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A Search for Comity in the Intellectual Property Wars: symposium at The New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, April 28-30, 2006 [slides, audio, transcripts]
download the report [PDF]
Tottenham Aug. 7, 2011. (Lewis Whyld/PA/AP) via The Big Picture
Making Sense of Senseless Violence: An Interview with Jack Womack
By Brendan Byrne | Wed Dec 7th, 2011 9:12 a.m.
This summer when Britain was gripped by civil disturbance, it was suggested by some in the SF community that if you wanted to understand the underlying psychology of those involved, you should read Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence, originally published in 1994. Random Acts details in diary form the tribulations of twelve-year-old Lola Hart as her New York City, family, and persona come apart. It also serves as an entry point for Womack’s six-book Dryco series, which presents post-disaster America as trailer-trash corporate dystopia, complete with Elvis worship, unchecked rape and murder, and its own argot. Recently I met with Womack and asked him about the creation and particular prescience of these novels.
Your novels make me unbelievably anxious.
I relieve my own anxiety by writing them. So, yeah, it’s transference.
One of the things that’s so anxiety-inducing about Random Acts, as well as your first novel Ambient, is that there’s always scarcity: there’s never enough money, never enough food, never enough security. Which seems to me extremely, though not exclusively, New York.
Oh, at the time it certainly was. The New York in Ambient was what I saw happening if everything had kept getting worse. When O’Malley is walking home to his apartment in the Lower East Side, that’s the way it used to be. What the predictive element missed was that New York would skyrocket back, and that neighborhoods you couldn’t go into at night thirty years ago, you now couldn’t afford. I moved up here in 1977 right after the blackout and the Son of Sam summer. So the fear definitely comes across. When you see Taxi Driver, that’s what it looked like. There’s no exaggeration. When you see any seventies movie, and you say, “I cannot believe how horrible New York looks,” that’s how it looked. You came up here because that was part of the charm. Unlike every other city that was falling apart and collapsing, New York still worked, but at the same time it was collapsing enough that you could come up here and live cheaply, and, y’know, thereby began the whole art scene from the ‘60s on. Because you had the space and opportunity.
And that’s why you moved here.
Yeah exactly. Because there was stuff going on. I mean, I had to get away from The Eagles. I’d heard The Ramones; I wanted nothing to do with where I was.
Were you in Kentucky at the time?
Yeah, I was in Kentucky. Lived there till I was 21, moved up here, and I’ve lived in my present apartment for 32 years in April.
Wikipedia gives the copyright date for Random Acts as ‘95; my Grove Press edition says ‘93.
It was purchased in ‘93. It was published by Harper UK first in October ‘94, and then it came out the next year, in the spring I believe, from Grove.
So you were writing it in ‘92, ‘93
Yeah, I started it in late ‘92. Random Acts wrote itself very quickly. Once I got the voice right, I wrote it like it was a diary. Every day would just be a new day. I’d advance the plot like that. Random Acts took me less time to write than anything else. Took me about five months.
Spinning off from what you said about Ambient, Random Acts feels very much as if you took the early ‘90s and basically made everything get worse from right there.
When I started writing Ambient, I had no idea that the multi-volume series was really the tradition in this genre, that it was going to take several to get the point across. Then there was this one review of Ambient in The New Republic where D.T. Max said I’d obviously written it for the movies. My answer was, “I wish I’d written it in English then, which would have helped those movie sales.” It also referred to the characters as comic book characters, so I thought, “Okay, alright, I’m going to take the most comic book-like character in Ambient and make her the character you care the most about in the entire series.” This was when I was planning it all out, and I remembered during the roller battle, the one who goes out the window, and I thought Crazy Lola, how did she get there? [This refers to the second chapter of Ambient, featuring a Dyrco “conference”, during which rival corporations engage in a battle royale, with their respective scantily clad female champions wielding medieval weaponry.] And you never find out exactly how she got there, and that’s just like a double knife twist in the series. Because you finish Random Acts, and I mean, as horrible as it is, Random Acts has to some degree its positive aspects because she has lived, she is surviving, she has adjusted. Her family didn’t, she did. And then you find out in Ambient that soon enough she’s killed. She’s the security guard who’s lasered as soon as they hit the planet.
You said in a previous interview that you’d written Random Acts partially to show how the Dryco series argot came to be.
