|Grant Stevens, I Like Ike, installation 2005|
courtesy the artist and Gallery Barry Keldoulis
getting the rights right
Copyright lawyer Raena Lea-Shannon, a specialist in digital media and the arts, offered a brisk, vivid history of the legal issues up to the present moment, describing the digital impact as “extremely disruptive to the legal environment.” Napster had “rampaged copyright” and heralded a changed distribution model. The sheer fixity of film’s celluloid acetate and its highly mechanical projection apparatus allowed, she said, “for a great deal of control”, with monopolisitic film companies becoming their own distributors and issuing exclusive licences for different territories and different media (eg theatrical release first, followed by cable, then free-to-air and DVD). Lea-Shannon described this structured temporal model as a source of increasing consumer frustration from the 1980s on. New models emerging from hacking and from Napster drove SONY to Digital Rights Management (content or copy protection, referred to by its opponents as digital restrictions management), creating DVDs that invaded users’ computers and their privacy and which had to be recalled: “life for the end-user had looked like becoming a nightmare.” The invasion is not over. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation puts it:
...DRM technologies do nothing to stop copyright pirates, but instead end up interfering with fans’ lawful use of music, movies, and other copyrighted works. DRM can prevent you from making back-ups of your DVDs and music downloaded from online stores, recording your favorite TV programs, using the portable media player of your choice, remixing clips of movies into your own home movies, and much more. www.eff.org/IP/DRM/
Lea-Shannon described the transformation of the rights we are living through as embracing Open Source approaches and increasingly licensing to the world—blanket licensing enabling a model similar to the collection agency APRA in the music field. For the first time, she said, we have the means for low budget, lo-tech works to enjoy not only distribution but options in delivery platforms and the means to generate income. She added, that there are also increasing ways to discover the very existence of a work via Google or Technorati, which claims to be “[c]urrently tracking 104.4 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media...We search, surface, and organize blogs and the other forms of independent, user-generated content (photos, videos, voting, etc.) increasingly referred to as ‘citizen media.’“
For copyright protection, Lea-Shannon advised artists to register with Screen Rights, the audiovisual copyright society, and to apply for an ISAN (International Standard Audiovisual Number) for an individual work—it’s similar to the ISBN (International Standard Book Number). ISANs apply to both digital and physical media. Lea-Shannon was emphatic: “Never underestimate income from schools.” Screenrights says that universities, TAFEs, government and almost all other schools are licensed by them to copy from radio and television. Presumably web and locative media art will eventually have access to these rights too, where sought.
money for the makers
Created by David Geddes, Andrew Kelley and Simone Govic, Si-Mi is a Melbourne-based digital content online marketplace. The quietly reticent Geddes described the site as dedicated to making available quality screen work of all kinds and creating income for the makers. George Gittoes’ recent documentary, Rampage, is downloadable from Si-Mi for $3.99, shorter works sell for as little as $0.39. Format, platform and cost are decided by the content owner, the artist, who owns the world rights. Geddes says the site’s income comes from a mix of advertising and Si-Mi’s split of the income from sales: 30%. Geddes sees Si-Mi as creating in particular a niche for high quality work: “we target it. It’s the opposite of the bottom end of YouTube video and it’s stuff not picked up by the big companies.” Each work has a 90-second trailer and the profile page is controlled by the artist. While opposed to DRM, Geddes believes that some form of it is going to be necessary.
The laidback, affable Brent Hoff from the USA, took us back to a more tangible sales item, a quarterly DVD film and video magazine, Wholphin DVD. It comes complete with notes and interviews, sells for US$50 per annum and was inspired by the success of the McSweeney’s book-cum-magazine-cum-object. McSweeney’s, where Hoff writes about science, publishes Wholphin DVD. Hoff described himself as “not a film man, but a writer.” But film is obviously very important to him; he mentioned one in particular that he was involved in the making of and which he showed later that evening at the Chauvel, Alfredo Garcia’s Yeah Yeah, We Speak Perfect English, Just Serve. It’s a video of a volleyball game, ironically labelled “Walleyball”, using the fence on the beach border between the USA and Mexico as a net and putting the players on the US side at risk of being shot or jailed for life. Among the magazine’s repertoire of documentaries, dramas, fantasies and animations are a number of incisive politically left-of-centre works.
Hoff sees the magazine he co-founded and edits as “free[ing] us from industry constraints and giv[ing] us more control.” While there are sites similar to Si-Mi—the French Dailymotion, Metacafe and others—Hoff likes the physical DVD distribution model. Wholphin also have public showings (Hoff likes the idea of buying cinema down-time for screenings), but the business model is primarily a subscription one, based on the McSweeney’s approach which includes placing copies in niche bookstores and, in lesser amounts, in Borders.
The short form content of the magazine, Hoff thinks, is attractive not only to viewers but also to makers, like David O Russell, Erroll Morris, Dennis Hopper and Steven Soderbergh, who have all contributed works. There are also occasional longer works like Australian Anthony Lucas’ award-winning 26-minute animation, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. The combination of well-known names willing to work without big budgets, or any, and new makers appearing in the same edition is highly attractive. Now in its fourth edition, the magazine was in profit by May this year. As for DRM, Hoff sees it as ridiculous, “so hard to police.”
precious moving object
In his talk, Barry Keldoulis, the hard working, persuasive director of GBK gallery, took us to a different kind of content, fine art video. After video art had apparently gone into abeyance in the 90s, I can recall the excitement when the word spread a few years back that a Shaun Gladwell video had sold to a collector for a modest sum. Gladwell, TV Moore and Kate Murphy are just some of the local Sydney video artists of note whose work will be found in key galleries and shows, and will doubtless be joined by Sam Smith, recipient of this year’s Helen Lempriere $40,000 Travelling Fellowship. In an age where mechanical production has been digitalised and gone through the roof and video clips sell for $0.39 and makers hope for successful long tail sales to make their money, how do you keep artworks in specialist markets seriously profitable from the word go?
Grant Stevens was the first video artist on Keldoulis’ books. That was in 2004. The edition of the work sold out. Keldoulis sees video art as “priced like photography”, as having international appeal, and already accruing in value as time passes. Packaging, he says, is not important for the purchasing institution, just the artist’s signature, knowledge that the edition is limited, and the rights to technical upgrade (given the short lives of modern tehnologies). A Jess McNeill work ran to only eight copies, sold at $2000-8,000 each, averaging out to total sales of $40,000 which was, Keldoulis suggested, “viable for an artist.” The selling situation has been improved, he said, with the advent of the flat screen monitor and buyers who like to screen works which “are meditative or intriguing at dinner parties.” Kedoulis said that the notion that rising sales in video have corresponded with “a slump in photographic sales”, and that photography is “not so cutting edge now”, was not entirely true. But, clearly, he thinks there’s something in it.
bright new world
In the closing discussion Raena Lea-Shannon described a future online world with “a massive aggregation of content”, “sophisticated search mechanisms”, “highly compartmentalised audiences”, and big corporations going with everyone else to collection societies—“unless they try to create their own.” But DRM, she claimed, “would go the way of the dodo—it’s impossible to enforce.”
d/Art/07, Forum, ACP; Wholphin DVD screening, Chauvel Cinemas, Sydney, July 19
Wholphin DVD, www.wholphindvd.com
RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 30
© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org