Nina Paley Explains Intellectual Disobedience
from the people are going to create and share dept
Nina Paley (filmmaker, activist, occasional Techdirt contributor, and many other things) has given an interesting interview with O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum, in which she talks about the concept of “intellectual disobedience” — merging “intellectual property” with “civil disobedience.” Nina argues that if you believe in creating and sharing culture these days, copyright infringement is almost necessary, and people shouldn’t apologize for it, but should stand up for what they’re doing:
“A lot of people infringe copyright and they’re apologetic … If you know as much about the law as, unfortunately, I do, I cannot claim ignorance and I cannot claim fair use … I know that I’m infringing copyright and I don’t apologize for it.”
The phrase “intellectual disobedience” has a call-to-arms ring to it, but Paley characterized it as an introspective personal choice driven by a need to create. “It’s important for me as an artist to make art, and the degree of self-censorship that is required by the law is too great,” Paley said. “In order to have integrity as a human being and as an artist, I guess I’m going to be conscientiously violating the law because there’s no way to comply with the law and remain a free human being.”
There’s much more in the full interview:
I have to admit that I’m a little bit torn by this concept. I certainly think that each individual needs to make their own decisions about what they do when creating, but my general approach has been to avoid infringement wherever possible, and focus on convincing creators that being open and encouraging others to build on their works has tremendous benefits in both the short- and long-terms. At the same time, however, I can see where Nina is coming from as an artist who feels restricted. And that’s a major concern. When the laws are holding back what artists can do to express themselves, that seems incredibly troubling. So many people have this unfortunate view that if someone builds on someone else’s work (even though that’s the very basis for pretty much all of human culture), something has been taken away from culture or society. The truth is the opposite: building on someone else’s work expands culture, and does so in fascinating ways. It both creates something new, but also often generates new interest in those original pieces (as Paley herself did with her movie Sita Sings the Blues). Old culture doesn’t disappear because someone does something new with it — it gets revitalized.
Holding that back, for some mistaken understanding of “preserving” culture, does seem like a tremendous shame. And so in those situations I think Nina’s point is a good one. Creating new artwork should never be something that people apologize for. Historically, building on the works of others is how culture has been expanded. Some of our greatest forms of culture were created exactly that way. Great plays and novels of the past were really re-imaginings of older stories. Musical forms of folk music, rock music, jazz and soul all are versions of building on the works that came before (often very soon before). Hip hop, of course, is even more directly rooted in building on top of the work of others and making something new out of it. Why should people be apologetic for doing what we’ve always done?