Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gordon Duggan's Great Comic

The Canadian government has announced it will introduce (as we Yanks say) its long-anticipated copyright reform bill this morning sometime before 11 a.m. To wile away the time before then, I strongly suggest reading the most amazing piece of public policy advocacy I have ever seen. Mixing Thomas Nast with superheros comics, Gordan Duggan, a Canadian artist who works with the Appropriation Art collective, has just "published" a pdf comic called 51st State. The comic book details the fight for Canadian sovereignty in the face of overwhelming American interests and pressure. He describes it as "a bit ironic."

The comic book is entirely constructed of found quotes and images, making it a fantastic blend of original art work and appropriation of others' materials. If this is all the comic book was, it would be enough, but its not: there are 193 links to blogs, articles, video, etc.; every balloon and caption has at least one link that is activated by clicking on the balloon. The work is an extremely clever use of traditional comic book art and Internet technology. One of the links I found interesting is to an interview in CBC Arts with Steven Page, lead singer for the group Barenaked Ladies. In the interview, Mr. Page states: "For a very long time, we – as artists – have allowed industry groups to speak on our behalf. We want that time to stop." Take that flatulent Copyright Alliance! Songwriter Andrew Cash is quoted as saying: "The music business has spent so much creative energy and money fighting instead of taking a look at what fans are really doing and trying to find a way to swim with it." Canadian artists are said to be seeking a cooperative approach that incorporates emerging technologies, rather than a combative plan of attack. Mr. Page added, "We cannot afford to have an adversarial relationship with our fans. New technology affords fans new ways to listen to music. We as artists... must adapt to that. "To say, 'See you in court,' and then, 'See you at Massey Hall,' isn't going to work."

Another link is to an article by Mr. Duggan, in which he comments:

For many creators more restrictive copyright is neither desirable nor beneficial. For many artists freedom of expression includes freedom to access preexisting culture. One could argue that freedom in Canada is rooted in the notion of freedom through access: access to education, access to health care, access to government. In the United States freedom appears to be freedom through domination: domination through litigation, domination through military, domination through rhetoric. Disentangling Canadian law from American rhetoric is essential in understanding what rights we have as Canadian artists, how these rights affect our work and what changes are needed. Copyright legislation in Canada has largely been artist-driven. In the U.S. copyright has been driven by corporate interests.

These remarks explain why the fight over Canadian legislation has generated so much grassroots support, but it also says a great deal about how we in the U.S. suffer from the way trade associations have been successful in positioning themselves as the representatives of authors, musicians, and artists, and it explains why I repeatedly point out the callow nature of the so-called Copyright Alliance: the statement that that organization speaks for 11 million of the real creators and that it speaks for them with one voice, is obscene, and is intended to keep creators barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. All of us, in every country, have a stake in Canadian authors, artists, and musicians succeeding. They are fighting the good fight that seems lost in the U.S.

The comic is available here. It works best you download the pdf to your harddrive. Mr. Duggan's work is an amazing accomplishment.

1 comment:

Timothy Phillips said...

Thanks for that link.

Increasingly at my local university library, periodicals are being shifted to "off-site storage," because it is expected that people will access digital versions. University students, faculty, and staff have IDs which they use to access the campus computer system. Visitors to the library can get a one-time-use sign-on. All very convenient. But anonymous browsing no longer exists for these periodicals.