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Australian aboriginals have a concept which is dubbed ‘dream-time’. Boiled down to it’s essential and most telling elements, Dream-time refers to a time period beyond human memory when the Australian’s ancestors wandered the earth in the guise of both humans and animals, forming it into it’s current terrain.

Additionally there is dreaming–as it sounds, night images–descriptions of which indicate a certain type of belief structure. (ex.: Rabbit dreaming could be akin to Christianity while Turtle Dreaming could be similar to Judaism.) Dreaming is beyond regular time, basically beyond any conception of time that we and they (the tribes) are physically familiar with. (Sort of like Heaven–for believers it just is, even if it can’t really be explained logically or with any specific physicality). They describe dreaming as ‘all-at-once’, because they believe the experience is the past, present, and future co-existing. A person exists eternally in dreaming.

Amazingly, copyright then comes into play.

Each of the tribes have their own stories. To begin with, these stories are only supposed to be told within the tribe, and are the express property of the tribe. They are passed on from generation to generation and are understood as intellectual property. If they are used–whether in a retelling or in a painting–without permission, it is considered stolen property. Certain stories within the tribes are also protected. Some tales are to be told only at certain times, or only to certain people. For example,let’s presume there is a coming-of-age story that is told during a boy’s initiation into manhood. If he is told this story before it is the appropriate time, or if a girl is told this story, it is considered a serious breach of law and the orator could be punished with death.

The Australian Aboriginals are merely a mirror of our own culture. American copyrights were originally set up to protect the creator’s creation, not to restrict the idea or to insist that the discussion and concept remain tied to the specific, original piece. The problem is, inspiration comes from other artists, so artists are constantly utilizing other’s ideas. (The ideas themselves originating long before anyone alive). In the United States, with art, copyright is automatic. You don’t have to register it, registration simply ties a paper trail to it. (In case of legal battles down the road.) You can specify that something is copyrighted under creative commons, which has numerous facets, but essentially tells people that the piece is in the public domain. (Free for inspiring and using parts of to make other, unique pieces.) The concept of protecting ideas seems obviously counter-productive to a thriving culture, but what is interesting is how shaky the sturdy foundation of this particular sect of laws has become. With the advent of the internet, it is becoming nearly impossible to protect ideas and non-solid works (i.e. music and digital photos).

While, admittedly, the majority of the downloads and sharing is simply done to snag a tune or get a photo for that powerpoint presentation, there is a good amount of creative appropriation happening. Music cut up and re-formed with a new twist and new vision, images altered or spliced to illustrate a new concept, or sentences lifted and placed into another’s story. The internet is suddenly making it really easy to get what you need to make what you want. And you can do it with complete anonymity. Given, if you want to do the gallery thing you better make sure that you are within the frameworks of the law (or at least the idea/image is convoluted enough for nobody to notice), but if you are posting on some blog under a pseudonym, by all means use Mickey and Minney Mouse as porn-stars in your animated film commenting on sexuality and materialism in modern-day America. You can. Nobody can catch you. And that is what is infuriating authorities. They literally can’t do anything. This is looking to be the first digital revolt–a movement spurned on because, more or less, people want free music.

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4 Comments

  1. Interesting parallel to American copyright law. I think, though, that it should be pointed out that copyright is not meant to necessarily protect the creation, but to ensure an environment (market, economy, et cetera…) in which the artist/creator is encouraged to keep furthering the interests of cultural and industrial progress. So, originally the term of copyright protection was limited (can’t remember exactly, but something like 15 years). But what we’ve seen, especially with the aforementioned Disney monster, is corporate influence being exerted on legislation to keep extending the term of protection, essential in the interest of a handful of very lucrative brands (Mickey and Minney being the king and queen of this charade). I believe it now extends something like the life of the creator plus seventy years.

    I think it’s interesting how common perception seems to take perfect control of intellectual property as a no-brainer. I tend to think this is a testament to the effort that the purveyors of entertainment (movies and music, especially) have heeped into painting themselves the victim of abounding thieves, whom they vitally need copyright protection from. This is a relatively recent effort though, born only as recently as these modes of entertainment spawned their correspondent “industries” in the age of massively efficient communication and distribution. Looking further back, though, total control over copyrighted material was nowhere near “common sense”. Jefferson has a fantastic quote (pardon the length of this comment, if you will):

    If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. It’s peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lites his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement, or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

    Enlightenment was in nature’s plan.

    Anyhow, tying this back to the issue of the Internet, I think you’re right in calling this technology a pivotal challenge for our notions of copyright. And for a couple of reasons. First is as you have it: the sort of Wild Frontier of the Internet is so vast and relatively anonymous that regulating the simply staggering amount of data that flows over it is extremely difficult. Secondly, the Internet also serves as a mechanism for bypassing some of facilities that have made these entrenched industries seem necessary in the past (production, distribution, promotion). This is more so in the case of the music industry (you still need big bucks for making movies), where you can build a digital studio in your home fairly cheaply, put your tunes on a website, and promote it yourself on MySpace and the like. So yeah, like you say, lots of reason for big media to be soiling its terry undergarments.

    As for the different types of belief structures signified by various dream categories: what kind of worldview does Big Baby Dreaming signify?

  2. I’d like to add what I find is an interesting example of an industry attempting to cling to its dying legal morality: Legal threats against the Bit Torrent site, The Pirate Bay.

    At the above link, one can find many examples of major software, music and movie companies using empty threats sent the owners of Pirate Bay in an attempt to frighten them into closing up their website and servers. One can also find Pirate Bay’s responses, adequately backed by the appropriate legalese. Which, in a nutshell, declares what many of us already know: the desire for information will always outrun the desire to keep it locked up.

    For additional info on the history Bit Torrent files, look here.

  3. This is probably the discussion of the age, and although online piracy of music, videos, and software seems to be the major focus of attention simply because, as John Dillinger noted about the banks that he was robbing “…that’s where the money is,” strict copyright law (or copywrong) has serious implications for other forms of free expression. For example, artists, since the early 20th century have used the media of collage, decollage, and appropriation as vehicles of social critique. These forms of expression, extremely valuable to us as a culture, are actually in a violation of copyright law (here again usually not actively pursued because a)it is not very lucrative to bring lawsuits against starving artists, and b)if the corporation is lucky the artist becomes famous and the artwork they have produced in critique of the dominant culture becomes iconic–campbell’s chicken noodle soup anyone?). But it is heartening to note that there are a number of art groups and others that are actively trying to subvert the dominant corporate paradigm. A good example of this:
    http://www.illegal-art.org/
    On this site, I would especially recommend viewing the video by Negativeland, “Gimme the Mermaid.” which goes after Disney explicitly.

  4. In case y’all hadn’t ever heard of this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Pirates


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