Founding Negativland member Mark Hosler has been invited by The Digital Freedom Campaign, a fair use advocacy group and broad-based coalition dedicated to defending the rights of artists, consumers and innovators, to travel to Washington DC as a “citizen lobbyist” to speak with various members of Congress about Negativland’s work, methodologies, and the bigger picture of a world where it seems like everyone these days is making collage. When musicians like Girl Talk can become huge pop stars, with millions of teenage fans, and yet it’s still all illegal, then something is still wrong with this picture. Negativland looks forward to this chance to present some different points of view about art, creativity and the law to some of the folks in DC who run this peculiar country of ours. See below for the introductory letter Mark will be using for his visit to Capitol Hill this October.
For questions about DigitalFreedom.org, contact Nancy Tarr at email@example.com
With the recent debut of its 100% newly revised web-site, hundreds of hours of archived Negativland radio broadcasts (soon to be thousands of hours) are now on-line. Check out negativland.com/ote for all the details about the archives of its weekly “Over The Edge” radio show that has been on the air since 1981.
But there is even more - founding Negativland member The Weatherman is opening up his archive as well, putting up amazing and bizarre new things from the past and present of his real life each week for you to check out. Much of this stuff is things that the rest of Negativland didn’t even know existed. So if you enjoy the wackier side of Negativland, check out negativland.com/dumb. It’s germ free and truly....astounding! Also new on the site is WRITE ANYTHING HERE on which you can indeed write anything there.
Here’s the letter that Negativland will use while in Washington, DC. “Some Thoughts For Congress About Creativity and Copyright”:
From our 28 years of being creators, observers, and consumers of music, art, and video, our group, Negativland, has witnessed incredible and wonderful shifts in the ways that the public is now able to create and distribute new work via digital technologies. We’ve also witnessed amazing changes in the way that money and corporate power has increasingly influenced policy, Congress, and the laws of our nation. At times, these changes are good. At other times, as I am sure you know, they benefit no one except the businesses lobbying you. We are concerned when this does not serve the public interest.
We believe that the healthy evolution of art and creativity has more value than simply counting how much money is lost or made. Art, science and technology have evolved because of how we all build upon the ideas and works of those who came before us. Copyright was always intended as a balancing act between giving ownership to creators so as to provide incentive to create new works, and allowing works to lapse into the public domain so that new ideas could develop. But our founding fathers could never have imagined the kind of world we live in today and the amazing new technologies that we are surrounded with - technologies that encourage and inspire us to interact with the world and create in unprecedented new ways. Protecting the author of a creative work is a good thing, but the benefits of copyright have been thrown off balance by the disproportionate influence of those with the most money. In fact, the more recent expansions of our nation’s copyright laws represent a break from our nations past and from the intentions of our own Constitution.
Did you know that copyright originally lasted only 14 years, and then all work fell into the public domain? The limit now is 70 years plus the life of the creator, meaning that nothing made in our lifetimes will fall into the public domain. This does not strike us as a very good public good. Even patents, which govern everything from industrial processes to pharmaceuticals, are given only a 20 year period before other manufacturers have access to them and this system seems to have done nothing to discourage innovation, creation, and especially remuneration in the fields of science and technology with this relatively short time span.
But art is neither science nor technology. Why make art out of things originated by others? We think that unless one is lucky enough to live on a remote island somewhere, we all live in a world surrounded by news, music, movies, ads, logos and messages. We are, quite literally, bombarded with media. It has always been a part of human nature to make art in response to and using material from the world around us. Nowadays, anyone with a small computer can easily make, remake, slice, dice, mix, and remix from any electronic media they can get their hands on. And because we can, we often do. Besides being fun, this kind of work creates a new type of cultural “conversation” that we can all have with the media around us, a conversation that we believe is healthy for a vibrant democracy that aspires to true freedom of speech.
Copying has gone on in art and music throughout the ages, from “quoting” in classical music compositions, to homage and parody. In much of the last century, these “appropriation” practices were the province of the avant-garde and the fine art world. But with the Internet, the ever-growing speed of computing, YouTube, MySpace, file-sharing, and other recent developments, they have now moved wholly and firmly into the mainstream. And yet our laws strive to criminalize all of this behavior. Ours is a world in which copyright has fallen woefully behind the curve of what the public actually wants to do with all that digital “stuff” out there. Millions world wide are creating art, music and video that incorporate elements of existing work - cutting and pasting bits and pieces of music, video, text, and pictures made by others to create new works. Millions of web pages now use various Creative Commons licenses to provide a nuanced alternative to traditionally black and white interpretations of copyright laws (one such license Negativland helped to write). The prevalence of these alternative copyright strategies is a testament to how many of your constituents are not at all happy with copyright as it stands now.
