ITP Driveby: Creativity, Copyright, and Control

Notes from the ITP Driveby I taught last night (October 8, 2009, 9:30 PM).  Now with audio!



Copyright, copyleft, copy-what? We will discuss the various copyright/intellectual property issues faced by artists, designers, and other creators of content. Learn how to use Creative Commons and other open licenses to share and protect your work.


Start with a video: A Shared Culture

What is “intellectual property?”

Is it like real property? Or is it a “mirage”?

Copyright, Patents, and Trademark

What is copyright?

A restriction on free speech?

A temporary monopoly on the use, reproduction, and transmission of a creative work?

Copyright vs. “Right of Authorship?”

The current copyright system is broken

Copyright can be an incentive to creativity, but copyright can also get in the way.

Copies vs. Use

Atoms vs. Bits

Fair use? Free use?

Solutions? Creative Commons is one possibility.

What is CC?

How to use CC licenses

How to license your work

How to find CC-licensed work

What I did last summer – OpenEd

Learn More

Online Resources

Creative Commons – Learn more about Creative Commons the organization, find out how others are using CC licenses, and license your own work

Digital Copyright Slider – tool for determining whether works first published in the US are protected by copyright based on date of first publication

Fair Use Evaluator – online tool to help you better understand how to determine the “fairness” of a use under the US law

Public Domain Sherpa – online “calculator” helps you determine if a given work is in the public domain

Copyright, Commerce, and Culture – NYU course taught by ITP alum and Creative Commons Product Manager Fred Benenson. Lots of links to articles and discussion about copyright.


Good Copy/Bad Copy – Danish documentary about the current state of copyright and culture

RiP: A Remix Manifesto – Canadian documentary film about copyright and remix culture.

Steal This Film – a series of documentaries about the movement against intellectual property

Books (free digital downloads)

CONTENT: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future, Corey Doctorow

Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, Lawrence Lessig

Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy, Lawrence Lessig

Tales from the Public Domain: Bound By Law? – comic book that explains copyright basics; Keith Aoki, James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins

Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own – historical overview of the “digital commons” from GNU/Linux to Creative Commons, David Bollier

Glossaries and Terminology

Brown University Copyright Glossary

Cornell Law School US Copyright Law Definitions

US Copyright Office Definitions


Video: A Shared Culture

I borrowed some slides from Fred Benenson for my presentation

Commentary on Billions to Be Served: Meeting the Needs of the People and the Planet

Panel discussion from the the Aspen Ideas Festival.  Thanks to the Breakaway Cook Eric Gower for the tip.

Billions to Be Served: Meeting the Needs of the People and the Planet
The United Nations has determined that, in the next 40 years, we must double crop production to feed, fuel and clothe nine billion people. How do we meet this challenge with converting every forest and savannah into agricultural land? What are the unexpected alliances that can lead the way forward?

My thoughts:

Panelist Jason Clay mentions that one of the ways to increase agricultural yields is to open up patents and other research information to foster innovation and increase equality of access of food production technologies.  Controversy over genetic engineering aside, I can agree in principle with that strategy.  He makes the unfortunate use of the words “intellectual property,” an overreaching and unhelpful term.  What is at stake here is patents specifically, as well as research data (scientific facts, whose protection as “intellectual property” under copyright is questionable).  Patents and copyrights are temporary monopolies designed to promote innovation.  “Intellectual property,” is a confusing and problematic umbrella term that conflates this kind of monopoly with actual physical property.  (See Richard Stallman’s article for more)
Continue reading Commentary on Billions to Be Served: Meeting the Needs of the People and the Planet

Cunningham, Cage, and Copyright

The Christian Science Monitor published an article yesterday about Merce Cunningham’s living legacy plan to avoid the kind of intellectual property feuds that followed the death of Martha Graham. The Carol Strickland  of the CSM reports:

Although the Cunningham living legacy plan aims to preserve its founder’s vision intact as custodian of his intellectual property, that does not mean the choreography will be frozen forever, like an artifact of the past. As a choreographer, Cunningham always welcomed new technology and pioneered countless innovations. Collaboration, chance, and change were the very cornerstones of his approach.

