Friday, 3 December 2010

A Fire in my Belly

I have posted before on the relationship between art and law, and in particular the policing of 'contentious' art, yesterdays Guardian provided another great example with news of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington pulling an exhibit from the Hide/Seek exhibition. Over 18s can watch the video in question, A Fire in my Belly, here. It's an interesting piece created by the artist David Wojnarowicz in 1987 to mark the death of his lover Peter Hujar, but was removed from the exhibition following pressure from the Catholic League. Religion and sex in art, and especially the 'same sex' variety, are often targets for moral outrage and attempts to prohibit. What is particularly interesting here is that it marks another attempt to censor work not by using more traditional avenues such as criminal law, but by the threat of withdrawing funding. It reminded me of the Sensation exhibition, and the furore surrounding Chris Ofili's  The Holy Virgin Mary. Its a great piece of work, and was shown recently at Tate Britain as part of a retrospective of his work, but when it was shown in New York in the 1990s it was vandalised and the then mayor Guiliani threatened to withdraw future public funding from the gallery. The picture below shows the piece protected by plexi -glass in the gallery. For more on this see art crimes.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Popularity of copyright: mash-ups and time

With the great digital impact upon creation and its using, that is, producing and consuming, copyright law has become not only subject of protecting and promoting creativity within the popular culture, but also it has become an object of popularity itself. We are witnessing the continuous dialogues, if not conflicts, between those justifying its existence and those calling for its greater flexibility and balance. However, in context of its popular image is there a new tendency of the copyright law, or more specifically by those exercising it, in viewing creativity differently? Or to put it other way round –is there a new tendency in permitting copyright infringement? In trying to answer this I will look at two different forms of ‘mash-ups’ that appeared recently on the creative landscape of music and art.

Two weeks ago, DJ Greg Gillis or Girl Talk published on a record label ‘Illegal Art’ his newest fifth album “All Day” of mash-ups which back in 2008 the NY Times named his album ‘a lawsuit waiting to happen’. In anticipation of some popular copyright stuff, Joe Mullin in his article poses very good question ‘Why the music industry isn’t suing Mash-up star ‘Girl Talk’?’ He is wondering why the ‘lawsuit waiting to happen’ is waiting still for the fifth time. Subsequently followed by sane reasoning, he provides a fair point: “Gillis would be a ready-made hero for copyright reformers; if he were sued, he’d have some of the best copyright lawyers in the country knocking on his door asking to take his case for free.”

In other words, it is only because it will attract such a great publicity, likewise the Napster case, and once again those lobbying for its rigid protection even if they win the decision they will lose one more battle on the long run. Mullin states that Girl Talk is just one artist with a laptop who will not be followed by other creative established artists, so in that case the industry will remain quiet. Is the industry scared of popularity!? Obviously, artists does not seem having any problem with mash-ups; it is the labels and publishing industries that fight against that. Nevertheless, as Mullin’s article states that Electronic Frontier Foundation are waiting for the lawsuit to happen as "they’re positively eager to litigate a case over music sampling, which they believe is a clear-cut case of fair use.” Rule out sampling as fair use in America and copyright will gain even greater popularity. Entertainment copyright law made in America!

I do not think there is any copyright war on the long run. Neither I think the 'fair use' notion helps much here. Those using copyright law as a tool for financial gaining, or to be more sympathetic - those wanting to protect creativity, are just adapting to the new mode of copyright existence without knowing it. It seems like there is some silent changing of the copyright system itself and its understanding, affecting everyone –from creator to user in allowing and recognising the novel developments of creation or knowledge sharing, producing and consuming. No matter what side you are on, you just cannot control it. Deliberately or not the great recording companies are restraining from lawsuits only because there is no other way. Probably law in general or this one in particular always has been tolerant or flexible enough to embrace novelties (something most scholars and civil initiatives are trying to succeed today), but it always needed some additional time.

Talking of time, I saw Christian Marclay newest work ‘The Clock’ at the White Cube Gallery which already gained a great acclaim with his cinematic work that tried to grasp the essence of time, while inviting the viewer to experience time by viewing thousands of excerpted film scenes and dialogues related to time, through using cut up-edit technique. The whole piece of 24h video material is screened in real time, depending on the place (time zone) where it is shown. While watching some extracts of the famous film “Time machine” around 17:42h the question of whether Marclay provided copyright licences started ticking together with my sensation of simultaneously seeing and feeling time.

