Weekend weather

Copyright smackdown — the art show

If you’re in Philadelphia next month, check out this superb exhibit — “Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age”. It’s a collection of various pieces created using copyrighted images, many of which caused the copyright holders to call in the lawyers and demand total stomp action. The picture above was created by Noel Tolentino for the first issue of his ‘zine Bunnyhop. He sent a copy of the magazine to Matt Groening with a gushing fan letter. Groening — the arch-ironic critic of power and hypocrisy so beloved by the soi-distant fans of The Simpsons — responded with a cease-and-desist letter. (Hey kids? Here’s a newsflash: When it comes to puncturing social mores and annoying the squares, your Hollywood heros are right out there with you on the front lines of dissent. Fight the power, dude. But when it comes to property and capital? You might as well be dealing with Alan Greenspan.)

But enough of my grouchy, holier-than-thou politics. Samples of the exhibit are posted online, and they look just insanely brilliant. My favorite is the piece by Kembrew McLeod:

In 1998, he trademarked the phrase “Freedom of Expression” and created a zine with that title. He enlisted a friend, Brendan Love, to pose as the publisher of an imaginary punk rock magazine also called Freedom of Expression, whom he then pretended to sue. McLeod hired a lawyer and didn’t let her in on the hoax. The lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Love:

“We represent Kembrew McLeod of Sunderland, Massachusetts, the owner of the federally registered trademark, FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION … Your company has been using the mark Freedom of Expression … Such use creates a likelihood of confusion in the market and also creates a substantial risk of harm to the reputation and goodwill of our client.”

It’s a little mean to not let the lawyer in on the hoax, of course. But it nicely illustrates the role that lawyers play in today’s copyright mess: They’re just cogs, autobots that launch into action no matter how ludicrous the supposed property infringement is.

(Thanks to Marc Kelsey’s Squidlink for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson