Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Middle Fingers in the Digital Age

Serra Swinging Plates from Daily Serving on Vimeo.

I don't really have a clue,but I try to figure stuff out. Stuff like copyright, stuff like obscenity, and stuff like identity. You know, that stuff isn't easy.

Last night hanging out online, and mostly in the evenings I've got my Facebook page open, Juxtapoz linked to an article, Richard Serra's "Sequence" at Cantor Arts Center, Sanford. The article is really a shorter version of an article at Daily Serving, a best of 2011 article, revisiting and essay by Rob Marks first published in September Recovering Site and Mind: Richard Serra’s Sequence Arrives at Stanford. I didn't click through to the article last night, but I did watch the videos.

Little boys often like trucks and heavy equipment, along with guns, puppy dog tails and stuff like that. Watching these videos sure brought the little boy out in me. I watched them with rapt attention, and identifying with the workers in hard hats, wondering what it would be like to be one of them.

Something good that can be said about the city of Pittsburgh is there are a great number of public sculptures. There's a Richard Serra sculpture Carnegie that's very well known, because it's big and at a prominent intersection in town. I decided to search for a picture of the piece online, so I entered "Carnegie Museum of Art Richard Serra" into Google. I was surprised to discover at the link that an image of the work was not available due to copyright. Of course for those of you who use Google for search, you know that prominent in the results is a link to Google Images, so a picture was just a click away.

Facebook is going to a new timeline format for profiles there. I haven't jumped on that particular bandwagon, hoping to put off the effort involved. But moving to the new profile is causing consternation among the people I know on Facebook. Most of us probably have stuff on our Facebook we probably ought to have deleted, but haven't bothered to reasoning: "Who could find it anyway?" The trouble with the new timeline is that stuff becomes easier to find. Then again, just what's stuff I don't want people to find? I'm not sure really? Something I keep hearing in re the frustration with the Facebook timeline is the intention to pack it up and head over to Google+, Google's social networking software.

I never know what to post to my Google+ profile. So far, what I've posted seems pretty boring. I've never given any overall thought to things I "like" in Google's "+1" jargon, but I do click that +1 button here and there on the Internet. So far the running tally of +1's seems somewhat useful to me. If nothing else, another place to look for stuff I think I ought to be able to find but am not finding right at the moment. News travels in a network, and so I had heard about M.G. Siegler's middle finger run-in with Google+. Profiles showing extended middle fingers are not allowed.

Mostly I try to behave, I think most of us do. Sure, some of the impulse is to avoid getting in trouble, but primarily people just want to be good because we are good folks; kind to children and old people and stuff like that. No, really, we want to be fair and kind. Copyright is a matter of law, and as a matter of law is backed up with coercion and the very real threats of legal consequences. It's not that most of us don't think about that, but mainly when it comes to copyright we think in terms of fairness rather than in terms of law. Nowadays it's very easy to share copies of things, to share copies of copyrighted works. How easy it is to share makes negotiating matters of copyright both as a matter of fairness and as a matter of law not so easy.

I started posting posting to a Tumblr blog last spring. Tumblr is a site that makes collecting stuff you encounter online quite easy. Actually Tumblr makes publishing on the Internet quite easy in general. Tumblr makes it very easy to reblog posts. Something good about that is attribution becomes somewhat automatic. Among my creative friends Tumblr is viewed as copyright violation machine and they're leery about putting anything they make on Tumblr. Once copyrighted material is improperly posted, the ease of re-blogging makes it quite a difficult matter to rectify.

My Tumblr blog is really quite simply a link blog. I post three links to stuff I've read during the day. I read multiple articles online most every day. But to make the links useful to me, if for nobody else, I copy a brief snippet of text from the articles and post it with a link. Finding a sentence or few which can somehow stand alone and still make a bit of sense, turns out to be harder than I expected at first. I'm quoting from articles, but not everything I post is really a quotation which fits with Tumblr's template for posting quotations.

Stowe Boyd wrote a piece for his Tumblr blog, We Need a Manual of Style for Tumblr. Boyd makes some very good points about attribution at Tumblr. I thought I was being pretty good with the way I was aggregating content there. I was only copying brief bits of published work for education and discussion purposes and I was providing a link. Still, Boyd's article was enough to make me see that the way I was offering links wasn't enough attribution for the Tumblr ecosystem where sharing is so easy. I've tried to improve on what I was doing. It's probably not especially good style as far as style manuals go--there isn't so far as I know a Tumblr Manual of Style--but it is a good-faith attempt not only to properly attribute work but to make sure that attribution survives recopying.

I want to post a picture of Richard Serra's sculpture Carnegie here.

The license for the photo is Some Rights Reserved by Raquel Camargo. I haven't asked Raquel Camargo if I could use the photo and asking is always good form. I am happy that she's made the photo available. But I feel a little creepy about using the photo because of the people in it, especially the guy in the blue jacket in this photograph. I see from other photos in Carmargo's Flickr pictures the same fellow shows up. He looks like a cool guy, and I don't mean to take his privacy away.

