The Ghost of Copyright Infringement

The cult of personality reigns on MySpace, obliquely offset against the revamping of copyright infringement brought about by the advent of online distribution. Of course, this implies personality is copyrightable, which, in point of fact, it is with celebrities. After all, celebrities cash in on their celebrity status through public appearances and by lending their names, visages, and voices to sundry products. How has the web changed any of this? Simply by leaving behind the traditional bottleneck structure applied to the distribution of information/stimuli that existed in earlier mediums.

Information/stimuli were distributed first by voice, then stone tablets, handmade manuscripts, ultimately print, film, radio, and television. Initially the ability to distribute information/stimuli was limited to tribal/religious/political leaders, who defined the media bottleneck, determining/limiting the flow of information/stimuli. Sadly, the democratic revolutions of the past few centuries had little impact on this bottleneck structure, as media moguls gained control of communications outlets. Radical presses, political theater companies, indie films, alternative radio, and public access television never even chipped the bottleneck, since only a tiny elite made creative use of them. However, the web completely shattered the bottleneck by allowing virtually anyone with a computer to post information/stimuli. This impacted upon the nature of celebrity because the concept of celebrity feeds off the entertainment industry, which remains dependent on that old bottleneck structure. Thus it is only within the confines of the web that the notion of celebrity has transmuted. The web is a free-flowing medium. Celebrities, like anyone else, can harness it to network and/or promote themselves. The problem is that celebrities, as they exist in the context of print and broadcast media, are products of those selfsame media. Indeed, those media are in the business of marketing celebrities, who, to some degree, can be described as their copyrighted property. However, on the web it is possible to download a celebrity's image, process it, and post the processed image, either with or without the celebrity's consent or even knowledge and most definitely without the consent or knowledge of any media conglomerate that may have a vested interest in the original image.

MySpace embodies the web. It is not for everyone. Some people are very much rubbed the wrong way by MySpace. I am referring both to people who have MySpace profiles and people who wouldn't be caught dead having one. Those who fall into the latter category invariably find MySpace infantile, a total waste of time; those in the former category may have initially viewed MySpace as a neat networking opportunity, but soon discovered that networking on MySpace wasn't all it was cut out to be. For me MySpace possesses an intriguing schizophrenic edge. This edge reduces itself to the schism between a tabloid veneer and a purely abstract graphical palette.

Recently Asia Argento semi-deleted her MySpace profile page. That it was "semi-deleted" brought into focus the purely abstract palette side of MySpace and, indeed, the web itself. Asia denounced MySpace, indicating she wanted no part of it, and then shut down every facet of her profile page except the comment box, which allowed people to vent about her evident disappearance from MySpace. It was amusing to read people's spewings on this ghost page; for that's what it became, a ghost page, both in terms of being an apparently fleeting representation of Asia and in reflecting the ghost of an earlier era on the web. When the web first manifested itself as a graphics-driven medium in the early to mid-1990s one found many of what at the time were called shell sites. In effect, shell sites were sites under construction, existing skeletally. It's instructive to think of websites at such a skeletal stage. Today, merely a decade removed from the days of dial-up modems, the web has evolved into a richly textured tapestry. Sure, some people frown upon the perhaps overly ripe graphics, dismissing the web for all its commercial, glossy trappings. Call me a romantic, but I have faith in the ability of art to transcend such trappings; yet trappings they are...traps.

The animation running above is a humble offering to Asia Argento. It has its limitations and its strengths. I left this comment on Asia's shell/ghost/semi-deleted profile page: "The web is as ugly or as beautiful as you want it to be. No medium is more under individual control."

© 2007 Peter Schmideg

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