In no time, I found the following answer to my question from Marclay himself in the Economist “Technically it’s illegal....but most would consider it fair use”. How is he so sure? In believe he or the institution that commissioned his work has consulted a lawyer, this transformative work goes beyond the ‘fair use’ protection. The article’s comment that he ’ultimately pays homage to the films, particularly the actors’ does not seem plausible. He is just an established artist, and in contrast to the music industry’s established musicians, appropriation is something common and moreover praised in artistic practices. Another argument could be that law can’t deal with re-mixes of great quantity of original materials used in one work. However the positive thing is whatever the arguments are there are flashes of ameliorating mode as to how copyright work or creation as such are approached by the creators, owners and users today.

Copyright law today is concerned more with its very existence rather than with the rationales why it was recognised at first state. Its justifications are just realms where political and economic powers are exercised, lobbying groups creating strict laws to fight digitalisation and control the consequences of reproducing and distributing. Nevertheless, copyright silently reshapes itself. Copyright law has always been silent, but its utter usage of protecting copyright has positioned it in a place not any other law would like to be. Nevertheless, it is that utterance that made it so popular. On the long run, possibly copyright will be saved by its very popularity.

Copyright law is not a product of this time and things do not change overnight, but they do change during 'All Day'. Goethe says - “The day is committed to error and floundering; success and achievement are matters of long range”.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Betrayed by Rough Trade lies?

I have just finished reading the excellent book Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade by Neil Taylor, which charts the various trials and tribulations that have afflicted Rough Trade over its 30 plus year history. I have always had a soft spot for Rough Trade, as a youth I used to buy a lot of Rough Trade singles and use their mail order, and when I first came to London in the late 1980s spent a lot of time in their Covent Garden branch especially. The book details not only all the financial and ownership problems with which they have been periodically affected, but also a spirit of adventure and a great ear for music by  Geoff Travis and others. Given my work interests I found a lot of the material about the relationships with the artists particularly interesting, including the copy of the original hand written contract, written out in biro on a notepad which says:

1. We... agree to make records and sell them until either or both of the parties reasonably disagree with the arrangement.
2.We agree that once agreed recording, manufacturing and promotional costs have been deducted we will share the ensuing profit equally.



Great stuff - and a real two fingers to the more corporate  financially oriented labels at the time. Of course such an approach does not necessarily mean a  smooth ride and a happy artist, the ethos is refreshing and brings to mind a lot of the optimism and focus of lots of these early independent labels such as Factory, Fast Product, Postcard etc. A former PhD student of mine, Oxana Chiscenco, graduates with her PhD today at the Barbican. Oxana wrote a brilliant PhD thesis based around the need to protect independent record labels  and it seems fitting to send her hearty congratulations today.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Seamless Web - popular culture and law blog

In a spirit of non-competitive bonhomie I would like to bring The Seamless Web to your attention. Lots of interesting material and links, especially looking at film and TV, and well worth a look. A great addition to the blogosphere.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Rave On? Rave Off?

Mark Townshend's piece on the huge rave that took place in central London, Scumoween: The Squat Monster's Ball, published in The Observer, took me back twenty years to the so called Second Summer of Love, and the previous conservative administration's attempts to police youth culture by trying to clamp down on raves via the Entertainment (Increased Penalties) Act 1990 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This is something that Steve Greenfield and I wrote about many moons ago in the New Statesman, although the piece we wrote now looks to be lost in the mists of time, written as it was in the days before everything seems to be available online. Townshend argues that there is a similar context at the present time to then - with both a recession and a regressive conservative government in place - and that perhaps the current climate will lead to more of these sort of events. Time will tell, now what about the return of political pop, and the halcyon days of Red Wedge etc...

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Filth and the Fury

It may not have escaped your notice that last week saw the publication of a 50th Anniversary edition of D.H.Lawrence's celebrated novel. This edition looks interesting on a number of fronts, not only does it include the unexpurgated text, but also essays by Geoffrey Roberston and Steve Hare, but also a timeline  of events around the trial and is supported by a useful website. For a useful piece on the effect the book has had on our cultural and legal landscape see Geoffrey Robertson's piece in the Guardian, The Filthy Fifth Columnist. We are looking at a number of events and initiatives in the Law School at Westminster  to celebrate this, watch this space...

