Only People Making Real Encyclopaediae Should Have Free Speech

Dave Gerard’s comment on Foundation-L neatly encapsulates the problem with Wikimedia’s actions and with the defences of them that I have seen so far, stating of the artists  –

They’re performance artists. This is more performance. They fooled the EFF into playing along.

The problem is that people’s first amendment free speech rights are being dismissed because they are artists.

The EFF wouldn’t have had to “play along” if Wikimedia hadn’t decided, despite the history of first amendment protection for non-commercial, critical and artistic use of trademarks by artists, that art is less deserving of protection as free speech than simple verbal abuse would be.

Wikimedia Hates Art

I have a lot of respect for the Wikimedia Foundation, everyone I’ve met from it have been great people and I use their software and projects daily. I was proud to take part in the Wikipedia Loves Art event earlier this year. But as an artist I am disappointed and offended by Wikimedia’s treatment of a contemporary art project.

Whatever lawyers who charge for each letter they send out on your behalf may tell you, and whatever your opinion of contemporary art, there are strong precedents in the US supporting free speech under the first amendment for artists who use trademarks. To demand that artists transfer resources to a trademark holder or face legal action is therefore not just a chilling effect on free speech but legally shaky.

The EFF, to their credit, point this out here –

And details on an artwork and lawsuit that provide an important precedent can be found here –

Wikimedia’s response has been to disparage the concerns of the artists and the EFF –

Other web sites have picked up on this, and are supporting the artists –

The problem with Wikimedia’s over-reaching application of their trademark to the material detrement of artists is a chilling effect on freedom of speech. Wikimedia owe the artists and the EFF an apology. This behaviour really is beneath such an excellent organization.

Income – Packet-in-wiki

Income – Packet-in-wiki.Great list of revenue strategies for musicians in the manner of “How To Get Paid For Copyleft Art“.

Web Freedom

Gnash is freeing web users from proprietary software and HTML 5 can free them from proprietary formats.

The world wide web became invaluable to society and to the economy because it was based on open standards that were easy to use and even easier to copy and improve examples of. To protect the value that comes from this openness we must protect the freedom of computer users who access the web through software on their local computer.

The biggest current restriction on web users’ freedom is Adobe’s Flash player and its “swf” file format. Flash has become an unavoidable part of using the web but neither Adobe’s Flash player nor its swf file format are free. To make sure that web users’ freedom is not compromised when they cannot avoid Flash, the free Gnash swf player has been written.

Gnash currently supports Flash 7 and some of Flash 8. It will support Flash 9 later in 2009. If you develop websites to support Flash 7, please test them against Gnash and report any differences in behaviour to the Gnash project as bugs to help improve the Gnash player. Please also let users of your site know that they can use it with Gnash and where to find and install Gnash.

As well as playing swf movies using free software there are free software authoring tools for swf files. For ActionScript there is MTASC, and for images and sound and other media there is swfmill. Other solutions are available. With the Emacs ActionScript mode and the GNU Autotools tool chain it is possible to write and compile Flash movies very efficiently.

But it is increasingly possible to avoid using swf altogether. Modern web browsers support sophisticated graphics, sound, video and interaction using HTML 5, Javascript and “AJAX”. For examples see sites such as this one –
Rich interactive media experiences that would not have been possible online a few years ago can now be created using open standards. The quality and power of web standards multimedia has increased greatly in just the first few months of 2009. Do take a look at what can be done now, you will be pleasantly surprised.

If you can do so, replacing Flash with HTML 5 and Javascript is better than supporting Flash with free software.

It is important to use open standards and free software, but it is also important to pass on that freedom. The software that you write in JavaScript or ActionScript must also be free. Richard Stallman’s new essay “The JavaScript Trap” explains how to do this for JavaScript, and it is possible to add a source download button or menu option to swf movies. Use  Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence (*not* NonCommercial-ShareAlike) for media, and the GNU GPL for scripts. Or, if you must, CC-BY and the X11 licence.

In summary, make sure that any Flash swf movies you create work with Gnash and give any help you can to the Gnash project. Move new sites onto open standards such as HTML 5 and Javascript. And licence code and multimedia in a way that protects web users freedom.

What Art Materials Do You Use?


Copier Paper (archival quality), A3 and A4
A4 and A5 hardback wire bound sketchbooks, various.
Moleskine sketchbooks, small and large

Pens and Pencils

Sanford china pencils (black, red, blue)
Col-erase pencils (blue, red)
Sanford Mirado Black Warrior HB graphite pencils
Sharpies, various black.
Letraset Tria markers (black and two cool greys)
Staedtler propeller pencils and lead holder, 2B

Caran d’Ache conte pencils and Carres (black 2B equivalent) for life drawing.


Fedora GNU/Linux



The Sisters Of Mercy – Forum, 9/4/09

Half a lifetime ago I saw the Sisters of Mercy at the NEC in Birmingham. It was the biggest and loudest gig I’ve ever been to, a spectacle that left me unable to hear properly until I got back off the coach on the return journey. Every time the Sisters headed offshore after that I promised myself I’d go to see them again.

Last Thursday (9th April 2009) I finally caught up with them at the Forum in Kentish Town. I wasn’t expecting too much. London audiences have a bad reputation, the band had cancelled some gigs the week before due to illness, and reviews of the tour although very positive had complained about how quiet the mix was. But the pubs on the way to the venue from the tube were packed with fans (some wearing The Mission t-shirts, presumably to troll 😉 ) and there was a carnival atmosphere that carried over into the actual venue.

I positioned myself next to the amp stack, evaluated the moshpit and the bright young things who were waiting to push to the front, and waited for the smoke machines to start. Which they did, just for a test, before starting up again as Nurse fired up the Doktor (trans: the sound man turned the drum machine on) and the packed out crowd enthusiastically welcomed the band on stage. From the sweating half-naked moshers and shoulder surfers at the front to the loligoths at the back and the fans in tour t-shirts old & new acting as a buffer zone inbetween, everyone sang along with the old songs and applauded the new.

The Sisters are a tight, capable live act. The new songs are the equal of the old, and in some cases better. The new arrangements of old songs (post-industrial rather than post-punk) work well and have been polished over the course of two extensive recent tours. This was great live music. It feels strange calling a drum-machine based band “live”, but that has always been part of the point.

A singer, two guitarists and a drum machine all hidden in dry ice and silhouetted by a lightshow is a simple recipe but it works well. To complain that the band cannot be seen or that they aren’t chatting with the crowd or that they are relying on technology too much is to miss the psychodynamics of the event for the trees. The Sisters are at core an ironization of popular music. They started by combining disco drums with indie guitars at a time when to do so would have been like mixing oil and water then stuck lyrics that aren’t just boy-meets-girl over the top of them. Over the last three decades the culture industry has adopted the Sisters’ technological dialectic of musical forms as its own, but entirely without the irony or lyrical ambition. The Sisters still sound good though. The book hasn’t been destroyed by the cartoon version.

A disagreement with their old record label means the Sisters haven’t released a new album in almost twenty years, but new songs still turn up in the live shows and although those songs represent a very different musical and geopolitical world to the old ones they still have a rare power and depth. And they are good to bounce up and down to, wave your arms at, and sing along with. Which I am not going to leave as long next time until I do so again next time.