Friday, December 7, 2012

Wit or Piracy?

Here are two of my favorite memes and gifs from the 2012 Election:

Big Bird Memes Go Viral
These memes are hilarious and for a brief moment extremely relevant. They are also using copyrighted work.  I started to wonder about copyright issues and social media when the Big Bird memes hit.  Particularly once the Children’s Television Network and Sesame Street issued a cease and desist letter to the Obama Campaign to halt a Obama Ad featuring the copyrighted character Big Bird. If you are curious here’s the ad (thanks to the magic of the internet it will live on forever):

Peter Berg, creator of the television show Friday Night Lights, also composed a cease and desist letter when the Romney Campaign attempted to co-opt a popular catchphrase “Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can’t Lose” from the show. In addition to quoting phase in speeches. The campaign attempted to make a viral hit out of this image:

And then there was this cover page on the Romney facebook page:
But the most interesting part was when Romney's campaign moved beyond simply using the phase and connected television show to support the campaign using social media, but when they attempted to get Peter Berg's intellectual property to generate campaign revenue.

Unlike Sesame Street which basically told the Obama Campaign they wished to stay out of politics. Berg’s letter made it clear that he disagreed with the Romney Campaign categorically: "Your politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series…”.  It’s not new for artists and organizations to disagree with candidate using their art, but the co-modification is certainly a new one.  

There are a couple of points I’d like to make regarding the use of intellectual property, social media and this past election.  But basically the question I’m interested in is what are you (the meme creator, political candidate or twitter user) stealing someone else’s property and when are you simply appropriating and re purposing cultural signifier for your own art?

To answer this I ask my friend, an artist and graduate of Rhode Island School of Design  and his friends, who also graduated from prestigious art schools, what they thought.  Their answers we non-committal and basically were as long as you can prove you are using the existing material simply as the basis for your own work (that dramatically alters the original work) your fine.
So this is totally okay.

But this is not as okay.

Another factor is money. Do you plan on profiting from replicating someone else's work? In the case of the Big Bird and Binders Full of Women memes, clearly no. But in the case of the Romney "Clear Eyes" bracelets..well, that's certainly attaching a dollar sign to someone else's work.
Why should we, students of social media, care? Well because in the haste to post witty content like this:
President Obama mentions "horses and bayonets" and the internet immediately responds with memes, Twitter hashtags and spoof accounts.

Do we even consider who made it in the first place as well as the time, creative energy and years of school that it took the creator to get to a place where she or he were ready to create the work.  (In this case the actors, directors and film crew involved in making the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot.)  

Its an interesting point, no?

Futurama Fry - I'm Not sure if i'm stealing someone else's work but i'm gonna post it anyway
Thanks to Matt Groening, creator of Futurama

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