Blurry Lines and Cultural Norms

By Tim Quirk
I want to keep the thread about blurring the lines between artist and audience going, partly because I am an unreconstructed indie rocker and that once meant you couldn't tell the difference between the two except for the 30 to 90 minutes the artists were onstage (and, frankly, sometimes not even then), but also because I have been posting from a cruise ship somewhere in the Atlantic, and something has been happening each night on this ship that feels like a metaphor for what we're discussing.

There's a theater on board where passengers are variously entertained by dancers, musicians, singers, comedians, and magicians (I will refrain from commenting on the quality of these performers, beyond saying that some of them would make excellent indie rockers). Before each performance, after warning the audience that they should not cross the stage because all the shows use live pyrotechnics, the emcee informs them that no photography or videotaping is allowed, "due to international copyright law."

What's funny about this announcement is that, even as the emcee says it, passengers gleefully snap photographs of him, and the flashbulbs continue to go off throughout each show, with zero consequences at all.

I'm not sure where someone would hang a picture of six dancers wearing costumes inspired by the movie All That Jazz doing choreography we all saw on a recent episode of Glee which itself borrowed liberally from an old Paula Abdul video while a karaoke recording of an old Journey song plays, but that's not the  only thing the whole phenomenon left me wondering.

I wondered exactly which "international copyright law" was being invoked. I wondered which artists in that Escher-like experience were supposedly being protected, and how their rights might be infringed by a snapshot of the proceedings. I wondered what it meant that much of the audience clicked away regardless, and that whoever was in charge felt it was important to say, "Don't," but not important enough to do anything more.

As I said, the whole thing felt very metaphorical: copyright being invoked vaguely, the "artist" undefined beyond being some kind of dividing line between who was performing and who was watching, and everyone pretty much doing what they felt like, regardless.
July 22, 2010 3:56 AM | | Comments (1) |


You answer your own questions here. When the performers are like something from Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour on a cruise ship copyright is a loose concept hardly worth enforcing. If you took your camera and recorder to the Cleveland Orchestra they would quickly escort you out of the building. When Paramount invests 200 million in a movie they get very nasty when people pirate their DVDs. The amateur/professional binary in the arts has not vanished and never will. On the other hand, I am all for a very free Internet and I think professional artists should accept many of the ways people use and redeploy their work on the Net. I think that in almost all cases, this kind of “re-creative” use of art is a very deep compliment to the original artists and that it increases the value of their “brand.” In most cases, I think the uses of art on the Net by fans and patrons should be viewed as a natural and acceptable form of consumption. This is already the norm and will be almost impossible to change. Some in the media establishment just haven’t gotten used to it, hence the movment to clarify the laws and balance them with the consumer’s interests. Soon or later ASCAP & Co. will get over its shit-fit.

I think works in a similar way. Journalists are honored when their work has the quality to be linked here. It also redirects traffic to their papers.

In reality, our lack of public arts funding is a much more important issue and has a far worse effect on our cultural lives than any threats to Net neutrality. It's strange how silent you policy folks are about that.

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