Although the sun has set on his career, a new dawn inspired by his achievement may follow. “Ideas,” as the artist Robert Rauschenberg, Cunningham’s collaborator, said, “are not real estate.”

Neither is intellectual property. It could be a site where past art is not just preserved but fertilizes future growth.

“Dancing is a process that never stops,” Cunningham said when announcing his living legacy plan, “and should not stop if it is to stay alive and fresh.”

There was a mention of Creative Commons in the article’s discussion of copyright issues.  Cunningham was one of the few major choreographers to have licensed his work under a Creative Commons license.  As an advocate of Creative Commons licenses, I applaud Cunningham’s generosity to our collective artistic heritage.  However, I should also note as a comparison that in most folk dancing traditions, sharing and open collaboration are the norms– the idea of ownership is fluid and oftentimes forms and techniques are owned and transmitted collectively.

<tangent>Another scenario to consider: Michael Jackson “owned” the moonwalk in the sense that it is a dance move popularly associated with him.  But what if he literally owned it as intellectual property?  Would the Jackson estate be going after the unauthorized moonwalkers in the Eternal Moonwalk tribute site? </tangent>

The CSM article did not mention Cunningham’s life partner and frequent artistic collaborator, composer John Cage.  The two men’s work similarly combined demanding detailed instructions with indeterminacy and chance operations such as the rolling of dice.  The Cage estate has recently gone after what it considered copyright infringements against Cage’s (in)famous 4’33” (“The Silent Piece”).

The big Zen koan question then becomes, is randomness and silence copyrightable?

The score of 4’33” instructs the performer(s) to not play their instruments for four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  But the piece is not really silent.  As I have previously written:

The piece is made up of the hum of the air-conditioning in the hall, the ruffle of programs, the coughing of an audience member; it is an invitation, an invocation, to listen to the ambient sounds all around us.  Cage rejects the distinction between musical and non-musical sounds, and embraces all sounds, regardless of the performers intent, to be potentially musical.  In doing so, Cage completes the break from the history of classical composition and offers up a new model for music in which the primary act of for the composer and for the performer is not to make music, but to listen.

When a critic told Cage that anybody could have written 4’33”, Cage responded with his usual charming wit, “but nobody else did.”  There is no doubt that the provocative and performative nature of 4’33” is an act of creativity, if not genius.  At the same time, one could also argue that because the piece is about listening to the sounds that exist in the performance space even if no instruments are being played, then David Tudor’s “non-playing” of the piano at the premiere, as well as the noises generated by the audience members present, were all integral parts of the piece.  In that sense, the performer and the audience share a kind of authorship of the piece.  They all ‘performed’ 4’33” and made it what it was.  By elevating the role of listeners, Cage was in effect bringing back a participatory, interactive element that had been lost in Western “classical” music.

Cage’s 4’33” also represents a break from the idea of Romantic authorship, where “an author is perceived to be the source of original ideas, transforming the world around him through his own genius” (Authorship Collective).  Romantic authorship would claim that the roll of the composer is to create music out of silence. But Cage’s point is that silence does not exist.

One of the inspirations for 4’33” was Cage’s experience in an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a soundproofed room designed in such a way that all the surfaces in the room will absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than bouncing them back as echoes.

Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but as he wrote later, he “heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.” Cage had gone to a place where he expected there to be no sound, yet sound was nevertheless discernible. He stated “until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.” (Wikipedia)

Composers cannot create music out of silence because silence does not exist. Even if it did, unless we are deaf, it is impossible to perceive it.  Cage’s 4’33”, like Duchamp’s ready-mades, is a kind of “found art,” comprised of environmental sounds that already exist.  We are all constantly surrounded by sounds, they are unavoidable elements of our environment.  The role of composers and musicians is to organize and present those sounds, which is exactly what  remix and mash-up artists do today when they create new music from the found sounds and cultural artifacts found in our environment.  In a way, the “found-sound” composition 4’33” is an Ur-remix, a remix of (non)silence and of reality itself, and John Cage an avant la lettre master of the mash-up.

