My current obsession at the moment is with the South African Zef crew Die Antwoord (or, “The Answer”). The group is comprised from a mix of global youth symbols: at a glance one can clearly see homage towards early 90’s rave culture, American hip-hop, the white trash Juggalos movement, and of course, the overt nod to Vanilla Ice. The visual makeup of their debut video “Enter the Ninja” is a hellish mix between the visuals of Roger Ballen and some sort of psychiatric ward version of a Keith Haring mural.
From Weird Al Yankovic to Chromeo, parody is not a new device in pop music. But what makes Die Antwoord so interesting is their ability to blur the distinctions between what’s real and what’s actually satire. The tension here between aspects novelty and what’s contemporary becomes quite fertile as a mode of production. But what does all of this have to do with copyright?
As a metaphor, Die Antwoord embodies the post-modern attitude by attacking the notion of a static or fixed symbol. Wether in literature, film, art, music, product design, etc, etc, the product in question is never completely original. Instead, it is always built from those cultural forms that preceded it. While this notion was most famously illustrated by Roland Barthes in Death of the Author, it was made truly tangible to my generation by Nicolas Bourriaud in Post Production. In it, he states “with music derived from sampling, the sample no longer represents anything more than a salient point in a shifting cartography. It is caught in a chain, and it’s meaning depends in part on its position in this chain.”
It is within this line of thinking that I advocate for regulation married to James Boyle’s idea of purchasing copyright duration in short durations. Within The Public Domain he states “..if copyright owners had to purchase each additional ﬁve years of term separately, the same way we buy warranties on our appliances, the economically rational ones would mainly settle for a fairly short period.” In turn — while still protecting authors from direct plagiarism — cultural symbols so crucial to artistic progress would enter the public domain at accelerated speeds.
My point is this: the idea of a pure work is false. The assertion that I could formulate my ideas centered around copyright and communicate them to you here without reference is of course absurd. The greater the toolset made available to a generation of makers the greater the cultural output. As Umberto Eco wrote in Postscript to the Name of the Rose “I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, ‘I love you madly,’ because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, ‘As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.'”