Thursday, 4 November 2010


From my favourite magazine, the word, a great reinterpretation of Radiohead's Creep. While we are about it this is also a recent favourite, although the song is certainly not my usual cup of tea.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Bronco Bullfrog

Yesterday we screened Bronco Bullfrog, Barney Platts-Mills' classic 1970 film set in the East end of London, that has been described as a lost mod classic and has acquired cult status. The context for this screening was that it marked the 40th anniversary of its first screening at what is now known as the Old Cinema at  the University of Westminster  in October 1970. As has previously been written on the blog, for example around the passing of Tony Tenser, the University of Westminster has a long and celebrated history as regards film, and the University is currently trying to raise funds to restore 'The birthplace of British Cinema'. Bronco was re released as a digital print some months ago and I and an esteemed colleague, Alex  Sinclair, himself no stranger to the 1970s, were able to show not only Barney Platts-Mills, but also Sam Shepherd (aka Bronco himself!) and Roy Haywood (Roy), around the Old Cinema, bringing back a lot of memories for them all. The trailer of the film can be found here and the DVD, blu-ray and (excellent) soundtrack provided by The Audience,  can of course be found at all good stockists.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Law, Sport and Education

A special issue of the Entertainment and Sports Law Journal has been published, entitled  Law Sport and Education, and available via this link. This includes work from members of the Centre and, in addition, articles written by two former students of the LLM Entertainment Law programme at Westminster. You can subscribe to the ESLJ mailing list too from the journal homepage.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Surfing the Street: Photographing the Street in the Age of Panic

In an article on Eurozine, Karl Palmas fascinatingly reflected on Gilles Deleuze’s attraction for surf, as expressed by the French philosopher in a 1985 interviews: as opposed to ‘old sports’ in which
we are the source of the movement. Running, putting the shot, and so on: effort, resistance, with a starting point, a lever ... All the new sports – surfing, windsurfing, hang-gliding – take the form of entering into an existing wave. There's no longer an origin as starting point, but a sort of putting-into-orbit. The key thing is how to get taken up in the motion of a big wave, a column of rising air, to 'get into something' instead of being the origin of an effort.
In Palmas words,
Deleuze goes on to contrast these new habits of sport with the old habits of thought still prevalent in contemporary philosophy. Rather than creating concepts in relation to movement and becoming, philosophy still reflects upon that which is supposedly eternal and fixed.
This radical becoming, something we could roughly refer as the flow of existence, is akin to Henri Bergson’s notion of duration:
In Bergson's thought, "the immobile" denotes matter; the actual world of things perceived and understood by humans. "The mobile", on the other hand, denotes duration; the "virtual" processes that Bergson calls "the true evolution, the radical becoming" that escapes us
This ever-escaping virtual can only be approached through intuition as the method by which we make use of our own duration to affirm and immediately to recognise the existence of other durations, above or below us. That is, through which we ‘surf’ through reality, keeping the pace of the radical becoming of life.

Another French philosopher, Henri Lefebvre, in the last years of his life embarked upon a project he termed rhythmanalysis, that is, the study of the rhythms and flows of urban life, melodies of routines and ruptures forming the pattern of urban existence. Commuters walking to the train station, passers-by walking absent-mindedly, children running around a fountain, people chatting on a bench, runners, beggars, but also the legal regulations, the unwritten rules, opening and closing times of shops. Lefebvre would look at these flows from a detached position, like a window, seeking to extrapolate from the differences and repetition of these multiple practices the hidden patterns produced by – as well as regulating – them.

Lefebvre’s window, however, is a bit too detached, somewhat Cartesian, something like looking at people surfing from the beach, studying their movements without actually understanding them. Surely interesting, compelling, even funny, Lefebvre’s window is still too comfortable and too static: surfing with thought requires a bigger effort, one that Deleuze
likens ... to an apprenticeship, and to the process of learning to swim – being forced to coordinate one's body with other modi
This is what street photographers are, surfers in the melodic fabric of urban life, uncompromisingly mingled with the urban flows, always looking for ruptures, patterns, tipping points, routines, that everyday virtuality which always escapes, always overlooked by the passive gaze with which we walk, daily, through our lives. Street photography is just that, artistic immersion into the smooth space of the city: nothing mysterious, esoteric or mystic, just an art of ‘going with the flow’, encapsulated not in Henri-Cartier Bresson’s quest for the ‘decisive moment’, but rather in Garry Winogrand’s “continuously chasing after the eternal nowness of life itself in all its raw, unmediated energy”, as Sean O’Hagan puts it in recent article on the Observer.

