factory rescue jam museum voice

Voiced on 08.30.00 +
Voiced by webchick




I've always been an optimist. A chronic creative and hopeless romantic, without question. But lately I've been thinking I need to add “disillusioned artist” to my professional resume. When I first experienced the Internet, I was immediately swept up in the spirit and the revolution. It changed the way I live, work, and create in ways I have yet to fully appreciate. But, sometimes when I forget to put on my thick skin when I first get up in the morning, this whole global village thing can leave me battered and blue.

Why? It all boils down to one seven-letter word that Aretha Franklin pounded into our collective consciousness in her anthem of the 60's: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Ironically, in this era of global connectivity and interdependency, it seems like we are less respectful of each other than ever before. Doesn't anybody have good old-fashioned manners anymore?

We all know about Napster, which has shone a white-hot spotlight on issues regarding artist's rights. But what about the little things that happen on the Web everyday? Misappropriation of work, thoughts, and ideas are practices that are frighteningly prevalent on the Web today. And I'm not talking about viewing and downloading source code to learn from each other, or riffing off of and being influenced by good ideas. These realities are not new and are commonplace in any creative industry, be it music, filmmaking, inventing, cooking. We all inspire and influence each other.

Sock it to me.
Tibor Kalman, innovative designer and agent for change, once summed up design as a language. This concept can easily be expanded to the Internet to include all of our creative voices that we use to deliver a message, be it programming, writing, composing, directing, acting, pontificating, etc. So, in an era where we now all have a voice, why aren't we talking to each other? And worse yet, why do we insist on ripping out each other's tongues?


I could cite endless examples of quotes out of context, misleading characterization of other's work, novel ideas that aren't attributed to the originator, and digital creations that are copied, usurped or bastardized by others under the flimsy umbrella excuse of “derivative work.” The real kick in the head are that these infractions are committed by people who should know better, often by people who want the same kind of respect for themselves, their company, or their own work. These little things mount up in a medium where actions often speak far louder than images or words.

Don't get me wrong: I understand fair use, and am all for bona fide freedom of expression. That is one of the liberating features of the Web that make it so incredibly attractive to me as an artist. Editorials, biting satire, and other forms of thoughtful commentary thrive on the Web. This type of work is critical to free speech and is often a catalyst for change when balanced with proper levels of creativity and respect. We need to have a sense of humor and laugh at ourselves. We are, after all, in the middle of a communication revolution. Is this a great time, or what?

I am also hip to the idea that many thoughts are in the collective consciousness, and in the Internet age a meme spreads like wildfire. However, this simply points to a stronger argument to respect each other's work and ideas. In a similar vein, the open source movement is critical to advancing the medium and sharing knowledge. I personally believe that the work of many in a networked society will have a far more profound effect on our culture than the work of one, and it is much more important to advance the medium as a whole. However, “open source” does not equate to “free-for-all,” and in any collaborative working environment we must first learn to work together and respect each other as individuals.


So the big problem is, where do we draw the line? Can we, when faced by the dynamics and inherent multiplicity of the Internet, actually draw that line? And should we even attempt to draw that line, when there may be larger matters at stake?

If innovation and inspiration is going to continue to thrive on the Web, we must find solutions to these problems. Too many talented Web developers are throwing in the towel early because they are frustrated by being either underpaid or underappreciated at work, and then—to add insult to injury—having their work ripped off right and left by their peers. Again, I'm an optimist: I believe that each one of us has the power to turn the tide and solve the problem. The solution is respect.

The reality is that no copyright law is ever going to keep up with the exponential growth and distributed nature of the Web, especially during this critical phase of growth. The only means we can fully rely on will be our own moral standards and conscience. It may sound trite, but we should all treat other's work the way we want our own to be treated, whether we are an individual or a corporation.

Being a netizen as well as an artist, I often find myself in a dichotomy regarding my work. I have found that few things can be more gratifying than using my talents to help others who can't do what I do, so they can have a voice and presence on the Web. In those instances, I have either donated my services or have overlooked misappropriation of my work if I felt it was for a good cause. Being an optimist with a thick skin, I suppose I have developed a somewhat high tolerance for disrespect. However, there are a few instances where people cross the moral line, and a lack of respect goes from being a minor annoyance to just plain being wrong:

