Many freshmen learn three key things by the end of their first week at USC. First, the one great thing Everybody’s Kitchen offers is a delightful hangover omelette. Second, touching someone’s pledge pin can get you into some sticky situations. And finally, you should never torrent on the campus wireless network.
I know I’m not the only one who is still adjusting my Internet activity and budget for this strict policy. It makes sense that a university with such esteemed art, music and film programs would be opposed to the concept of illegal file sharing. A certain ambiguity comes into play, however, when considering the less-often mentioned Institute for Multimedia Literacy.
I’m currently taking two classes at the IML. In my Languages of New Media (IML 101) class, our current assignment is to remix video and audio content to recontextualize the material. Prior to that, we edited photographs in the styles of graphic artists Barbara Kruger and Shepard Fairey, using Internet content for politically satirical imagery all our own.
But is it really all our own?
For instance, Fairey’s indisputably salient image was the Barack Obama “Hope” poster that revolutionized a political campaign — but of course, no good deed goes unpunished.
Fairey and The Associated Press are now engaged in a fair-use suit, in which the AP claims that he used a photograph taken by staffer Mannie Garcia without permission or proper attribution.
Fairey’s iconic work might just as soon be notable in the world of copyright and intellectual property.
We discussed the suit in IML and had to defend our own media usage. In the age of creative collaboration and remix, this is going to become an increasingly prominent issue for Millennials, especially in light of the entitlement complex our generation has developed regarding the free acquisition of intellectual property.
Our class concluded that more and more artists are going to have to see that downloading and remixing propagates the art, and despite what past generations might assume, mass distribution and high art are not mutually exclusive.
So when I sit down in the lab, creating a project that compiles the work of BBC’s art critic John Berger, clips from the Israeli animated documentary Waltz with Bashir and Radiohead tunes, I’m prompted to contemplate authorship.
Does this work really deserve personal attribution? Have I altered the aforementioned works enough to deem this original? If it’s ethically expected that we pay $10 at the theater or $5 at Blockbuster to see the documentary, is it conceivable that this is profitable content too?
I’ve entered the gray area that brings about lawsuits such as Fairey’s: granted, I’m no graphic design superstar responsible for unparalleled campaign successes, but it’s still an issue.
Although websites like Netflix and Hulu might help the more ethical among us sleep better at night, those endless streams of content for a mere few dollars a month are but a couple of skips away from haphazardly free media consumption. On the one hand, I can see how absurd it is that we aren’t willing to throw down a dollar and change for an MP3 of someone’s hard work and creative energy.
But on the other hand, whether the music and film industries are prepared or not, the fiscal model is changing in their world just as it is changing in the worlds of journalism and literature.
These woes will be ones for the head honchos at Universal Music Group and Paramount Pictures to ponder in the coming years. As for USC, how long will we be walking this tightrope of media hypocrisy?
Students are asked to incorporate work by critically acclaimed artists into their own original pieces and simultaneously chastised for moving with the times, wherein file sharing is commonplace and the boundaries of intellectual property are hazy at best.
For now, we’ll just have to be satisfied ripping DVD content from Leavey Library.
Allegra Tepper is a freshman majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation,” runs Tuesdays.