirit of Radio” (as commemorated in the eponymous Rush song).

** You may take this descriptor with however many grains of salt that you wish.

Work Consulted

Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (1986). Trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.

Levitin, Daniel J. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Penguin, 2007.

Sacks, Oliver. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. New York: Vintage, 2008.

Wilson, Carl. “Ode to the yearning, churning mix tape.” Globe and Mail 4 Jun. 2005: R6.

Lady Gaga, copyfighter?

Google search results for “Lady Gaga infringement”: 630,000
For “Lady Gaga copyright”: 270,000,000

That’s a lot of Intertubes about Lady Gaga and copyright. Sifting the results, though, turns up little by way of actual actions. She threatened to sue the maker of a “Lady Gag Gag” sex doll, for instance; and action against her has been threatened by an alleged co-writer.

(If anyone knows of other actions, please comment — I just haven’t time to sift all two hundred and seventy million results!)

Rather more of the results have to do instead with Gaga’s perceived lack of originality, pointing out rather obvious similarities between her image and music and those of Madonna, or, say, between her meat dress and Canadian sculptor Jana Sterbak’s 1987 meat dress.

I had bristled at first that Lady Gaga so nakedly plagiarized the meat dress. But it now occurs to me that what she’s doing in music and fashion combined is oddly representative of today’s remix culture, in a political climate of ever more restrictive IP regulation. Lady Gaga, a major presence in both fashion and music now, is, in a way, bringing something of the copyright-indifferent business practices of the former — in which “there’s very little intellectual property protection” — to bear on the copyright-mad business practices of the latter.

Maybe not intentionally, maybe just inadvertently.

In any case, the various productions and performances of Lady Gaga stand open to some very suggestive interpretation, as critical statements on the present state of tensions and negotiations between the corporate-backed hegemony of “originality” and the creativity of open appropriation.

Update: I’ll take this story about Lady GaGa’s endorsement of a little Canadian girl who covered “Born this way” on Youtube as some solid evidence supporting my hunch here.
The Youtube vid in question is pretty excellent.

UPDATE 2.0! TorrentFreak confirms that “Lady Gaga Is a BitTorrent Loving Pirate.”
Apparently “she asked her fans to send a torrent (or YouTube) link of the Top Chef Just Desserts finale.”
Now, about that thing with the photographers