Big Buck Bunny Trailer


Big Buck Bunny – Official Trailer from Andy Goralczyk on Vimeo.This is the second movie from the Blender project. The licence is Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 .You can pre-order DVDs here. It will have all the video and 3D modelling source files on. And the sountrack will be BY this time as well.

SwanQuake – the user manual

My latest review for Furtherfield is of igloo’s excellent “SwanQuake the user manual”.

See here: http://www.furtherfield.org/displayreview.php?review_id=300

Igloo are having a launch party on Friday, which sadly I can’t get to but I would highly recommend if you can make it.

“The problems with free-licensing aesthetic works”

Terry Hancock has an excellent series of articles in “Free Software Magazine” called “Making the impossible happen: the rules of free culture” that examines the production of Free Culture in great detail. Go and read them all then come back here.

The third in the series concerns Creative Commons (CC) licenced art. Terry makes some good points regarding the non-fungibility of art and the relative adoption rates of CC licences. He also raises some possible philosophical, economic and ethical objections that people might make to the use of CC licences for art. Because this is an area of great interest to me I’m going to provide some further possible responses to those possible objections here.

“Works, when valued aesthetically, are never interchangeable” and “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

These are good things, as they are the key to the economic value of Free Culture artworks.

Aesthetic works are not substitutable and cannot be functionally equivalent because what they *are* is what they *do*. Even allographic works can have different performances or editions. Fans can never have too many bootlegs or remixes or special editions. A t-shirt is a complement to a gig, not a replacement for it. A work by me is not substitutable for a work by you, people can buy both.

Being a performer in a new genre or an artist in a new style is the aesthetic equivalent of being a Java hacker in 1997 or a Rails hacker in 2007. You have differentiated yourself from people who have only commodified skills. You have a scarce and saleable skill that you can charge extra for. And the desirability of that skill is a matter of perception whether we are talking Java, Ruby, sounding like Coldplay or being a Relational Artist.

“It's pretty hard to sell a service contract on a painting or a music track”

The services and documentation model that was proposed for Free Software in the 1990s might not seem relevant to a rock band or a fine artist. But in fact this model closely parallels the way that most artists actually make a living (we’ll ignore bar work and manual labour here).

Fine artists make some money from selling paintings and sculptures. They usually make more from private and public commissions, residencies, teaching, workshops, exhibition fees, print editions, conference fees, design work, and writing for reviews or academic works. This is the hard, unglamorous work of building your reputation so you can charge more for your labour and its products. And it is service and support work.

Musicians, playwrights and authors have a similarly disparate set of revenue streams. Where the money comes from changes over the course of your career, but it is never just from making art and giving it to your dealer or agent. Or from having someone charge for reproductions of recordings of the products of your labour.

A song or a painting can lead to demand for services (such as performances or readings), to commissions for new work, to opportunities to remake the work for a new context, and to demand for compliemtary products. Just like free software. Keep the master tapes or the preparatory sketches (it’s the aesthetic equivalent of owning the server) and you can manage the lifecycle of individual instances of artworks and make money by satisfying changing demand for them. Just like free software.

“Some artists may not appreciate seeing their work “improved” by others”

Tough. That’s how art progresses. If previous artists didn’t like you improving on their work you wouldn’t be able to be an artist. And the CC licences make very clear that they do not affect moral rights. This maintains artists’ ability to object to false attribution or defamatory mistreatment of their work even within Free Culture.

Terry’s example of a doodle on the Mona Lisa has an important historical precedent, Marcel Duchamp’s Dada collage “L.H.O.O.Q.” of 1919. This was not only disrespectful to Leonardo’s famous painting, it was obscene by the standards of the day. Yet it is an important work in Duchamp’s ouvre and therefore in Modernist art. The thought of copyright or moral rights being used to suppress it shows precisely why Copyleft for cultural works (or at the very least Transformative Fair Use) is so important in the face of ever extending censorship through law and technology.

What I Have Been Up To While Not Posting

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Photo: Copyright Marc Hankins 2008, Licenced CC-BY-NC-SA GB 2.0

Last Monday, Dave Bausola and I were interviewed by Suw Charman about “Where Are The Joneses?” as part of ORG’s Creative Business In The Digital Age event. That’s me on the right of the photo, holding the talking stick.

It was an excellent event and I recommend you take a look both at the photos and at the web site which has lots of handy resources.

I will get around to posting about WRTJ? at length soon…

(Update 26/3/08: Dave has blogged about the event as well.)

