A nice piece in this month’s Wired about “the manga industrial complex” in Japan, and the complex structure of tacitly-permitted copyright violation that powers the participatory fan culture around commercially-produced manga. Though the countless fan publications that take existing, copyrighted characters and repurpose them in new, surreal or pornographic environments are in explicit violation of copyright, the industry maintains an anmoku no ryokai (‘unspoken, implicit agreement’) to allow this culture to flourish – as it benefits everyone:
Taking care of customers. Finding new talent. Getting free market research. That’s a pretty potent trio of advantages for any business. Trouble is, to derive these advantages the manga industry must ignore the law. And this is where it gets weird. Unlike, say, an industrial company that might increase profits if it skirts environmental regulations imposed to safeguard the public interest, the manga industrial complex is ignoring a law designed to protect its own commercial interests.
This odd situation exposes the conflict between what Stanford law professor (and Wired contributor) Lawrence Lessig calls the “read only” culture and the “read/write” culture. Intellectual property laws were crafted for a read-only culture. They prohibit me from running an issue of Captain America through a Xerox DocuColor machine and selling copies on the street. The moral and business logic of this sort of restriction is unassailable. By merely photocopying someone else’s work, I’m not creating anything new. And my cheap reproductions would be unfairly harming the commercial interests of Marvel Comics.
But as Lessig and others have argued, and as the dojinshi markets amply confirm, that same copyright regime can be inadequate, and even detrimental, in a read/write culture. Amateur manga remixers aren’t merely replicating someone else’s work. They’re creating something original. And in doing so, they may well be helping, not hindering, the commercial interests of the copyright holders.
It’s interesting to speculate on whether J K Rowling’s publishers have the same attitude to the legions of fan writers busy generating Harry Potter slashfic; whether fanfic and slashfic is considered a meaningful contribution to the industries it riffs off, the way fan publications are recognised as such in the manga industry; and whether the idea of an anmoku no ryokai might be a useful addition to existing practice around copyright in a ‘read/write’ culture.
The Van Alen Institute has organized an exhibition that explores new design and use of public space for recreation. The exhibition displays innovative designs for reimagined and reclaimed public spaces from various architects and urban planners. The projects are organized into five categories: The Connected City, the Cultural City, the 24-Hour City, the Fun City, and the Healthy City. As part of the exhibition, the Van Alen Institute has been holding weekly panel discussions about designing public space from international and local (NYC) perspectives. The participants have been high level partners in some of the most widely regarded architecture firms in NYC and the world. The questions and discussions afterwards, however, have proved to be the most interesting part; there have been questions about autonomy and conformity in public space, and how much of the new public space has been designed for safety, but little else. They have become ‘non-spaces’, and fail to support public needs for engagement, relaxation, and health.
This week their discussion will move away from the architectural and planning and into new technology. It will be interesting to see how technology supports and influences ideas of connectedness in a public place; while the value of connecting to others from a private, isolated space seems obvious, doing so from a public place seems less common and less intuitive than face-to-face interaction. The panel, including Christina Ray (responsible for the Conflux Festival ) and Nick Fortugno (Come Out & Play Festival), will present and discuss “The Wired City” at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Sep. 27.
Wired magazine reports that Michela Ledwidge is advancing the future of filmmaking, by taking cues from game moding. In early 2006, she will post all the raw material for her 10 minute sci-fi short film, Sanctuary, to the website:www.modfilms.com . People will be able to edit their own versions of the film. Sanctuary continues the open source trend also fostered by recording artists such as Jay Z who released vocal files of his Black album to encourage DJs to create their own mixes. Some die-hard Jay Z fans even posted everything you need in a similar fashion to Ledwidge.
I hope that many people submit films. I am very interested to see what the results will be on the aggregate level. While many people will undoubtedly create mashup versions with external content, I am especially curious to see the results from people who do not add much additional material. How many interesting stories can be told using these basic parts? Is there a “correct” shot selection or a traditional (i.e. “I learned to edit in film school”) edit? How wedded are we to traditional film narrative conventions which dictate what is “good” and “bad”? Will only a few compelling narratives arise or will many?