Copyright, free culture and art
This is a guest blog by Antonio Roberts, a new media artist whose work focuses on the errors and glitches generated by digital technology. Using only open source software and remixing openly licensed material, his art invites people to reflect on issues around free culture, copyright and ownership. In this blog he shares his approach as well as an overview of his recent work.
Copyright is an incredibly important law that can have massive implications on individual artists and the cultural sector as a whole. Unfortunately, it isn’t until it affects us negatively that we begin to seriously consider it. Legal cases such as the estate of Marvin Gaye versus Robin Thicke , Katrijn van Giel versus Luc Tuymans, and earlier examples such as Art Rogers versus Jeff Koons, and TufAmerica versus Beastie Boys show that the law can negatively affect creativity. If we allow this behaviour to continue we risk entering into a permission culture where even being inspired by an artist can have dangerous consequences.
It is for these reasons and more that I set out to make art about copyright. Since 2009 I have used only open source software and since around 2014 I have began to focus on the legal side of this choice instead of just the tools themselves. My general aim is to act as an example to both artists and institutions of the opportunities to be had when laws are relaxed, attitudes changed and a general community of sharing and collaboration is fostered.
From October 2015 – May 2016 I had my first solo exhibition, Permission Taken, at Birmingham Open Media and University of Birmingham. The works in the exhibition and supporting events and presentations gave the public many avenues into which they could engage with the topic of copyright.
Copy Bomb sculptures (reskinned PirateBoxes) introduced the idea of sharing in a counter-culture way; the Dead Copyright wall installation of prints dealt with the noise and influence of corporate branding and the dangers of one-way cultural appropriation; and the Archive Remix prints and videos shared works created with open licenced content. An important milestone in this exhibition was the launch of archiveremix.com and the subsequent Remix Party!. Although many institutions are now making the archives public, as academics such as Melissa Terras have pointed out, in order for this action to have greater impact there needs to be some curation. Archiveremix.com, which takes inspiration from Oliver Laric’s Lincoln Scans website, presents a selection of archive content from the University of Birmingham’s Research and Cultural Collections to the public with the intention that they are remixed and reworked and re presented to the world.
The Remix Party! brought together these remixes, which include work from artists such as Adam Ferriss, Nick Briz, Dan Hett, Carla Gannis, and Emily Haasch, for a night of projections that aimed to celebrate what great art can be created by remixing existing art.
What this experience has shown me is that a multi faceted approach is needed if we are to engage artists with the issue of copyright. Explaining how restrictive the laws are and the potential negative implications is important but so is highlighting the great work that can be made by freeing artwork.