29 May 2013

Staring at the Package

Non Sequitur, 29 May 2013

  • One of the difficult issues just outside the edge of copyright concerns access to fragile or one-of-a-kind works that are no longer in copyright — such as, but not only, museum-displayed pieces (without, of course, stepping into the swamp of who owns pieces found in museums). There's a long history of museums attempting to monetize this by prohibiting photography (only a minority of works in most museums are potentially harmed by flash photography... and consumer nonflash cameras are getting pretty darned good) and charging outrageous fees for acces to too-often-mediocre images. Not all museums seem so blind, though; the Rijksmuseum will allow you to access relatively high-quality digital images of works in its collection for free, without any ridiculous licensing restrictions on how you use those images.

    On the one hand, this does implicate the rights of the photographers who made those images — there's a lot of skill and expense that goes into creating them. I hope they're being properly compensated, even if as employees or through a flat fee. On the other hand, this also grapples with one of the more difficult, abstract issues in copyright law: The originality requirement. Put another way, is a faithful-reproduction-type digital image of an out-of-copyright two-dimensional work of art "original" enough to justify copyright in that digital image in the first place? Or is that digital image, because it is merely a medium through which the out-of-copyright original work is being communicated and is, in essence, communicating a fact, noncopyrightable? I tend to fall pretty far toward the latter — that an equal-dimensions reproduction doesn't merit copyright protection independent of its source — but I recognize that there's some room for argument at the boundaries. I think most of those arguments in favor of copyright also fail (e.g., "It's a textured piece, and it took a lot of skill and judgment to make a faithful digital/photographic image" is just, at its core, the "sweat of the brow" rationale slightly recast with more-sympathetic-than-database-compiler sweathobs)... but not definitively, not categorically. And that is, after all, where much of the fun in art comes from: That there is almost always an exception to categorical imperatives, a Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement allowing words into the symphony on the way to Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony and heavy metal. At the same time, though, there's the question of keeping those starving artists (and technicians) from starving...

  • My guess is that the money being offered by FauxNews is now just too much to make the "paltry" salary of a Congresscritter attractive to that crazy-eyed woman from Minnesota. I don't see this as a sign of the impending demise of that wing of the Heffalumps, though; one does not reverse forty years of denying reason and reality that easily or quickly! Remember, there's a huge gap between conservative thought and conservative ideology, and an even bigger one to conservative-tinged partisan politics... almost as big a gap as the one between Bachmann and reality.
  • Bridge collapses have been in the news of late, including one I used to travel fairly frequently. This really begs the question, though: Why wasn't a long-distance transfer like this put on a railroad flatbed and taken over routes actually designed for large loads? Yes, trucks need to be used at some point, but not for this kind of distance (especially for something related to hazardous materials). Perhaps the problem is that the trucking lobby is stronger than the railroad lobby... or that nobody even thought of roro (roll-on, roll-off) transit to limit the amount of rehandling. Oh, wait: That might have cost a little bit more money, relating to a highly subsidized industry (petroleum extraction), and BP showed pretty conclusively what the industry attitude toward spending money on safety before a disaster looks like.
  • With a whinge sounding remarkably similar to that coming from commercial print publishing, the UK recording industry claims it's supporting new artists just fine and shouldn't be criticized. Unwinding what's actually being said, though, reveals that this is nothing more than deception, and one line is sufficient: "But albums are significantly cheaper than 10 years ago, sales are falling and online piracy is still a major threat, according to Mike Smith - president of music at Virgin EMI records." Note the two critical assumptions in there: That the artists were significantly benefitting from sales success ten years ago (really? ever seen a royalty statement or contract from that era?), and that the higher prices were due only to market forces (and that the corresponding drop has not resulted, at least in part, from decay of antitrust practices).

    Recorded music, both here and in Europe, is largely marked by the industry-segment's price-setting meme: One can predict the price of a work, without knowing a damned thing about its quality or the existing reputation of its actual creator, with a very high degree of accuracy by knowing only the year, the marketing category, and the form of packaging. To say the least, that is rather antithetical to actually growing and supporting new talent.

  • makes bicycle assembly instructions seem comprehensibleBut that makes more sense than does this (snurched from Tom Christensen). I wouldn't characterize that as "talent" of any kind.
  • But this might qualify. I have fond memories of one of Trudeau's earlier forays into performances, so...
  • Or, I suppose, one could just analyze the health of an entire industry segment, and of the workers in that industry segment, solely through analyzing unaudited anecdotal sales proclamations from outliers. As a lab-trained chemist, this is a trap I don't fall into... except, that is, when the problem before me is an outlier, and then I still use all of those lab-trained thought processes to confirm that before proceeding. But I'm a wierdo.