Who Owns the Internet?


License: CC0 Public Domain  Photo Credit: succo

I began to wonder about copyright and the internet near the beginning of this class when Katia Hildebrandt explained how to “properly” use and cite images we are including in our blogs.  I use ‘properly’ in quotation marks not because I question the veracity of the copyright/left lesson but more to call into question our current understanding of proper (legal) use and citation.

This disquiet I felt about the whole discussion of copyright on the internet found voice in this week’s suggested viewing.  The RIP! A Remix Manifesto video demonstrated powerfully how our current understanding of copyright has disastrous consequences for our creative culture.

RIP : A Remix Manifesto from Laurent LaSalle on Vimeo.

Rip contends that the internet was designed for the sole purpose of sharing information and ideas.  With its creation, it transformed a generation of consumers into creators.  However, the internet also became a massive supermarket with corporations trying to guard saleable content.  So who owns the internet?

This all came to a head for me over the weekend as I drafted a blog post about #TreatyEdCamp.  I wanted to use images from the event, in particular of my session.  I hadn’t taken any myself, as I was presenting, so I went to Twitter to find some.  I found one on Katia’s feed.


Initially, I was going to pull the picture from the post and add it to my blog post.  But then I realized that Katia had not designated this image as CopyLeft.  Thereby opening a Pandora’s box of copyright questions.  Can a Tweet by copyleft? Martin Paul Eve says yes but what’s the point?  Can a Tweet be copyrighted?  Brock Shinen says possibly but very difficult to achieve.  What about images? The Law Offices of Craig Delsack say… well it’s complicated.  Yes, the photographer retains ownership but so does Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and their users to various degrees.

So I ended up embedding the entire tweet.

In the end, I take my lead from Richard Prince an “artist” who took images off of Instagram, printed them and sold them for thousands of dollars.  No compensation was given to the images creators.  As Rip has posited, “the rules are up to you”.

I think our current  legal structure for copyright has created a society that has now become accustomed to living constantly “against the law” (Lawrence Lessig).  Because no one can figure out the law, to begin with.  And the law is next to impossible to enforce.  And because the law is at odds with our current remix culture.

As one lawyer in Rip stated, whether or not you have infringed upon someone else’s copyright depends largely upon whose it was and how upset they are… And how much money they have to fight you on it.

In the end, I find the comparison made by Rip about essay writing gratifying.  It is plagiarism to take the words and ideas of others and pass them off as our own.  However, academic papers are littered with properly cited quotes and ideas from other authors.  Every work builds on what has come before.  And even though, academic work is copyrighted, taking a part and mixing it into one’s own writing is perfectly acceptable, even required.  Maybe we should be approaching digital and artistic content in the same way.

In which case, it doesn’t matter whether something is copyright or copyleft or copyupsidedown.  What matters is that I properly attribute what I am using and where I got it from.  Just as taking a whole book and passing it off as my own work would be wrong, so too would copying a whole music album or a Twitter user’s whole photo album.  However, taking one picture, using it in a blog post and properly citing the source, would be OK.

In the Netflix documentary, We Steal Secrets, the narrator contends that the internet is not a good place for secrets, that information by its very nature needs to flow.  No amount of copyright/left laws and regulations are going to stem this tide of information and information remixing.  I say, let’s jump in!


License: CC0 Public Domain   Photo Source: geralt

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