Copyright infringement intended?

Antonio Roberts, a new media artist based in Birmingham (UK), talks copyright infringement, art and ideas, and expression and attribution. Read on.

Chris Woolfrey (CW): Tell me about the work you put into No Copyright Infringement Intended.

Antonio Roberts (AR): I was approached by Phoenix in Leicester to propose an exhibition but I conceived of the idea myself. As the curator, I conceived of the project ideas and found the artists and then did the practical things like deciding on layout. In some cases I installed the works in the exhibition.

It took nearly a year to get everything together but it paid off.

CW: You’ve produced work on the theme before. What’s your view on the relationship between a person’s intellectual property and its public consumption?

AR: I think you should have to expect that your work will be consumed in ways that you can’t imagine once it’s out into the public.

CW: I agree but is it reasonable, regardless of whether you can imagine it, to want to have some protection for yourself once people do consume it?

It’s reasonable but difficult to say how it could be implemented and enforced. Any sort of DRM (digital rights management) or copy protection can be easily circumvented.

For example, I remember in the early 2000s that one way image sharing websites would prevent the copying and saving images was to use Javascript to disable right-clicking.

My solution? Simply left-click on the image and drag it onto my website. Or disable Javascript. Or look at the source code and copy the image. This was back in the early 2000s and now tools to circumvent DRM are more advanced yet easier to use.

A response to this could be to make the DRM stronger or harder to crack. However, this will seriously impact the viewer’s experience of your work and overall experience. If special devices have to be bought or plugins installed just to view work then it’s another hurdle which, at its most basic level, is really annoying.

In terms of enforcement, we saw in the age of Napster that intimidation via fining copyright infringers absurd amounts was used to deter potential copying. However, it clearly didn’t work.

Overall I believe that the internet is made for copying and sharing. Viewing an image online isn’t like taking a book out of the library or consuming a finite resource, which deprives someone else of it. The whole reason multiple people can view a website at the same time is that each person takes a copy of everything they view.

So, if you want protection of your work first you have to completely redefine how the internet and computers work so that false scarcity can be implemented.

CW: Where did your interest in copyright begin?

AR: It started when I first started using open source software. From there I became dissatisfied with the tight grip Adobe has on the creative sector and so started looking at alternatives.

CW: Right! I had a similar ‘awakening’, via a friend: I literally didn’t know that Windows didn’t equal computer. 

AR: My first dip into open source software was Firefox, followed by OpenOffice. Although I wasn’t particularly engaged with the politics of the software at that point I did see that alternatives existed.

From then it was about relearning how to use tools, which meant I had to become closer acquainted with the software and the community behind it. For example, talking with developers and going to conferences such as Libre Graphics Research Unit and Libre Graphics Meeting.

This might sound like a good thing but for some, including myself, it eventually began to distract from making artwork. The worst thing is when you just want to use the software but there’s some silly bug that stops you. You begin bug hunting, triaging bug reports, compiling software and then before you know it you’re a developer!

CW: How does the theme relate to your other work?

AR: It’s about acknowledging that I am not the sole creator of my work and that I and my work is the product of many outside influences. I actively make a point of it and the issues that it raises as a way to encourage more engagement in free culture. I believe that the many open source licences alone aren’t enough to encourage people to adopt its ideals. They need to be put into practice, which is what I’m doing.

CW: Exactly: licensing and law is one thing but the majority of people don’t actually care about that stuff. It’s really about awareness, culture and perception. Do you agree? Is that your experience?

AR: People do care, but it’s hard to full comprehend something that you don’t understand. Artists know more about art because that’s their life’s work. Lawyers know about law. It’s just unfortunate that the law really impacts what we do.

CW: Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room” was a really influential piece for me. Where did your idea to transpose its concept to text come from?

AR: I can’t remember where the idea initially came from, but I do remember at the time I was more into glitch art. I had shortly before that discovered how to glitch vector files and o found remixing that piece a perfect opportunity to export iterative processes.

Using the original tile is an obvious way to say that it is influenced by it and hopefully gives those already familiar to the work a new way to interpret it. My remix was even eventually shown at his 80th birthday celebration!

CW: Alright, how about this: is appropriation without reference theft?

AR: Nope. It’s all about intent. You may be stealing unintentionally just by making something in the style of someone else’s work. If you do this and then try to claim it is solely your own then you go into the realm of plagiarism.

CW: So attribution is your red line. We should all be able to use what we want to use, provided we credit our influences?

AR: At the moment that is what I believe, which of course has its pitfalls. If attribution can encourage people to respect artists then I think it’s a step in the right direction.


Excited by Antonio? Check out his website.


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