What happens to copyright in the wild? How do we go about determining who owes what to whom when we go about making, remixing, and sharing; when we create works that incorporate the work of others, solicit collaboration, or make art that takes no fixed form; when we share work with students, colleagues, friends, and fans; when we generate stories, scholarship, and experiences in text or multimedia form? What resources do we turn to in understanding the tortured terms and contested boundaries of “intellectual property”? And when we’re confronted with take-down notices, unreasonable licensing fees, or charges of infringement, what courses of action do we take? What practical shape, in short, does tacit or “folk” knowledge of copyright take in these domains of cultural production?
Resources exist to provide prescriptive guidance for those venturing into the perilous realms of culture and intellectual property; abundant documentation of case law with respect to infringement and rights claims extists as well. We’re seeking to explore, understand, and hack the “feral copyright” running wild between those two poles: a shadowy world in which makers and scholars confront the mystery of intellectual property. In short, what do people talk about when they talk about copyright?
True to metaLAB’s hybrid identity, our exploration will make use of numerous approaches to the question of copyright as it is lived. We’re talking to cultural producers, from bloggers and Wikipedians to writers, scholars, and filmmakers, to find out what attribution, intellectual property, and cultural commons mean to them. We’re building interactive online experiences to let people explore the pitfalls of copyright’s core assumptions and affordances, and to help us document the ways in which people imagine and practice making, sharing, and consuming culture. We’re building visualizations to shed light on the history of copyright, and the long, strange trip of authorship and creativity from the ancient world to Gutenberg to the networked public sphere. Through interviews and testimonials, essays and media arguments, databases and visualization, we’re beginning to tell the story of copyright’s cultural impact—and in time, to puzzle out new ways to think about the vexed relationships between creativity, commons, and individual rights in a networked world.