It turns out there are a couple of very good photographs of Serra's work on Flickr which do not show extraneous people in them. There's a very good article about the photographers who to those pictures at the Indianapolis Museum of Art Web site, Why You Should Know Hanneorla. Hanneorla are a husband and wife team and have published over 40,000 photographs at Flickr, many of them of art works in museums around the world. I love their work. But their pictures are available by license with Getty Images. Getty Images is well-known on the Internet for purveying FUD. Getty Images doesn't serve take down notices when a unlicensed work is found on a Web page, they simple send a bill and let bill collectors handle the rest.

Some of my creative friends know about and use Creative Commons licenses for some of their work. Most of my creative friends think CC causes more harm than good. I'm not trying to make money from content I put up online, so CC makes sense for me, but I do understand the reservations my friends have. Copyright is hard and Creative Commons licenses are no panacea. But it's hard to think that Getty Images licensing work at Flickr is an unmitigated good either.

The Carnegie Museum of Art owns Richard Serra's work Carnegie. It's one of the most important pieces of sculpture in their collection. It's a site-specific work and so the relationship of the sculpture to the museum building is an integral part of the sculpture's visual meaning. One of Hanneorla's photos captures this relationship very well. Nice work! But it's interesting to note that the Carnegie Museum allows photographers to take pictures of Serra's work, but Richard Serra's assertion of copyright prevents the Carnegie Museum of Art from showing a photograph of the work on the museum Web site, or making an image of the work which the museum owns available to scholars and teachers without a lengthy contractual process. I'm not sure how Hanneorla has addressed Serra's copyright on the work, except that they offer to take down any image they're asked to. I am uncertain whether they know that their arrangement with Getty Images means that same courtesy isn't extended to people who use their work without license from Getty Images.

I forget what atrocity was being protested one day when I was visiting New York City, but something was being protested and I found myself in the middle of it. I'm a lousy protester, I'm shy and timid. The protest was in front of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building. I wasn't adding anything to the protest, and frankly when I saw a line of police cars arrive on the scene, I thought the better of being involved at all. So I headed around to the back of the building. I was curious because I knew that in the plaza one of Richard Serra's most famous sculptures Tilted Arc had once stood. One of the judges who worked in the building did not like Tilted Arc and after its installation set about getting it removed. The judge literally made a Federal case about it.

Tilted Arc is no more, it wasn't there when I went to see the place it had once stood. Issues of copyright were featured in the trial over the destruction of the work. I only have a vague idea about all of this, but I do get that ideas are of the essence. Because I'd been to a place where Richard Serra's Tilted Arc was removed, and sort of understood what that piece meant because of the hullabaloo over it's removal, I had a little appreciation for why Serra asserts copyright claims preventing the Carnegie from making photographs of his sculpture Carnegie available. Still, the prohibition of photographs of it over copyright claims mostly seems ridiculous to me.

Getty Images is privately owned. An incredibly large number of photographs are under license by Getty Images,including a surprising number of pictures on Flickr, notably most of Hanneorla's pictures. The ownership of Getty Images was acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman in 2008.

Here in the USA the 2012 presidential elections are heating up. The Republican front-runner is Mitt Romeny. Mitt Romney is a very wealthy man. He has been reticent in releasing information about concerning his vast assets. When pressed for perfunctory information his campaign responded by demanding that president Obama release his birth certificate and grades. Inside the USA the response is an obvious racist "dog whistle." Anyhow the fortune that Romney has amassed comes from his partnership in Bain Capital a private equity firm with over $65 billion in management.

Romeny's partnership in the firm is notable in that it was structured so that the young Mr. Romeny did not put any of his own money at risk or into the pot. Nice work, if you can get it. Bain Capital is involved with some of the most odious firms in the USA. The other day Numerian at The Agonist blog made a very good point:
Wherever you see compound growth rates of 5% - 10% per annum in the US economy, you are sure to see active federal government subsidies for that industry.
Maybe my using the word "odious" was a bit harsh, perhaps safer to say that Romeny's firm has sought out industries which depend on government subsidies. Oh hell, I do think Hospital Corporation of America and Clear Channel Communications odious.

Intellectual Property is one of the chief ways that our government delivers financial subsidies to corporations.

I do go on. Ownership, intellectual property, government coercion, copyright, fairness, and decency, these are all hard to sort out and to stay on the side of the angels about.

One last link is to an article by Randy Kenny in The New York Times, Apropos Appropriation (NYT has a modified paywall). Kenny writes about a lawsuit against artist Richard Prince over copyright violations. I found it a very interesting and well-made article. Among the comments posted to it, several of them accuse Kenny of being biased in favor of copyright violation. I didn't get that impression myself, but then again, I'm of the opinion that issues around copyright are difficult. It's not something which matters only to successful artists, these issues touch all of us.

And pretty much, that's the point of this post. But there is also the matter of M.G. Siegler's picture showing an extended digit. Matthew Igram has some smart things to say about that. I'm not so smart as Igram. Still I'd hate to loose the use of my middle finger, especially in times like these, times of The assoholcracy. So while I'm all for being nice, on balance Google banning Sieger's picture seems a dick move to me. These issues are hard, man.