Saturday, April 05, 2008

IP/Gender at AU, panel 3

Engendering Practice

Debora Halbert, Otterbein College

The Labor of Creativity: Women’s Work and Quilting

Halbert is asking people who are not lawyers what they think about copyright. This may not be so much an issue of gender as it is of commodification—women are willing to commodify quilting when it serves their interests, but there remains underneath an ideology of gifting that is important to quilting.

Halbert surveyed a variety of quilters, using a snowball sample. 100% of the sample was female. The respondents have spent a lot of time quilting. Quilters happily share patterns with friends, despite restrictions printed on pattern books. But there is a lot of uncertainty and vagueness—people don’t really know what they’re “supposed” to be doing. The overwhelming majority had heard of copyright in relation to quilting, but they didn’t know exactly what that meant. Most distinguished between personal use and commercial production, and they tried to follow the law as they understood it. Many responded by choosing to opt out of the commercially driven world together and only use patterns they made themselves or patterns from the public domain.

Most quilters considered that copyright had no impact on them (even though they potentially had copyright rights, and most signed their quilts on the back, indicating a claim of attribution). Collaborative quilts are less common than individual quilts, but they’re constructed in networks to maintain ties.

Only people who write notebooks or create patterns want copyright, and not in the quilts themselves. Unalienated creativity happens for noncommercial reasons, and circulates without clear monetary value.

Kevin Jerome Greene, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Blues Women of the 1920s

Blues emerged from the minstrel tradition: in the early days, people made money through sheet music—white musicians appropriating the work of black artists; “Jim Crow” was a minstrel song. IP was central to the dynamics of racial subordination—along with expropriation (the cotton gin, invented by a slave), IP enabled the propertization and profitability of the exploitation and dehumanization of African-Americans (Aunt Jemima, Uncle Rastus, Uncle Ben). This has a powerful cultural impact.

Issues such as attribution and moral rights have gender and race dimensions courts fail to recognize—Dastar is ahistorical and ignorant of the context of the entertainment industry. Getting credit through contract is unlikely to work for disempowered artists. At the same time, a black rapper’s sampling is condemned by “Thou shalt not steal” when there’s 200 years of theft by white musicians.

This intersects with male domination: blues women usher in the blues, and are largely ushered out by the time of jazz. The movement continues with rap. Intersectionality theory can help us analyze this where economic analysis can’t.

What to do? We need to get powerful interests on board. Perhaps, as Derrick Bell says, nothing happens unless powerful whites decide it’s in their interests. The music industry is in crisis now, and improving the treatment of African-American artists might restore some moral authority. Discrimination harms everyone across the board.

Francesca Coppa, Muhlenberg College

Media Cannibals: A History of Vidding Women

This is the high-tech version of quilting: film editing is a historically female profession within film, was a sort of scutwork done in dark rooms—related to sewing. Vidding is a female-dominated artform using found footage and music cut together as a form of creativity and social critique. It’s subcultural, underground, hasn’t gotten credit. Coppa started at the Signal2Noise conference, where people (men) were saying that music videos started in 1995; female vidding dates from 1975. So she is writing a history of this subculture.

Press about YouTube etc. suggest that the sites are responsible for the content. Though new communities formed around the site, many communities preexist them. Scribbling women”: Richardson and Fielding are coming, and the white men showing up are writing the new history of the medium, erasing what’s come before.

Vidding emerges from Star Trek. The bar for entry is in some ways lower in resources—you don’t need to shoot your own footage.

Vids are now being watched outside the context they were made for. Other forms of video replicate mainstream filmic values—spectacle, certain kinds of objectification. When outsiders see them on YouTube they understand what they are; when outsiders see vids they may see ridiculousness or threat (which are sometimes the same things). And they can be incomprehensible: they comment on a show with which you may be unfamiliar, and most people don’t read literary criticism of works they haven’t yet read. Moreover, vidders fear copyright enforcement—were actively hiding. But now the practices of video editing are everywhere; streaming video has led people to exit the community because they fear losing control over their works. “Chad Vader”—those guys got a movie deal; they embraced visibility, and the difference is profound.