Goodbye Crestfallen

Aaron A’s g— comic series Serenity Rose is very good. The new story is now starting as a webcomic and I recommend you give it a go:

GOODBYE CRESTFALLEN PAGE 001 | heart shaped skull

Find out about the story so far here.

Persuasion 1

(This is the first of two articles in response to Blaise’s question in the comments below. It is intended as part of a conversation.)

Introduction

In this blog post I will consider why it might be that a musician should licence their work as BY-SA rather than NC-SA, giving up royalties from public performance of their work as a result, rather than accepting Stallman’s views on the requirements of freedom for works of expression. I will argue that an ethic of freedom of speech rather than freedom of use applies to cultural works, and that the economic harm this may cause for current business models is both acceptable as a moral consequence and can be offset by business models that are already being proven.

Free Software

Stallman’s conception of Free Software is the freedom of individuals to utilise the functionality of software as they see fit. I will call this “freedom of use”. The ethical value of freedom of use is that it supports the freedom of individuals to pursue their own ends within society in a pluralistic way.

It is not unusual for people to complain that they wish to be free to exploit the exchange value of software (including software that they themselves have written) rather than its use value, and that having to allow other people to be able to use the software without restriction affects this freedom. But this is not freedom of use, and indeed is not freedom in general as it involves reducing the freedom of others.

Stallman’s model for software freedom was the 1970s MIT AI Lab. The social contract of the AI Lab embodied the principles and benefits of free use and development of software. It is important to recognise that this is the historical emergence of an (approximately) ideal model rather than a historical accident or contingency. It is also important to recognise that Free Software is reform with a definite model in mind rather than radicalism with an unknown trajectory.

Non-Software Freedom

Stallman has written about the concept of freedom for non-software work. He divides such work into reference, opinion and expression, with different freedoms required for each. Reference material, like software, is a tool to be used to realise your own ends and so should be free. Opinion is designed to have some effect within society and so should not be misrepresented. It should therefore be freely distributable but not modifiable. Expression is not used to achieve or inform anyone’s ends within society and therefore need not be freely copyable. It is also a product of someone’s personality so like opinion it need not be modifiable.

The categories that Stallman describes are guided by the principle of freedom of use. As the usefulness of each category as a means for achieving pluralistic ends reduces, so the requirement of freedom reduces.

I would also argue that there is not such a neat break down of works into separate categories. To take the example of music, a song may be opinion (a satirical song), reference (schooling or tribal songs), expression (punk) or entertainment (corporate punk). Or it may a combination (a protest song may be opinion and expression for example).

Free Culture

As freedom of use is the basic freedom for software, freedom of speech is the basic freedom for culture and cultural works. Supporting and enabling freedom of speech, and opposing censorship, is the pursuit of cultural freedom. Speech here includes art, music, film, and other non-verbal and non-textual forms. Authorship therefore includes artistic, musical, dramatic, cinematographic and other forms.

An author may need to use other speech through reference, parody, satire or quotation (of which sampling is a form) in order to achieve their ends. This is true whichever of Stallman’s cultural categories the work they are producing and refering to fall in. In expression or entertainment, freedom of use peters out (unless, presumably, those works are represented as software) but freedom of speech remains.

The ethical value of freedom of speech is that, like freedom of use, it is vital for the freedom of individuals to pursue their own ends within a pluralistic society. There are many historical models of robust cultural exchange and derivation, from Homeric Verse through Shakespeare and political pamphleteering to Blues, Jazz and dance music and contemporary documentaries and satire.

Economics

As with software, it is not unusual for people to complain that they wish to be free to exploit the exchange value of cultural works (including works that they themselves have written) rather than its use value, and that having to allow other people to be able to use the work without restriction affects this freedom. But this is not freedom of use, and indeed is not freedom in general as it involves reducing the freedom of others.

Software freedom requires that free exchange not be forbidden. There is nothing wrong with charging for software, but it is wrong to forbid people from exchanging software that they have paid for. This is supported by the traditional economics of software production, where large institutions pay for the production of software as an incidental by-product of their main operations. Software is a cost rather than a revenue stream in this scenario, and Free Software reduces that cost.

The economics of culture are similarly institutional, with artists and singer-songwriters effectively consultants and freelancers for galleries and record companies. Unlike software ,“content” as culture is regarded by the culture industry is the core of their business rather than an incidental by-product. The production of content is a cost, to be sure, but its distribution is the only revenue stream and free exchange has the potential to undermine this.

