Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Free Play Free-For-All

N.B.: 10/3/2009: Since writing this piece, I have decided that it is a bit of an over-reaction, but I keep it here for your entertainment.

As an artist who cannot consistently rely on large institutions to promote his events, I make use of on social media, so without hesitation, I did what I and many other artists and presenters of my acquaintance do: I posted an event listing for the staged reading Total War to Facebook.

As one would hope when one does such a thing, actors and attendees start to invite friends or repost the event listing.

Mark Jaquith, who blogged about some of my other work was kind enough to post my listing to his Facebook account. Which interestingly enough, elicited the following response:

[Name Withheld] sounds like a fine play to me, i'm searching the net for its script to read

Which just struck me as an odd thing for someone to write when clearly the event is a staged reading of a work-in-progress, and anyway, still under copyright. I had posted an earlier draft to a seemingly now defunct website that was designed with the purpose of facilitating contact between playwrights and producers, so I had made the work digitally available in the past for a limited audience,

I responded:

Ian Thal I'm the author and the script shouldn't posted on the net, at least not in the form that will be presented on October 11th.

[Name Withheld] thank you! i was unable to find it, but will continue to this winter, just in case you post it somewhere. the synopsis is quite interesting and itself well-written.

In other words, "I'm looking for a free version of your work-in-progress." This, irked me as I am also a writer, I don't take kindly to people nicking my work. More importantly, I have had my work nicked (blog entries reposted elsewhere without attribution, book reviews quoted or reprinted without attribution or permission, et cetera) but this was the first time somebody had the chutzpah to tell me, "I would like to nick your work, because it sounds really interesting!" This is despite the fact that I am already making the effort to put my work out for a public viewing.

Now, I admit to reading free digital versions of copyrighted works, but due to my sensitivity to the issue, I only do so when the work has been made freely available by author or publisher, or when work for which I would be willing to pay due to its historical importance is no longer commercially available due to ownership disputes between author and publisher, or corporate censorship by the publisher.

I'll also admit that I can't afford to pay to see every play I want to see, so I volunteer as an usher, win promotional tickets, get tickets in exchange for teaching workshops to supplement my meager theatre-going budget-- so even most of my "freebies" are really barters for my service to the community-- and even then, I do not get to see everything I want. I'm not sneaking in through the fire exit, or asking somebody to sneak a video camera in.

Ian Thal [Name Withheld], I'm not planning on posting it to an open forum at any point in the foreseeable future. There are a lot of issues involved including protecting my intellectual property rights.

[Name Withheld] of course. i'm sorry to have forgotten that issue. best of luck on your opening night.

I'm not even sure what conclusions to draw from this exchange. Is this simply how technology has changed how the work of artists is viewed, or is this just the latest permutation of ways in which the labor of artists is devalued by the culture that still consumes product of their labors?

What I really don't understand is the source of hubris to actually tell the artist, "I intend to nick your work the moment I see the opportunity."

Yet, I am of two minds here, Shelly MacAskill's video of my performance of "The Marmalope" was to my benefit. Essentially, it could be called a "bootleg" but at the same time, it shows a performance that requires a prerequisite amount of training to replicate and serves as an advertisement of my skills as a mime and physical comedian, so my first inclination when I met MacAskill socially was to thank her for posting the video. Does the qualitative difference between full text and documentary video overrule the similarities?

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