In the digital world, where sharing content is just a click away, copyright issues have been front and center since the early days of Napster. Music, photography, art—copyright is everywhere—but there is one woman leading a crusade against it. Meet Nina Paley, a self-described copyright abolitionist. Here’s the interesting thing; she isn’t just an Internet consumer who wants to publish or share whatever she pleases. Paley is a cartoonist artist with a career’s worth of work protected by copyright. But, as she details in her fascinating TED Talk “Copyright Is Brain Damage,” she believes copyright ultimately hurts more than it helps.
This revelation came to Paley when she sought to license songs for a film she was working on. The singer and songwriters were long dead; the works were protected by retroactive copyright. As she waded through a stream of legalese in search of permission from the rights holders (a corporation), she came to the following conclusion: “The rights holders weren’t actually getting more money because of the copyright; what they were getting was the power to suppress art, to suppress communication.” This, she felt, was counter to the very nature of art. In fact, she argues, when corporations own copyrighted content, it doesn’t benefit the original artist, works created, or the public, so what good does it do?
To start a different dialogue about copyright restrictions and artistic freedom, she has created a new video series, Minute Memes: Reframing Copyright One Idea At a Time. Each video examines a different aspect of the discussion, from confusing user agreements to derivative works. The videos are oddly entertaining, using simple cartoons and catchy little songs to tackle big issues like the definition of copying. That tone is intentional, to help make the content more palatable, as Paley explains:
We must enable the viewer to feel that formerly unquestioned terms and assumptions deserve a fresh look. Only after crossing that emotional barrier will someone be willing to consider copyright in a new way. But crossing that kind of barrier requires rhetorical tools that go beyond plain expository argument. For someone to consider ideas they may have previously felt were unrealistic or even immoral, they need to first give themselves permission — they must feel it’s safe to go there.
Whether or not you agree with her stance, the videos do their job: to make you think more critically about how we all engage with and disseminate art. Take a look at the videos, and read more about each subject by clicking on the titles.
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