At this juncture, we feel it’s necessary to point out that we support artists and creators being paid for the work they produce. We believe copyright was correctly intended as a judicious balance between providing for the creator as well as providing for the public commons, a balance which Negativland believes has been largely forgotten by the big businesses who produce and sell most media and entertainment. And we should also mention that all this creative re-use of material rarely if ever puts new work in economic competition with its sources. It does not pose any reasonable economic threat to the original source in any marketplace that they share. In an ideal world, Negativland would like to see the notion of Fair Use expanded to accommodate, accept, and protect these new practices.
I hope that my brief presentation today can give you some new perspective on this type of art and creativity, and that the next time some restrictive intellectual property bill crosses your desk or a lobbyist from the music or movie industry comes into your office to push for even stricter copy protection and more extreme legal punishment for those who break copyright laws, you’ll keep in the mind the millions of folks out here whose creative efforts are criminalized by what has become, intentionally or not, a thoughtless and short sighted application of what were once some very well-intended laws protecting owners as well as the public commons.
Sincerely, Mark Hosler on behalf of Negativland, 10/28/08 firstname.lastname@example.org
Negativland: “It’s All in Your Head FM”:
12/02 Boulder, CO Old Main Theater 8PM FREE
12/03 Boulder, CO Old Main Theater 8PM FREE
Mark Hosler: Negativland Film Screening & Lecture
11/03 New York, NY NYU
11/06 Purchase, NY SUNY Purchase
11/12 Knoxville, TN Museum of Art
On The Web:
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More About Negativland:
Since 1980, Negativland have been creating records, CDs, video, fine art, books, radio and live performance using appropriated sound, image and text. Mixing original materials and original music with things taken from corporately owned mass culture and the world around them, Negativland re-arranges these found bits and pieces to make them say and suggest things that they never intended to. In doing this kind of cultural archaeology and “culture jamming” (a term they coined way back in 1984), Negativland have been sued twice for copyright infringement, and, in the 1990’s, emerged as a leading artistic voice in the ever growing debate about our nations copyright laws.
Negativland’s music, video, visual work, and live performances have used the art and technique of collage to pose both serious and humorous questions about the nature of sound, media, control, ownership, propaganda and perception. Their work is now referenced and taught in many college courses in the US, has been written about or cited in over 150 books, and they often lecture about their work here and in Europe. In 1995 they released a 270 page book with 72 minute CD entitled Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, that documented their infamous four-year long legal battle over their 1991 release of an audio piece entitled U2. They were the subjects of Craig Baldwin’s feature documentary Sonic Outlaws, and created the soundtrack and sound design for Harold Boihem’s documentary film The Ad and The Ego, an excellent in-depth look into the ways that we are affected by advertising.
Negativland is now on the advisory board of a Washington DC based intellectual property lobbying group called DigitalFreedom.org, and in 2004 Negativland worked closely with Creative Commons to write the “Creative Commons Sampling Plus License,” an alternative to existing copyrights that is now in widespread use by many artists, writers, musicians, film makers, and on literally millions of websites.
What The Media Says About Negativland:
“It’s an often ignored request, but you may pay more attention to the phrase ‘Please remember to take all your belongings’ after seeing Negativland’s eerily mesmerizing new project…” – Newsweek
“Negativland argues persuasively that creators should be able to appropriate bits and pieces of anything and incorporate then into their work without fear of legal action.” – Utne Reader
“Negativland isn’t just some group of merry pranksters; its art is about tearing apart and reassembling found images to create new ones, in an attempt to make social, political and artistic statements. Hilarious and chilling.” – The Onion
“Negativland, longtime advocates of fair use allowances for pop media collage, are perhaps America’s most skilled plunderers from the detritus of 20th century commercial culture...the band’s latest project is razor sharp, microscopically focused, terribly fun and a bit psychotic.” – Wired
“For more than 20 years, Negativland has earned renown for manipulation of both tape and media.” – Los Angeles Times
“Collage pioneers.....genre-defying, densely layered, strangely accessible...” – Washington Post
“Negativland…known for their media pranks...” – Time Magazine