All of this has inspired my latest composition: 433 trees falling in the forest with nobody to hear the sound. (C) 2009 Lee-Sean Huang, published by Hepnova Multimedia LLC.  All Rights Reserved.

RIP: A Remix Manifesto Screening and Dance Party

Brett Gaylor and special guest Dan O'Neill
RIP: A Remix Manifesto filmmaker Brett Gaylor and underground cartoonist/fair-use icon Dan O’Neill in San Francisco, 23 June 2009.
Brett Gaylor and special guest Dan O'Neill

Tonight Creative Commons co-hosted a San Francisco screening of RIP: A Remix Manifest, a documentary about remix and copyright.  The movie features interviews with remix culture pioneers and opinion leaders like Girl TalkLawrence LessigGilberto Gil, and Cory Doctorow.  RIP was on my summer viewing list.

I went to check out the screening with Michelle, another Creative Commons (and lurking reader of this blog).  Filmmaker Brett Gaylor did a Q&A after the screening.  He also introduced special guest Dan O’Neill of Air Pirates fame, who was profiled in the documentary.  You can download the film online under a pay-what-you-want model.

After the Q&A came the dance party. DJs Adrian and the Mysterious D and VJs Eclectic Method rocked the house with their mash-up madness.  I haven’t danced that hard in years. Awesome!

Summer Reading/Viewing List

Here is a summer reading/viewing list of books and documentaries relating to my internship at Creative Commons and to my ongoing personal interests.  It’s a self-assigned curriculum for summer self-improvement if you will.  The general themes include technology, the internet, copyright, culture, creativity, and food.  I haven’t actually read all the books yet, but I have seen all the movies.

At the time of writing, all of the works are available for free (legal) viewing or download online except for Food Inc., which is now in theaters around the US – and a must see for EVERY American.  I know I have kind of geeky interests, and not everybody cares to read 300+ page books about copyright, but everybody eats, so go see Food Inc already!


The Wealth of Networks
How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
Yochai Benkler

Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace 2.0
Lawrence Lessig

Free Culture
How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity
Lawrence Lessig

Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy
Lawrence Lessig

The Pirates Dilemma
How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism
Matt Mason

The Public Domain
Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
James Boyle

Viral Spiral
How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own
David Bollier

The Future of the Internet And How to Stop It
Jonathan Zittrain

Music and It’s Reflection on Society
Catalan: La Música i el seu reflex en la societat
Spanish: La música y su reflejo en la sociedad
Edited by Indigestió
A collection of essays about the role of music in contemporary society. Only in Spanish and Catalan for now though.

Tales from the Public Domain: Bound By Law?
“Bound by Law translates law into plain English and abstract ideas into ‘visual metaphors.’ So the comic’s heroine, Akiko, brandishes a laser gun as she fends off a cyclopean ‘Rights Monster’ – all the while learning copyright law basics, including the line between fair use and copyright infringement.” -Brandt Goldstein, The Wall Street Journal online


Good Copy/Bad Copy
A Danish documentary about the current state of copyright and culture

Rip: A Remix Manifesto
A Canadian documentary film about copyright and remix culture.

The Future of Food
An in-depth look into the controversy over genetically modified foods.  Watch it online at Snagfilms.

Food, Inc.
Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.

The Legend of Leigh Bowery
The Legend of Leigh Bowery explores a life lived as if it was a performance. Leigh Bowery was a costume/clothing designer, nightclub impresario, performer, and musician whose vision influenced many of today’s most important artists. He later became known to the world at large as the muse and subject of preeminent British painter Lucian Freud.