NonCommercial

To prevent such loss (for individual producers as well as institutional distributors), Creative Commons have produced a “NonCommercial” licence that reproduces the freedoms guaranteed by Free Software “copyeft” licences such as the GNU GPL but with the proviso that use and distribution of the work must not be “commercial” in nature. This is the “Creative Commons NonCommercial-Attribution-ShareAlike License”, or NC-SA for short.

It is not clear that NC-SA achieves its aims. The licence explicitly allows p2p sharing, which is classified as commercial activity under US law and is the development most blamed for loss of revenue by the recording industry. NC-SA allows people to download work over ISP connections using a personal computer and store it on an MP3 player or burn it to a CD then print it out at copy shops. These are all paid goods and services, making money from an individual’s use of an unpaid-for NC-SA work. The only person who doesn’t make money in this scenario is the person who has released the work as NC-SA.

Having given away the ability to freely copy work, the major loss of revenue according to the recording industry, NC-SA tries to lock the stable door not on the author losing money but on other people making money, and fails to do so except in the most direct cases of exploitation.

Exploitation

NC does not stop people making CDs of work, incorporating it into their videos, incorporating it into promotions for events or putting it onto peer-to-peer networks. These are all uses an author could expect to be paid for. Rather than ensuring that the author is paid, NC tries to prevent anyone else from being paid. It fails in all but a few cases. It makes the work into a white elephant, something that can only cost money. Or it makes the work free advertising, paid for by the consumer.

Copyleft, Attribution-ShareAlike or BY-SA (without the NC) in Creative Commons terms, discourages commercial exploitation of work in film, video, and o
ther derivative work. Where it does not, the resulting work will be Free, which is an ethical and reputational gain. BY-SA doesn’t prevent commercial redistribution, but then NC doesn’t prevent noncommercial distribution, which is the main competitor for authors. The main sources of actual revenue that BY-SA doesn’t manage that NC-SA does are commercial distribution of work in CD form and on commercial radio.

It is possible to compete with others copying your work, turning their efforts into promotion. iTunes Music store does. Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” release is an example of comprehensively and successfully competing with leakers and filesharers. The Happy Mondays printed their own bootleg t-shirts and got a friend to sell them outside venues to compete with the real bootleggers.

Royalties

NC prevents people selling CDs or downloads of work and playing it on commercial radio without paying performance dues. Under SA, the former can be competed with successfully through good release management. That leaves performance rights. Again, commercial radio can be competed with via streaming. And it has positive reputational network effects (it’s free advertising, just make sure you have something to actually sell or be paid for).

Hackers do not complain when a distro packages their work and charges for distributing it. It is recognised that the distributor is providing a service. They provide new users and developers for projects, and build the reputation of projects that they feature. Over time some have come to invest back into the production of the software that they have benefited from.

Authors can view commercial distribution of their work similarly, even where, like distribution of software that one has written, to charge would make money where distro packaging does not. But unlike hackers they can compete with and benefit from this directly. A song can be performed, packaged in a deluxe format or dedicated in a way that a JPEG decompression library cannot, although the distribution of both can lead to further work.

Details

Distribution allows people to hear speech. Where changes to that distribution cause economic harm that reduces authors ability to speak, this can be addressed. For example by reputation economics of scale to offset the loss of performance royalties through network effects on the things you do charge for. That is better than having to pay MTV to play your videos, which is what they wanted. And it will allow ways of your fans finding you to develop that would otherwise be stifled, such as Internet radio.

The current economic ecosytem for music is very complex, with risk and rewards shifted between participants over time and investment and payment flowing to and from many different avenues. This system worked well enough before the Internet but is currently broken and to restore it would cause far greater social harm than just the current lawsuits.

One possible replacement would be similar to the business model of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”, but with feeling. Release paid downloads before anyone can leak the masters, follow up with deluxe vinyl and digipacks, see who will pay to wrap video sessions with advertising, do sell CDs, perform live as much as you can, and make sure you sell lots of merchandising. This isn’t the only way of doing it, but it is a drop-in replacement for the current model.

Conclusion

Free Culture is an ethical matter. As with Free Software, economic concerns are secondary. Stallman’s categories do not capture this ethics. NC-SA does not protect it, or very much else. Lessig describes a perfect storm of technology, law and economics threatening free speech. Free speech must be protected as a vital part of open, pluralistic society. Any harmful economic effects of this can be borne *if* you find the ethical claims of Free Culture convincing and its aims worthwhile.

public domain textures site

public domain textures

100 free, 750×750 pixel public domain textures. all images are seamless. public domain means you dont need permission to use the images.