Exactly. I developed it furthest with Elvissey. I mean there are parts of Elvissey that even I have to re-read at times to remember exactly what I’m saying. I realized having gone full into it with Ambient that I should provide an introduction to the series, as well as a way to be able to read it. I’ve had to change things very rarely because of editorial request. Once was forTerraplane, where my editor told me white college students would never be listening rap, so I had to change it to blues. Another time was with Ambient. O’Malley is watching the news and hears Woody Allen’s died. That would have been just like this little touch to remind people we’re not that far away, but you know, they could never accept that this was only twenty-five years from when I was writing. They were like, “No it couldn’t be, has to be a hundred years from now. Things don’t fall apart that fast.” And, of course, we’ve seen they do.
We’re going to talk about prescience in a minute, but at the end of Random Acts, when she’s full on in the argot, it’s almost like the end of the bourgeoisie.
She’s gone fully over in that in that paragraph; she’s accepts it, she’s still not that happy about it, but she’s not going back.
And that whole universe isn’t going back either. Ambient doesn’t have a middle class. There’s the poor, the serving class, and the served.
Exactly. Which is how you could see things were going in 1980 when Reagan was elected. That was basically the plan.
Nice article posted at INSIDE Higher Ed, via @paufder:
WASHINGTON -- A bill under consideration in Congress could make it easier for federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges against academic libraries for unduly making copyrighted materials available to students, according to a letter sent to lawmakers on Tuesday by a group of influential library associations.
The bill, called the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261), or SOPA, stipulates that “any person who willfully infringes a copyright” can be charged with a felony “if such a person knew or should have known that the work was intended for commercial dissemination.”
SOPA, a more sprawling version of the Senate’s proposed Protect-IP Act, garnered a lot of buzz when it was introduced by the House Judiciary Committee last month. Now, in advance of a Nov. 16 Judiciary Committee hearing, the Library Copyright Alliance -- a group made up of the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries -- has stamped its seal on a letter to members of the committee expressing “serious concerns” about its implications for university libraries.
The bill would “increase the exposure of libraries to prosecution,” the associations say.
The letter mentions several civil lawsuits currently being litigated against universities over alleged copyright violations by their libraries: Cambridge University Press v. Patton, in which several publishers are seeking a crackdown on e-reserve practices at Georgia State University; Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, in which authors are trying to stop the University of Michigan library and its partners from building a digital repository that includes copyrighted books; and Association of Information Media and Equipment v. Regents of the University of California, in which an educational film trade group is attempting to block the University of California at Los Angeles from streaming copyrighted videos on password-protected course websites.
“In this environment, the criminal prosecution of a library for copyright infringement is no longer beyond the realm of possibility,” the library advocates say in the letter. And they say the wording of the SOPA bill might give a U.S. attorney’s office the necessary ammunition to bring such charges.
Specifically, the libraries are troubled by what they see as an attempt to conflate liberal readings of the U.S. Copyright Law -- in particular, the “fair use” exemptions accorded to educational institutions — with “willful infringement,” which can carry criminal penalties.
Copyright law distinguished three levels of copyright infringement: innocent, ordinary, and willful infringement, explains Brandon Butler, director of public policy initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries and author of the letter. “Ordinary” infringement is when a violator “believed his action was non-infringing but this belief was unreasonable” in the eyes of a court, Butler says. “Willful” infringement is undertaken in bad faith, and violators can be forced to pay up to $150,000 in damages (although, notably, a court can waive those fines in the case of nonprofits such as libraries and universities).
Under the current language of the SOPA bill, Butler and his fellow advocates say, “The willful infringement level would swallow the ordinary infringement level, thereby significantly broadening the range of activities subject to criminal sanctions.”
The letter also points to a line in the SOPA bill that makes “public performances” of copyrighted works a potentially criminal offense even when the violator is not making money from “performing” the work.
Under the current copyright regime, ”A willful infringer of the public performance right can only be subject to misdemeanor (as opposed to felony) sanctions, and only if the infringement was for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain,” writes Butler. Under a SOPA regime, institutions that commit “public performances” that a court deems unlawful might be charged with a felony, he says.
This last concern is given immediacy by a recent ruling in the case of Association of Information Media and Equipment v. the Regents of the University of California. A federal judge ruled that streaming Shakespeare films on a secure course website constituted a public performance of those copyrighted works -- the same as screening them during class. Because the specific contract between the publisher of the Shakespeare films and UCLA permitted public performances, the judge threw out the case. (The ruling did not address whether public performances were covered by the fair use exemptions in general.) The association has since refiled the lawsuit.
