December 15, 2013

DRM: The Sort-of Necessary Evil

As a citizen of the 21st century who lived in the 20th (which usually means most of us), we have come to see one of the greatest changes in technological life styles. Into a society made up of families that own multiple cars (mine owns four), a personal computer for each person and a larger social network tied down into a new found closeness with apps, competitive games and video chatting on demand. We no longer leave a voice mail asking someone to call back but instead text them to see what they're up to that they can't pick up the phone. Literally banging on the door and yelling talk to me now. We are more than happy to criticize behind the anonymity of the internet and not fear the consequences of speaking out.

It's all good and bad, but I speak to you all today as an Artist both in the performing and the visual sense. I think my emotions were most stirred earlier in the week when I came across an article describing the burgeoning change in a sexual society and they used an image. This particular image was obviously an image drawn by another human being and then posted proudly on their Flickr account. But looking at the image citation, it cited: Image Source: Flickr. You can't begin to imagine how many shades (more than fifty I guarantee you) of wrong this is. The fact is that this is individual art and yes while it is hosted on Flickr, is not something that Flickr made.

Simply saying image source: Flickr is not enough, you've bypassed the entire train of human creativity that led to the image being hosted on Flickr in the first place. In no way did the image hosting site have any hand in the creative process of coming up with art other than hosting it. This "citation", and I use citation very wrongly, forgets about the artist altogether and then on top of that, displays his work and not even hyperlink to page or the photograph itself. So that article, crowned by a lovely image to accompany the prophetic words it might have had to say is guilty of depriving someone of the recognition they fairly deserve.

I think what drew me to the article that someone else linked in the first place was the image that popped up on the Facebook feed. But then when I saw the copyrights not even properly managed, I refused to read the article. In no way was I ready to read something where the first thing was plagiarized. In my disappointment, I closed the article and thought about copyrights and then Digital Rights Management or DRM for short.

For those of us old enough to remember a time when there were other programs other than Spotify existed (the name of which I'm blanking on right now) you would download a copy free onto your computer and then the DRM was renewed each time you accessed the file. I remember whatever it was called, I used the software extensively when I was a sophomore at Berkeley and I was angry the day it closed down leaving me with all these useless music files protected by DRM. So I did the next best thing any somewhat tech-savvy person would do: torrent music.

Now, plenty of us are more than happy to pay the price on Apple's iTunes store and buy a copy of the music or even go down to your local music store and find a CD with all the songs you want. Now, herein lies my problem. If I'm looking to buy one song in particular, that's a benefit for iTunes or Amazon since they offer one by one pricing. But what if I want more than one song on the album, then I usually have to end up buying a CD with one or two songs I like and the rest I don't. If I go into a hard copy store, if I want one song, I have to buy the whole CD. No big deal, sometimes CDs are cheaper, but I end up with this stack of CDs I never use unless I have my car with it's already antiquated 6 CD changer.

The issue surrounding DRM over music is a hazy one, while we would love to support the artists who make music, we generally don't want to pay for it. Their rights being handled by a major label company means the artists get a small percentage of what goes all together into the CD sale. If I were a recording artist full time, I'd certainly want the process streamlined and then a higher percentage, but most certainly I'd also want a bejewelled toilet and a wider audience range, but that is unlikely.

Leaving music into art and photography, we enter a world rife with plagiarism and straight up stealing. I recall on Instagram a few months ago, I posted a photo I took of my Loar guitar and mandolin, Recording King Banjo and no-name fiddle with the hashtag: bluegrass. Lo and behold to my surprise some ballsy 14 year old girl in the middle of nowhere takes the exact same image and calls it her own. On Reddit, I might understand but on Instagram where everyone is taking unique photos every day, you have to go and steal one of mine. Naturally, I got all my friends to spam the account and turn her life into hell for stealing images.

I learned the copyright problem about a year ago when I produced an image similar to an Ork map for the sleepy little town of Alameda. Normally, you would never see a map for so small a town but being from there, I thought my fair little island city deserved one. I did one for my own uses and showed it off. Fast forward several months, I'm working quietly on a few drawings in my home studio when I get a call from my last boss asking if I had sold the rights to my image to the clothing store down the street. I replied that I hadn't and then drove into town to see what he was talking about. There it was, basically my exact same image being sold on the front of t-shirts and hoodies. I was furious, I was livid and I was helpless.

I consulted a copy of the California Civil Code on intellectual property. By exposing it to the world, I allowed it to be used. It was the one time I was hard up with nothing to gain but a slice of humble pie. Someone else took my design, modified it a little bit and then was reaping the profits. I sincerely hope he rots in hell for that.

So next time you write an article and you quote someone, use an image from a publicly contributed website (cough: Imgur, Flickr, Photobucket) make sure you get permission or at the very least say who you got the image from. Cite properly, cause "photo credit: Flickr" just doesn't cut it. Ever.