In 1975 Kandy Fong took a box of Star Trek footage from the cutting-room floor and showed a slideshow coordinated with an audio cassette. Eventually she used 2 projectors to cut twice as fast. Later she videotaped the results, using audio from Leonard Nimoy singing “Both Sides Now.” Fong is creating an intertext between Nimoy the actor (Spock) and Nimoy the singer—giving Spock a voice you would not expect Spock to have, even though it’s Nimoy’s voice.

Vid is constructing an emotional response for the notoriously unemotional character, and the voice adds some plausibility to the idea that it could be Spock’s voice because it’s Nimoy’s. The construction of an emotional interior life connects to the way that Spock has always represented other, alien, Jewish, even female perspectives.

VCR vidding is invented in the late 70s. VCRs are tremendously expensive: one VCR is used to play and one to record. You have to create your film clip by clip, in order. It’s arduous. You have to time the song with a stopwatch, because the numerical counter is meaningless. Then every VCR rolls back a little, so you have to learn and calculate that, and play them on the beat. The last move was to import the audio; you did the rest before the audio. Cutting audio is very recent. She showed a Quantum Leap vid with excellent synchronization, which was incredibly difficult to achieve with home equipment. (To call this simple “theft” is a huge mistake—this is not done because it’s easier.) There’s a critique embedded in this: a man has a consistent narrative of meeting a “bimbo of the week”—collecting them all together creates a real narrative of female desire as key, swamping the man’s presence. It’s work done to construct femaleness, reading against the text.

Vidding was a collective because of the technical difficulty and the expense of the tech, and because people had to learn from each other. So there’s a canon and a set of different schools. One group is the Media Cannibals; others include the Chicago Loop and Vid Weasels. Anime vidders, often men, tend to operate under a singular identity.

She showed Pressure, a vid about making a vid. This is user-generated content, uphill in the snow both ways. The struggle documented explodes the commonplaces that women can’t make film or can’t use technology. The song is unchanged, but still transformed. Her hope is to explain to people why this is valuable and to let the creators take their rightful place in historical and legal frameworks.

Peter Jaszi, American University Washington College of Law


The papers all feature grounded systems of cultural production founded in fluid, dynamic gift exchange, responding to various constraints from outside (and inside).

Arewa: Don’t we just have the wrong model of how people create? These examples are of communities where copyright didn’t help. It’s not African-American blues artists or anyone else in these stories who have it wrong—it’s copyright theory!

Greene: Jazz/blues probably wouldn’t exist without oppression—part of the oppression was the copyright system. (But does that mean we want to deny them, or their modern counterparts at least, a reward in the new system if we can revise it?)

Allen: What about the copyright in the fabrics used to make quilts? What about the functional uses of quilts—to keep people warm? A necessity, not a luxury.

Halbert: Fabric copyright is an issue, especially in the public display—will do more work on it. The functional use of quilts is how people argue that quilts aren’t art; as necessity recedes, the artistic components come to the forefront, and women start making “art quilts.” But there’s also a need to reassess the art/craft distinction.

Allen: Her father served in a minstrel show in the Army in Korea. That was what the Army wanted.

Greene: There are a lot of ironies: that’s the only way there was to make money and art, so that’s what you did if you wanted to feed yourself through art. Some argue that today’s gangster rappers are doing similar things.

Bartow: The corrupting influence of money: as soon as money is possible, that changes the dynamic of collaboration—both in terms of willingness to work together and in preserving the integrity of a vision.

Coppa: The closest analogue is literary criticism. Vidding offers monetizable skills: you can learn how to use Final Cut. But that’s not the same as selling one’s artwork in the commercial market, which most fans don’t want to do.

Greene: What’s rewarded is what gets done. (Though cf. Benkler’s summary of research on how small rewards, which is the most that most user-generated content could expect, actually can stifle effort and creativity.) Mix tapes are an underground, illegal industry, and that’s where all the creativity comes from.

Halbert: Respondents see copyright as stifling—preventing them from donating quilts to charity auctions, for example.

In response to a question about MTV allowing user-generated videos: Coppa: Copyright owners are now encouraging that, but only if they can limit your choice of clips and control the message, avoiding critique. Opportunities to edit film to music are not necessarily opportunities to use film as an artist and a critic.

Jaszi: Quoting from Lewis Hyde: “The gift must always move.” Other forms of property can stay stable, but not the gift.

No comments: