vendredi, mai 30, 2008

mutek_2008_Day2: Daytime stuff and dancing

Although I hadn’t been out all that late (I got home around 2h30, I think), I had stayed up another hour or so backing up my data and doing the first round of photo triage (i.e., tossing out the bad ones, trying to clean up the good ones). So I slept in a bit today, then finally got myself cleaned up and dashed off to the first workshop of the day, which was on copyright issues. I skipped breakfast and coffee, figuring that the workshop would have coffee available like they did they day before, but THERE WAS NO COFFEE. For someone like me, this is a major tragedy; I was having trouble imagining how I would make it to lunch.

Panel 3: Copyright vs. Creativity

I’m not sure how I feel about the title of this panel, as it presumes an exclusivity to the two main terms, as if copyright must necessarily prevent creativity (while it certainly often has in practice, the main argument that anti-copyright activists make is that the original legislative philosophy of copyright was to encourage creativity). But all that aside, this panel was a pretty good one. It didn’t present any startlingly new perspectives or approaches to copyright issues, but it provided the enriched detail of personal accounts and such.

I was happy to see Larisa Mann (who I am certain I’ve seen at an ethno/musicology conference recently…), a PhD candidate in Jurisprudence who specializes on music copyright issues. She contributed not only a detailed knowledge of (US) copyright law, but also a handy overview of landmark copyright cases and a conceptual organization of the stakes involved in copyright issues. For example, she pointed out that distinctions between referencing / stealing in music can be made in aesthetic, moral and legal registers, and it’s not uncommon for each register to yield different outcomes (e.g., “that sample they borrowed sounds great there, and they acquired it legally, but it’s morally wrong because the samples are from colonial field archives and the aboriginal groups aren’t going to see a penny”; or “that sample is morally and legally OK, but it sounds like an unimaginative re-hash of the original sound source”). She also made an important historical point, observing that copyright law for most of the 20th century was concerned with infringement at the corporate / manufacturing level, since individuals didn’t have the technology available to make cheap copies of things (which changes drastically with the advent of digital media). As a result, extant copyright law isn’t very good at accounting for the decisions of individuals in private/domestic spheres.

Also interesting was the contribution of Jordan Wynnychuk, of Jimmy Proximity, a media company that has been developing an online service / software tool that allows users to remix copyrighted materials. Essentially, his company lands blanket copyright agreements by “closing the pipe” (his words) on certain uses of these recordings, thus helping control illegal copying. When pressed for details, Wynnychuk said that the software, Relab, doesn’t allow users to to upload their own sounds into the system or export the copyrighted materials or the resulting remixes into copiable audio files. Instead, the user downloads “remixable songs,” which are recordings in a proprietary format that only works with Relab software. On the upside, this format also gives access to individual layers of a recording—something most grey-market remixers could only dream of—but on the downside, your use of the materials is strongly limited, and the fruits of your own remixing labours are unavailable to you in a distributable format. The Relab service offers an online streaming option for distribution (e.g., like YouTube) if you want to share your remix with friends, and apparently if your remix is especially popular, there’s the possibility of distribution on other mediums…but that distribution is up to the people at Jimmy Proximity (i.e., they manage the rights too your remixes). And, it should go without saying, this system includes tracking software that allows Jimmy Proximity to monitor and report all use of the copyrighted materials.

In many ways, Wynnychuk’s project is an example of the kinds of partial solutions that are possible from within the extant copyright framework and in collaboration with large recording corporations. While this is certainly a compromise (and the subjection to surveillance is probably more than many remixers would tolerate), this sort of thing seems like an important intermediate step in the transformation of the recording industry and copyright that is pretty much inevitable. Nonetheless, Wynnychuk wasn’t really ready to speak about his project with the sort of pragmatic forthrightness that was called for, and so he came off sounding like the lame apologist for corporate copyright interests. The tone and phrasing of questions posed to him as the panel progressed placed him more and more into the category of “sell-out” or corporate huckster. It was sad but unsurprising that someone who is apparently trying to build some non-antagonistic bridges between the recording industry and the remix / mashup scene should be pushed into the position of corporate spokesperson.

[Note: upon seeing the picture he included in his mutek profile, I'm suddenly feeling less charitable toward him. It's funny how gestures of self-presentation can alter our levels of critique.]

Lunch and Such

Anyway, the panel was otherwise pretty interesting, but I still hadn’t had anything approaching breakfast and it was already lunchtime. I did a bit of research into the location of a well-recommended poutine diner, Patati-Patata (here's another review of the place) and headed off in that direction. That required me to climb several blocks of rue St.-Laurent uphill, but I at least got a good look at the Main disctrict of Montréal, to the east of McGill and the Mont-Royal (the main hill that gives Montréal it’s name). The strip was a mix of Queen Street West and College Street West, with a series of rather upscale modern bistros and cafés, followed by a series of more “alternative” boutiques, followed by what appeared to be a large portion of a Jewish neighborhood. I passed Schwartz’s Delicatessen, which is apparently THE place to get the typical Montreal Smoked Meat. The line-up was nearly half a block long to get a sandwich, so I made a note to check it out at some later time.

About half an hour after leaving the festival, I got to Patati-Patata and had myself a fantastic poutine with roast beef (and beer, of course). This makes three poutiness in the three meals that I’ve had since landing in Montréal! Clearly, I need to take a break tonight. Nonetheless, I enjoyed scarfing down the poutine at the bar while marking some student work that I had brought along (oh yes, this is a “working” trip).

Coming out of lunch, I realized that had still not had a drop of caffeine all day. The carb-and-protein-and-fat punch of poutine certainly helped me out, but I was still in desperate need of chemical assistance. So off I went back down rue St.-Laurent until I got to one of a clearly popular chain of coffee shops called Café Dêpot, which offered free WiFi. I set up camp there with a coffee and an electrical outlet and got to work writing up last night’s outings and preparing audio and video.

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