Free Media as Free Speech

26 Apr

by Desiree D’Alessandro, MFA student at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB)

(The following article has been recontextualized from a lecture presented by D’Alessandro at the 2010 Open Video Conference auditorium, held at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC,.Oct 1 – 2, 2010)

I offer perspective as an academic, artist, and emergent Fair-Use activist and will give you further insight into what happened to me when I was charged with a first-time Digital Millennium Copyright Act violation at UCSB. Keeping in mind that the University offered me no institutional support or aid in defense, I am going to discuss the situation from a personal and activist perspective in regards to how many universities are stifling creativity and obstructing potential through network policing.

I come from a background of digital media practices and for the last two years, I have taken a particular interest in Remix and YouTube. My online Remix portfolio (desiree-dalessandro.com) demonstrates the critical and humorous nature of my practice and my history of exercising Fair-Use prior to the DMCA allegation. I am here to discuss how acquiring and utilizing copyrighted source materials for creating Remix Videos is deemed an “offense” by UCSB and partner campuses, that violates their Internet Terms of Services.

Remix Videos utilize a wide array of appropriated source material to reconstruct and recontextualize new messages. Obviously, in order to gather the sources to make this product, I did what any digitally savvy artist in the 21st century would do. I turned to the Internet and torrent applications. However, I awoke one morning to discover that my Internet had been disconnected and my new default homepage read in giant-block letters: “THIS DEVICE HAS BEEN BLOCKED DUE TO A DMCA VIOLATION.”

I immediately contacted my campus DMCA agent to articulate my creative practice in order to appeal the accusation, clear the air, and lift the ban that I felt was wrongfully placed on my computer. However, to my surprise, the conversations that developed turned into a hostile bureaucratic nightmare.

I explained my history of generating Remix Videos and my reasons for downloading content as source materials in exercising Fair Use. I was informed this did not matter. When I told them I had numerous faculty members ready to write letters of support and attest for the legitimacy of my work, I was still informed it did not matter. In the eyes of the UC System, I was stock-guilty and there was no opportunity for justification.

UC does not individually examine DMCA complaints on a case-by-case basis. Instead, the University adopts a policy of collective punishment without exception. Understandably, a majority of allegations lead to legitimate illegal infringing instances, but the fact stands that there IS a chance that the utilization of such sources could lead to Fair Use for educational purposes and commentary on culture, which is protected by copyright law. Through this collective University ban, the opportunity for appropriation for critical and creative expression is being withheld from me and other practitioners hoping to engage in the contemporary discourse of Remix.

Needless to say I disapprove of this form of collective punishment, this one-size-fits-all penalty, and that Universities are so quick to turn on their students for fear of liability pursuits. As I continued to contend the situation, I was informed that no exceptions will be made, and any further resistance would potentially lead to serious repercussions, hefty lawyer fees, and even charges. Ultimately, as I lack the funds to continue this refutal, I had to accept the first-time offense penalty, which entails residential Internet ban for 30 days and my forced signature on a Notice of Copyright Infringement. Second and Third offense consequences include an Internet ban for 1 year or indefinitely, and jeopardized housing status and academic enrollment status at UC.

These varying threatening and intimidation tactics used by the University staff in order to silence my protest, in effect worked… but only initially. I have since found alternative methods for acquiring source materials and have generated Remixes with screenings at venues such as the European Media Art Festival in Osnabrueck, Germany; Chashama Film Festival, New York, NY; Open Video Conference 2010, New York, NY; RE/Mixed Media Festival 2010 Brooklyn, NY; Basement Media Festival Boston, MA; Rogue Political Remix Festival, Fresno, CA; Gallery 25, Fresno, CA; and the ARC Gallery & IMAX Dome Theater, Tampa, FL.

Artists should be enabled to engage in Remix culture and exercise these practices without permission, and more respect to the creators should be acknowledged to neutralize the imbalance of power in the current unjust system. We are a culture deeply enrooted with pop culture references and audio-visual literacy, and critical responses today re-examine these references in ways that exceed words, in perhaps more pointed and pertinent modes of conveyance. This is our new method for speaking—for speaking OUT!

Open Video and access to digital sources is vital for opportunities of expression and the proliferation of today’s user-generated culture. We must continue our protest of the current legal hindrances, oppressive bans, and creative obstructions. We must be advocates for legal reform to reflect the current social standard and promote Open Video and digital access, for this will in turn apply a counterweight against these pressures that Universities are receiving because their endowment is under threat if they do not concede.

While I have shared with you the story of what happened to me and the UC system response for DMCA allegations, it is my hope that this process and what it is now will not be the same in the future. We need an active avocation for what our future views toward digital culture SHOULD be and what access to that culture means in order to bring about change.

For what are the implications of a future without this revolt and reform? What are the implications of a society which continues to treat creators as criminals? That does not respect the works or discourses generated through forms of creative expression?

We are in a critical moment in society and in history, and we are united by our ambitions for reform in the name of progress. Free media equals free speech and Open Video is essential for us to articulate our voices in the 21st century.

[All videos in this post are from desiree-dalessandro.com: See Remixes]
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