Most of the supporting rhetoric behind the SOPA bill has focused on foreign websites that support unauthorized downloading of copyrighted media files, while its critics, who include the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Open Internet Coalition, have tended to focus on big-picture themes such as the hazards of attempting to “regulate the Internet.” The objections of the Library Copyright Alliance might seem peripheral by comparison. At the same time, their requests are accordingly narrow and prescriptive:
The relevant passages “should be amended to eliminate any possible negative implication that broadens the scope of willfulness” and “so that they do not apply to streaming and other public performances for non-commercial purposes,” the letter concludes.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who is the lead sponsor of the bill, did not return requests for comment regarding the concerns of the library associations.
For the latest technology news and opinion from Inside Higher Ed, follow @IHEtech on Twitter.
via NYTimes Op-Ed:
By PETER DECHERNEY
Published: October 4, 2011
IN 1998, in a controversial piece of legislation, Congress extended the length of copyright protection in the United States by 20 years, freezing the entrance of works into the public domain. Four years earlier, however, Congress took a less well-known but even more drastic step: it shrank the public domain. With the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act, Congress restored the copyrights of many foreign works that previously had been freely available.
Among the potentially millions of creations that lost their public-domain status were Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Picasso’s “Guernica,” the British films of Alfred Hitchcock, Astrid Lindgren’s earliest Pippi Longstocking books, stories by H. G. Wells, the drawings of M. C. Escher, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” and Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.” Artists and others now have to rely on the permission of copyright holders to make use of such works.
In my own field — film — the effects of the 1994 law have been palpable. Distributors of classic foreign films have seen their catalogs diminished. Students can no longer get copies of many films. Archivists have postponed the preservation of important films. And of course filmmakers have lost access to works of literature that they might have adapted and music that might have enhanced soundtracks.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments today in Golan v. Holder, a case challenging the copyright provision of the 1994 act. There are many reasons the justices should conclude that Congress went too far in altering the copyright system.
For one thing, restoring the copyright of works in the public domain is a different and more profound act than the extension of copyright terms. By removing works from the public domain, Congress has destabilized it. If foreign works can have their copyrights restored, why not works made in the United States? Filmmakers, producers and others who regularly rely on the public domain will become wary of using it.
More important, for Hollywood and every other American cultural industry, access to a stable and growing public domain has been essential to innovation. Unfortunately, even representatives of the American film industry don’t always recognize this truth. In a friend of the court brief filed in the Supreme Court case, the Motion Picture Association of America applauds Congress for “reinforcing the United States’ position as a proponent of strong copyright protection throughout the world.” The M.P.A.A. contends that the expansion of copyright is good for its industry.
But history tells a different story. Filmmakers have consistently used public domain works to anchor artistic and technological innovation. In the 1930s, when Walt Disney decided to make one of the first feature-length animated films, he turned to the Brothers Grimm’s version of the tale of Snow White. When asked why he chose that story, Disney explained that “it was well known.” He understood that “Snow White” was a trusted property, and because he knew that at least the story and characters would be familiar to audiences, he could take an artistic risk with the form.
Disney is only the most famous example of a filmmaker who relied on the public domain to expand the art of film. Starting with Thomas Edison in 1910, filmmakers have adapted Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in movies that have accompanied the transition to feature films, the establishment of the studios, the switch to sound, the introduction of color, the advent of television and the adoption of widescreen aspect ratios.
Most recently, Tim Burton’s 3-D reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland” became one of the 10 highest-grossing films in history amid an otherwise mixed public response to new 3-D technology.
Despite their official position in this case, Hollywood producers have long realized the value of the public domain, and they have taken steps to manage the use of the shared resource. The M.P.A.A. continues to maintain a registry in which its members can claim a limited, industry-designated right to public domain works. The registry allows filmmakers to draw from the cultural storehouse of stories and characters without fear of an immediate challenge from their closest competitors.
Because of Congress’s transformation of the copyright system, filmmakers and producers today do not have the same access to the public domain as their predecessors. Technical, artistic and industrial innovation are at risk. Let’s hope that the Supreme Court restores the public domain to full strength, for Hollywood’s sake.
Peter Decherney, an associate professor of film studies at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of the forthcoming book “Hollywood’s Copyright Wars.”
In Supreme Court Argument, a Rock Legend Plays a Role, By ADAM LIPTAK. NYTimes, October 5, 2011