Street photography is both a ‘genre’ in itself and, in some sense, transversal to the whole history of photography. Taking inspiration from Friedlander’s, Winogrand’s and Meyerowitz’s 60s age d’or of street photography, Sean O’Hagan reflects on the state of the art of street photography today: whilst the genre is undergoing a vibrant, artistic renaissance, is also facing ever-increasing restrictions, stemming from different set of anxieties, claims, panics. Intersecting concerns such as terrorism, surveillance, paedophilia, intrusion and privacy mean that the unrestrained freedom enjoyed by street photography 40 years ago is today unthinkable, as the photographer must continuously negotiate his/her way through draconian laws, suspicious policemen and concerned citizens. These contradictory trajectories are intersected by yet another one, the democratisation or perhaps, less optimistically, bastardisation of street photography into a widespread DIY practice, allowed by the availability of cheap video-devices, most notably mobile phones.

It seems that the less tolerated photography is, when practiced by individual, the more is accepted, and practiced, by institutions. As this modern version of Baudelaire’s flaneur (equipped with camera instead of notebook, that is) is increasingly marginalised and criminalised, the same practice is taken on more and more ubiquitously by public and private institutions, with UK’s all-encompassing street surveillance and Google Street View as just two most stunning examples of this dubious double standard. Perhaps this is the kind of control that Gilles Deleuze reflects upon in his brief but hugely influential Postscript on the Societies of Control, i.e. the shift from discipline to control, from a static, panoptical form of surveillance to dynamic, insidious modulation of the apparatus of control in continuous adaption onto the different flows and rhythms of urban life. From panopticon to street photography: surfing the street, going with the flow – except that it is now institutions of control, not individuals, who are surfing, with the Law providing them with the exclusive right to do so.

Contemporaneously hijacked by public and private institutions and criminalised, as well as caricatured in the Facebook-fuelled frenzy to record & share every bit of existence: is there still room for street photography? The answer is yes, now more than ever, in the urban experience subjected to image overload, we need the moving eye of the street photographer, the urban surfer able to effortlessly immerge himself in the patterns of urban life, making sense of the multiple contradiction of the genre, bordering between skills and luck, intrusion and observation, voyeurism and exploration, art galleries and oblivion, both natural and difficult at the same time, just like surfing, or skating – incidentally the former profession of one of the promising photographer of the new generation, Matt Stuart.

It is in this capacity for glimpsing the radical becoming of everyday experience that lies the potentiality of street photography to subvert the taken-for-grantedness of the everyday, not simply observing but, as Stephen Gill,
reacting to a place that I had stumbled on, and the place completely moulded and shaped the work. I was reacting, really, rather than going out looking.
This potential is not only artistic but also political, and not simply in the commonsensical sense of photography as a means to keep authorities on check – street photography is also more than this, as testified for instance by the work of Stephen Gill’s himself, able to challenge the LO 2012’s vision of East End as ‘wasteland’ to be regenerated – by showing the inner, oft-overlooked uniqueness of Hackney Wick’s fields, markets, canals and marshes. This is the potential which is threatened by institutional power and moral panic and even, more disturbingly, taken over by those very institutions. It is against such a threat that street photography has to be celebrated –not simply as a basic freedom to take picture, but also as a form of art able to rescue us from the (political?) numbness of city-life.

Some of Gary Winogrand's pictures are currently exhibited at the Tampa Museum of Art, FL

Friday, 23 April 2010

Of centres and peripheries

 This week I was invited along to the launch of a new British Library initiative, Sport and Society. The Summer Olympics through the lens of social science. This is a really exciting development, as the site notes, it 'presents the Olympics as a global sporting event that tells us something about the way individuals, groups and institutions operate in society, and the ideas that drive them' and aims to highlight the British Library social science collection. At the  launch there were a number of very interesting presentations, including Andy Miah talking about some of the problems of saving and archiving alternative media representations of the Olympics, and tapping into some of the research he has conducted with Dr Beatriz Garcia, fore more details see his excellent website. All this talk of marginal voices reminded me of a recent conference in Malmo I attended, also tied into issues of margins and marginality, entitled Centres and Peripheries in Sport. This was an excellent conference arguing that areas at the periphery of sport ought to be reconfigured and reconstituted to reflect the importance of areas that have for too long been seen as marginal. Material from the conference will soon be posted on the website above and all the resources noted above have useful material about sport, society and the Olympics that are well worth consulting.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Human Rights in Film

