In which I try to remain focused while describing my difficulty remaining focused.
Experience has taught me – and everyone, I suppose – that the freedom of choice is a double-edged sword. The more choices you have, the sharper those edges get. Faced with two or three possible flavours of ice-cream, making a choice is usually quite stress-free (you obviously choose to have a scoop of each). However, given a selection of 31, things get a lot trickier. Even after you eliminate the ones you have no intention of even sampling, like banana (something that should only ever be consumed as an actual piece of fruit, never a flavour), you still end up torn between a few great possibilites: ones you’ve had before and know you like, or ones that look/sound so good you’re sure you’ll love them.
What you want to avoid, at all costs, is that regret: thinking that, okay, this flavour is pretty good, but what if another one would have been better? Like the one my friend got instead. The one I am now enviously coveting.
I imagine people might go through a much more intense version of this when faced with decisions of considerably more importance than dessert, such as choosing what house to buy, or whether or not to get married.
The decision I had to make was probably a lot closer in weight to the dessert choice than marriage – what topic to select for my dissertation. The range of options I had were vast, though. Of course it had to be related to digital media in some way, but that could have been any of hundreds of things.
As it turned out, however, the decision was a lot less difficult than I’d expected. This topic stood out, well above the other possibilities, dwarfing them as they futilely attempted to compete for my attention below. For possibly the first time in my life, I was able to choose a topic of coursework for myself that I had a truly immense interest in, something I was highly passionate about.
There was only one edge to this sword! The good edge, too! Or so I thought…
I have since discovered that there is a downside to working on something you find incredibly captivating: It is incredibly captivating.
Over the last few of weeks I have been ingesting so many books, articles, interviews, essays and videos on how copyright laws and digital sampling technology affect creators and consumers of art and it’s all just so fascinating.
That sounds like a wonderful thing. It certainly sounds a lot better than slogging away at a project or essay about something you find unendurably tedious. But is it really? I know that boring material can drive us to external distractions, but usually you’re able to pull it together and get the thing done, even if you don’t enjoy the process.
Here, I find myself getting almost hopelessly distracted by all these things that are actually relevant to my end goal.
Well, I suppose that sentence is a little misleading. A lot of the problematic, distracting material isn’t wholly relevant. It’s just that it is very very closely related (with a few measures of relevance mixed in) – and hence crops in almost all of the same books, articles, videos, etc.
I’m talking here about things like piracy, peer-to-peer file-sharing, record industry associations suing dead grandmothers for downloading music, how the industry in general reacts to possible cases of copyright infringement (including sampling in music), etc.
But, David, all those sounds like things that you should be researching, aren’t you going to include that kind of stuff in the dissertation?
Yes and no. Really, the difficulties with choosing to do a paper on something you’re really interested in aren’t the direct result of it being interesting, it’s that the format of this project has limitations.
The dissertation has to be 12,000 words. When I first learned of this, I found the idea of writing something of that length incredible daunting. Again, because I had done exactly zero essays in my undergraduate studies. I still find the idea of writing 12,000 words on this topic quite daunting, but it’s because I have to squeeze all these ideas into just 12,000 words. With that limitation, I had to narrow it down. And because so much existing literature concentrates on corporations battling average consumers, Internet piracy and so forth, I chose to focus mainly on how sampling affects the artists themselves.
Hmm, perhaps I should start imposing word limits on these blog posts in order to force me to be more concise; get to the point a bit quicker. That said, I’ve probably made my point in this one already – and I’m under 780 words so far. Shortest post yet! Go me!
…and now I’ve gone over that.
I did want to say something about Lawrence Lessig, if only to justify the pun in the title.
I’ll let his official site’s info page tell you who he is, if you’re unfamiliar. I first encountered him when I watched RiP: A Remix Manifesto (which you can freely watch or download), a documentary-ish film about copyright which will most likely end up in my dissertation’s bibliography. He also features in Good Copy, Bad Copy, another film I will inevitably be referencing.
I’m currently reading his latest book, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Unlike most of the other books I’m looking at for this paper, I’m not scanning it, hunting down the most relevant snippets of info. No, I’m actually reading it. Because the man writes well. And he’s persuasive. I sometimes feel like I’m nodding along as I read, as if he were in the room talking to me. Maybe I am actually nodding. But that would make reading text a bit tricky, so I’d have noticed if I was.
Lessig’s all about balance. Unlike some of the activists in this area, who are fighting for its abolition, Lessig believes that copyright is a good thing. There’s just a (significant) lack of balance in its current implementation. His aim is to strike that balance: between protecting authors of works, while allowing others to reuse, reinterpret and remix those works without fear of being sued.
To that end he (co-)founded Creative Commons, “a nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.” Creative Commons offers licences, which artists use to let people know what rights they have in relation to using the work. The default one is the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (BY-NC-SA) licence, which allows the public to share the work and to remix it, provided they attribute the source, do not sell it and share any remixes they make in the same fashion. At first glance, it sounds like a something only nerdy amateurs would be messing around with. But some nerdy famous folk have been at it too. And with rewarding results.
Creative Commons will definitely feature if/when I discuss alternatives to copyright in the dissertation, so I may end up writing more about it here. Or not. Time is of the essence and these blog posts, while helpful (for me at least!), are obviously not as high on my priority list as the paper itself!
I shall leave you with Lessig’s 2007 TED talk.
Enjoy! [it seems Universal Music Group doesn't want people embedding this in blogs - how hilariously apt! You can watch it on Youtube here.]
(He also did one last year. It is here.)