Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Freedom of Expression® by Kembrew McLeod

i knew from the outset that my book Freedom of Expression® by Kembrew McLeod, was going to be something of a slight stretch to fit into the discussion of the digital/divide. i had never read the book before, but copyright law/fair use exemption/etc are of great interest to me, and i felt that the envelope was open to being stretched a little bit.

the basic premise of the book is to examine the ways that the copyright rich (generally corporate entities) are privatizing their copyrights beyond what the law allows, and thus harming the copyright poor (bloggers, youtubers(?), remixers, djs, students, documentary artists, etc, etc) who are more often than not simply using the languages of our society which are becoming increasingly based on these corporate entities.

through dozens of interesting and applicable examples from a wide array of disciplines, a hefty background in art history and semiotics, and a pranksters eye for pointed mischief, McLeod presents a reasoned case that the copyright rich among us, while attempting to protect their copyrighted content, are in fact potentially irreparably harming society on the whole and violating the wishes of the framers of the Constitution.

the stretching that i am trying to pull off here is to look at the gulf-like divide between these two currently warring entities (copyright holders and users), and address the ways that digital technology is changing the ways that people disseminate, use, abuse, and are in fact entitled to utilize the copyrighted works seeping into every aspect of the ways they live their lives and percieve themselves and the world around them.

i'm not sure whether the book was a primer for the documentary, or the other way around, but there is a documentary of the same name that plumbs very similar depths as the book, but it seems to have a more outward slant in favor of a tremendously cavalier attitude towards fair use:

the book, by comparison, has a wider ranging approach, focusing much on art, remix culture, and other easy examples that are ready, willing and able to be used to defend fair use as the cultural saving grace that's teetering on the verge of extinction in the face of corporate lobbyists, as well as spending many pages discussing the controversies of patenting genes, monsanto's terminator seeds, and what happens when a student applies for a patent for a biological product he invented on university time/equipment (initially he got three years of jail time spent on a chain gang) amongst other issues that are peripheral to the copyright cause.

the subjects addressed on the book, like the issues surrounding copyright, are vast and include everything from genetic trademarks, peer to peer software, sampling laws, the RIAA/MPAA lawsuits, documentary filmmakers, the length of time it takes for nitrate film to decay, and many other initially unrelated thing which upon reevaluation seem quite attached to the ideas of the book.

overall, i'm not certain how well the book fits into the class, and i definitely found myself doubting some of the stretching i did to try and twist it to fit into the framework of the class, but still absolutely agree that fair use and many of the other "open" movements discussed peripherally and indirectly in the book are on the side of bridging the divide (if it in fact possible to stand on either side of a divides bridge?).

of course, you don't have to take *my* word for it, the book is available as a creative commons licensed pdf so try (or remix or cite or collage or make it into a kindle ebook or almost a million other things) before you buy.

1 comment:

  1. kinda nutty guy that Kembrew...

    "On December 10, 2007, McLeod protested a Bill Clinton event in Iowa City, Iowa, dressed as a robot and demanding an apology for remarks made by Clinton in 1992 about controversial hip hop musician Sister Souljah.[2] Before being removed by security and as he was led away, McLeod tossed multi-colored flyers into the air which included the name of a website,, standing for "Mad Robots in Favor of Bill Clinton Apologizing."

    from the wikipedia entry