Find out what it means to me.
One of the most meaningful projects of my career was sparked by respect for another artist's work. In 1995, I was poking around the Web for inspiration, and happened upon The North Pole, a hip little site where you could download audio snippets of the elves complaining and spam Santa. I sent an email to the address listed on the site - elfmaster@north.pole.org - informing the elfmaster that I thought his site was pretty cool, and asking permission to use some of the audio on another site I was working on. The elfmaster was impressed by the polite request and somewhat stunned that I even bothered to ask. The next thing I knew, I got a call from Carl Malamud, asking if I would be interested in designing the first World's Fair on the Internet.
  1. Use of ideas without attribution.
    This is a big pet peeve of mine that is firmly grounded in traditional publishing and goes to the very core of the right to use words. Authors have attributed ideas they appropriate since the days of Gutenberg, and early Internet documents such as RFCs have always incorporated this time-honored tradition. Why should a Web site, 'blog, or conversation stream be any different? Lack of attribution breaks the links to our Internet past. It doesn't have to be formal—and given the rapid nature of communication on the Internet, requesting permission every time you quote someone else isn't feasible. A simple hyperlink to the originator will do, and I'm sure they'll appreciate the tick in their referrer logs. Rule of thumb: if you saw it somewhere first, link to it. Doing so will preserve Internet history and help document the work we are all doing today.

  2. Misappropriation of design or content without attribution.
    Many designers and developers believe even a slight derivative hack of an original work (be it images, text, code, music, video, etc.) is a BIG deal. Being influenced by others and downloading source to learn from it is a very good thing, but be mindful that what you republish should be something entirely new that reflects your individual artistic voice (for more on artistic voice and the heuristic process, read this excellent essay by photographer Sean Kernan). And remember, that “open source” generally implies consent to share on the part of the creator. When in doubt, email the creator whose work you admire or code you are learning from. The interaction could lead to your growth as an artist, and their response and support can often lead to surprising results.

  3. Misappropriation of executed concept or overall design WITH attribution.
    For professional artists, there is no higher offense...and this happens to Web developers everyday, from boutique shops to the powerhouse production studios. We painstakingly build sites for clients in a vein similar to an architect, taking great care in the planning of the space, layout, purpose, aesthetics, functionality, and the overall experience. For a variety of reasons (usually money), a designer and client will part ways (often amicably), yet unlike its real world building counterpart, the Web site is not a rigid construct and has spawned a life of its own (for more on this, read Peter Merholz's comments of April 13, 2000). Regardless of whether or not the work is for hire, there is a critical element of respect here, especially when the site was a genuine co-production and the designer/architect once had a vested interest and/or continues to be associated with the work. The architecture and design should be modified in the spirit of the original work (and by no means left to rot and decay), or the site should be completely redesigned or removed from the Web. If you are a professional Web developer, and the prospect of relying on a corporate conscience is as frightening to you as it is to me, my advice is to work these issues out up front in your contract. Or simply turn down bad jobs or bad clients that don't grasp the concept of a mutually respectful relationship and the intricacies of Web site development.
Kisses sweeter than honey.
Other voices speak out on the issue of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.


So, I have decided not to modify my resume. I'll continue to view myself as an optimistic artist and netizen, albeit a battle-weary one.

I'm certainly not the starry-eyed kid I once was, who thought the Internet was a happy global collective where everyone did the best thing for everyone else. I have come to the important realization that existence in the digital age is an increasingly interdependent life, where technology continues to blur the lines in our village between work and play, right and wrong, night and day. We all need to respect each other fundamentally, and realize that what we do and say can really affect each other. And because we're virtual neighbors, we at least need to be civil to one another. We may not necessarily like each other, but I'll certainly say 'hi' when I see you on the road, or ask for your permission to borrow your rake, or give you a heads up when I decide to remove your front porch because I thought it would look better on my house. Otherwise, you might get pissed off and let your dog loose in my yard.

Donning my thickest skin and cranking up Aretha really loud,


other voices
06/04/67 R-E-S-P-E-C-T - The Queen of Soul spells it out for us in the song that netted her first Grammy.
08/30/00 CDnow - Treat a clear conscience to more Aretha music, like “Yield Not To Temptation” and “Think.”
07/30/00 Copywrong - A rant on artist's rights by Lance Arthur.
09/00/98 Tibor Kalman - Tibor addresses his attempts to reform the advertising system from within.
06/05/96 Modern TV - A riveting satire on modern media transmitted from the mind of Phil Patiris.
05/05/97 alt.memetics - Everything you ever cared to know about memes.
09/01/99 The free software story - Salon's coverage of the free software/open source movement.
12/18/98 public.resource.org - A rallying cry for funding of open source projects.
05/05/97 The Sad Lesson of the 404 - Robert Hertzberg of Internet World mourns the loss of Internet history (sadly, this insightful lesson is also a 404, thanks to a recent site redesign).
07/01/98 Worse Work - A thoughtful essay by photographer Sean Kernan on creativity in the digital age.
05/11/00 © In The Information Age - An insightful rant at the oreilly.patents network.
09/01/97 Influence Versus Infringement - Should designer's rights be rooted in law, ethics or both?
04/13/00 petermemes - Peter Merholz compares the intricacies of IA to traditional architecture.
00/00/00 Future Focus - I wanted desperately to link to the insightful writings of Teresa Martin, but couldn't :-(

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