Art & The Copy Left

From NYT Books section, Daniel B. Smith:

In the late 1990s, [Lewis] Hyde began extending his lifelong project of examining “the public life of the imagination” into what had become newly topical territory: the “cultural commons.” The advent of Internet file-sharing services like Napster and Gnutella sparked urgent debates over how to strike a balance between public and private claims to creative work. For more than a decade, the so-called Copy Left — a diverse group of lawyers, activists, artists and intellectuals — has argued that new digital technologies are responsible for an unprecedented wave of innovation and that excessive legal restrictions should not be placed on, say, music remixes, image mashups or “read-write” sites like Wikipedia, where users create their own content. The Copy Left, or the “free culture movement,” as it is sometimes known, has articulated this position in part by drawing on the tradition of the medieval agricultural commons, the collective right of villagers, vassals and serfs —“commoners” — to make use of a plot of land. This analogy is also central to Hyde’s book in progress, which looks closely at how the tradition of the commons was transformed once it was brought from Europe to America.

For the Copy Left, as for Hyde, the last 20 years have witnessed a corporate “land grab” of information — often in the guise of protecting the work of individual artists — that has put a stranglehold on creativity, in increasingly bizarre ways. Over dinner not long ago, he told me about the legal fate of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Dickinson died in 1886, but it was not until 1955 that an “official” volume of her collected works was published, by Harvard University Press. The length of copyright terms has expanded substantially in the last century, and Harvard holds the exclusive right to Dickinson’s poems until 2050 — more than 160 years after they were first written. When the poet Robert Pinsky asked Harvard for permission to include a Dickinson poem in an article that he was writing for Slate about poetic insults, it refused, even for a fee. “Their feeling was that once the poem was online, they’d lose control of it,” Hyde told me.


Read the whole article here

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, Lewis Hyde

Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art, Lewis Hyde 

The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde

The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau Selected and Edited by Lewis Hyde, Henry D. Thoreau and Lewis Hyde

2 thoughts on “Art & The Copy Left

  1. This is a fascinating topic. It seems to me that completely removing copyright law, “the free culture movement”, will almost certainly result in the end of the idea of the professional artist. The world will become a very boring brown soup of remix. It’s almost like the very idea that creativity and originality are possible is under seige.

  2. I disagree. I don’t think we’ll ever see the complete removal of copyright law and I’m not sure that’s what Hyde is arguing, though I look forward to reading more in his books, which I’ve ordered. The internet, though, does introduce a whole new world with respect to art and cultural production. It’s almost impossible to prevent copyright violation, for one thing and, often, it’s difficult to see what the harm could be of posting or “publishing” a single poem – it’s not like putting it in a print anthology, where failure to get permission or pay a fee could rob the writer/artist of income via royalties. As long as the website that publishes isn’t receiving income, there is no harm to the holder of the copyright.

    I had an experience with the problem this week that was very upsetting. I’m still processing the event and will post soon on my experience and my thoughts about all this – but you know, I’m not a capitalist! lol

    Always great to see you!

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