At the University of Westminster the excellent Dr Emma McClean organises an ongoing series of films under the banner of a Human Rights Film Series. Recent films shown include No Man's Land and Persepolis and these are always a welcome addition to the life of the Law School, and much appreciated by the students. I have just noticed that Human Rights Watch are organising a film festival that looks well worth looking into. It begins in London on 17th March and carries on until the 26th March - there are lots of interesting films being shown within three themes; 'Accountability and Justice', 'Development and Migration' and 'Closed Societies: Iran and North Korea'.  In the 'Accountability and Justice' theme In the Land of the Free... and War Don Don look especially of interest look well worth checking out, but the festival as a whole looks very worthwhile.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Advanced Legal Studies @ Westminster: Entertainment and Sports Law Journal

New issue of Entertainment and Sports Law Journal published, see notice on this blog which takes you to the issue itself Advanced Legal Studies @ Westminster: Entertainment and Sports Law Journal

Men at Work

This is my first (ever) post, so hopefully it will be of interest to some. For those of you with a taste for Aussie pop from the 80s, the following might ring a few bells. If you're hoping for a bit of Kylie, you'll be disappointed; but if you like the slightly earthier sounds of Men at Work, you may be surprised to learn that they have been found by the Federal Court of Australia to have pinched part of the tune for 'Down Under' from the well-known camp fire round 'Kookaburra sits in the old gumtree'. Although consisting of only 4 bars, the Judge felt that this was such an integral part of the tune of 'Down UNder' that it could require 60% of all earnings from the song to be paid to the Claimant. Although nowhere near as obvious as the Verve's use of The Andrew Oldham Orcehstra's version of The Rolling Stones' 'The Last Time' on 'Bittersweet Symphony' it could ultimately prove just as costly. The more musical amongst you will be able to hum along to both songs, the music of which is contained in the judgment:

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Funded PhD opportunities in Law and Popular Culture

The University of Westminster has just advertised some research studentships which might be of interest to some readers of this blog. Details about the application process appear via link above. There are a number of named possible topics but you are free in addition to construct your own proposal. Members of The Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture welcome proposals in relevant fields. The Centre currently has three students working on fields as diverse as: 

  • Olympic Brandscapes: the production, control and impact of the space of London 2012 Olympics (Andrea Pavoni)
  • Technology and Ideas: the challenge of ‘intangible property’ within Copyright Law (Danilo Mandic)
  • Gambling and Governance: an analysis of common law approaches to the business of gaming, and their social and cultural impacts (Thea Oxbury)
In addition, in December 2009 the first of our PhD students, Oxana Chiscenco, successfully defended her thesis 'The Record Industry and Competition law in the Twenty First Century'. The areas that the Centre can supervise in are not confined to these above of course and anyone interested in applying should consider looking at the research interests and work of members of the Centre (currently Guy Osborn, Steve Greenfield, Ken Foster, Stephanie Roberts and Stuart Toddington); we are interested, amongst other things, in anything that examines the intersection between law and popular culture, and we construe popular culture very broadly. Any one interested should make contact  if they would like to discuss this further. The closing date is 19th February 2010.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Generation Terrorists

On Saturday 23rd January a Mass Photo Gathering took place in Trafalgar Square. The Gathering was a response to a number of high profile detentions under s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. These have included a BBC photographer taking a photo of St Paul's Cathedral and a trainspotter being asked to delete images of a train carriage he took whilst on holiday in Wales. The Independent ran a front page focussing on what they saw as a misuse of police powers under the legislation, which allows police to 'stop and account' or 'stop and search' in certain authorized zones.  There are certain resonances here with previous attempts to use similar public order provisions to attempt to deal with football fans, see for example the work of Urban 75, and their now defunct offshoot, Football Fans against the Criminal Justice Act. In the 1990s this group campaigned against the regulation of football culture, see for example this article from the New Statesman at the time. These developments also have parallels with the case of Brian Haws, something memorably celebrated by Mark Wallinger in his installation State Britain 2007. We can in any event see this as a further example of law trying to regulate areas of popular culture, and as a further site for resistance.