Another excellent root resource project from Mitch Featherston.

“History is history and it is time that everyone learned to put historical events behind them” – The Art Newspaper

“History is history and it is time that everyone learned to put historical events behind them” – The Art Newspaper

The issue is clearly a complex one but Mark Stephens, who believes that the British Government and the Royal Academy and by implication myself, are acting in a “morally reprehensible” way understands neither culture nor morality. He should rather choose to rejoice that certain quite minor legal problems were happily resolved between Russia and Great Britain in very good faith on both sides and that as a result much happiness and pleasure is being given to so many.

Since this is a matter of public interest I think it is fair comment to say that the above article is pathetic. It is a defence of the current British government’s craven capitulation to the current Russian administration’s demands for immunity from legal claims over the current show of art from Russian in London, some of which may have been looted by the Soviets during World War II.

Quite apart from anything else, paintings are autographic works and unique objects, non-fungible physical property. Play scripts are allographic mass-produced commodities, replaceable items. They do not compare, and any defense of theft of the former based on the spectre of privatisation of the latter is at best utterly flawed.

There’s more, but honestly. When the author’s house is next burgled I assume he will just put it behind him rather than denying the world access to the cultural wealth he has hoarded.

Grrr.

From BxAL To PR(u)

Google’s web search engine is an index of pages on the World Wide Web constructed and constantly reconstructed by algorithms running on thousands of computers in parallel. This “PageRank'” algorithm is a mathematical formalisation of the informal heuristic that academics use to judge the influence of a published paper. The more people cite the paper, or the more people link to the document, the higher its score.

This is an automated solution to an organisational or methodological problem. The users of the Web are faced with a highly interlinked but highly diverse space of information to search in order to achieve their various ends. There are alternatives to this. Yahoo and Dmoz are human-managed directories rather than machine-generated indexes. Wikia is a human-managed search engine, although it is currently in its infancy.

In Art & Language’s Index projects I see a precedent for both the practice and critique of web search. The Indexes took Art & Language’s written work, highly interlinked but highly diverse, and produced an index for it based on various concepts in such a way that an imagined audience could navigate this sprawling and opaque practice.

The later Indexes were computer generated (randomly according to one report) or crowdsourced by Art & Language New York, the earlier ones were typed up by the British group. Their production was a strong application of the technology of business (filing cabinets, typewriters, and then computers) to a social and procedural problem: how to map and represent the conversational artistic practice of Art & Language in a form meaningful to the group and to an imagined audience.

To use the Indexes you check a table on the wall or a hand-out and then look up the relevant document in one of the filing cabinets. The bundle of notes in a plastic envelope (or on microfilm) that results may be of more general interest, and similar or different documents can be found by consulting the table further. This looks like a low-tech precursor to Googling for information.

The Indexes have important differences from search engines in the way they operate. Documents in the Indexes are differentiated and classified, and are unranked. Search engines use only a single information-destroying ranking measure, not positive and negative relations or grouping concepts. Directories use grouping concepts but not relations.

What is obscured in considering the Indexes as prehistoric search engines is their social construction and the specific purposes they served. Google’s users mostly regard it as neutral, but it is neutral only with regard to the demands of global capital. The Indexes were both the product of disagreement within Art & Language and of Art & Language’s ideologically radical position relative to the mainstream contemporary art of the time. It is both a product and a producer of discord and hard interpretative work both inside thr group that produced it and between that group and society.

The Indexes provide a historical source of concepts that can be applied to search engine production and critique, both in their social and technical production. The most important question the Indexes raise for search engines is what social forms have produced them and what social forms they produce. These questions are all the more important given search engines professed neutrality.

(There is an image of Index 001 near the bottom of the page here.)

On Purpose

The finished implementation of the line drawing algorithm from Harold Cohen’s essay “On Purposecan be found here. You’ll need a Lisp system such as SBCL to run it, the output images can be viewed with Gimp.

I am not happy with my implementation of the algorithm. I don’t think the “homing” functionality is robust or elegant enough, and it interacts with the angular limit code in a way that sometimes requires turns greater than the pen should allow.

But writing it has been a wonderful exercise in art computing historical investigation. I have learnt a lot, and gained a new appreciation for both the techniques and results of Cohen’s earliest art computing work.

If anyone can suggest a better homing algorithm and a better way of choosing each phases’s parameters let me know.