This week I had a very troubling experience when I tried to put on line, in my YouTube account, an extract of my film Triptych. The soundtrack of the film was scanned by a digital robot which surprisingly found a correspondence between a segment of Bob Ostertag’s music and an unidentified song owned by WMG (Warner Music Group). It happens that I am absolutely sure that Bob Ostertag is the genuine author of the music of my film and I have the proof that he authorized me to use that music on my film. I also know that Bob Ostertag’s music in general and this piece in particular («DJ of the Month», one of the most extreme musical project that I know of, it can be downloaded for free from Bob Ostertag’s site – http://bobostertag.com/music-recordings.htm) has nothing to do with the kind of music produced by the Warner Music Group. It is quite surrealistic to even imagine that there would be a relationship. But a robot decided on the matter and the clip was blocked for the entire world. Fortunately, it seems that the ban is not entirely working as some people succeeded to view the clip.
Later on, I found out that two other clips («Animation Exercise no 13» and «INIT Club Roma») that used the same music had equally been blocked. I disputed those automatic decisions of YouTube but according to the laconic messages that followed, it totally depends on the good will of the Warner Music Group and on the delay in which they will act for the decision to be reviewed. For now, according to the statements on my account, the clips remain blocked.
All this is very troubling for several reasons. First, it is a totally occult procedure where a decision taken by a robot is automatically put into action. Second, no information is available to the author of the clip concerning the piece of music which supposedly was used illegally which puts a difficult limit to the possibility to defend oneself. Third, the form available to dispute the decision is very laconic and does not allow any possible explanation (for example about the actual origin of the soundtrack of the clip). There is also the more general fact that a site like YouTube promote itself as a convivial place of socialization and exchange, a sort of public space, suddenly and brutally reveals itself for what it fundamentally is, a private property, a space of no rights for its users. It is a Kafkaesque situation which reminds of The Penitentiary Colony where the felon learns about the very nature of his crime under the hooks of the machine that executes the sentence.
This last point is particularly crucial because the integrity of the public space is at stake, which is more and more reduced in the current years while it is one of the base of democratic freedoms. We are led to use sites like YouTube, FaceBook and others (we could even say the internet as a whole) as if it was a free public space while they actually are places under robotic surveillance, where an untold law is applied, practically without the possibility to appeal. This question of the public space should also be at the center of discussions about the copyrights. It is quite stunning that big media corporations like Warner can submerge our space of life (I don’t even dare to call it the public space) with sounds and images and still pretend it is private property.
Upgrade. February 25.
Of course we should not become paranoïd. In the current state of things, the internet in général, YouTube, FaceBook, and others, have become tools of communication that it would be difficult to do without. The communities that develop on those sites are not only «virtual», they are real and they could not exist to the same scale without those sites. But it is necessary to constantly remember that by using those sites we are constructing something that tends to function as a public space and that we want to consider such, but it is not. It is fundamentally a space of no rights, a kind of soft concentration camp (I am probably going too far but it would be a good idea to read Giogio Agamben on those questions). This is a space of exchange that exist on very fragile ground. Of course we can hope that the movement of exchange is too strong to be contained and that there will always be cracks in the system that will open up under the pressure. So good if this is what happens.
And by the way, this is not the first time I am having problems with copyrights. Three years ago, there was the episode around my film O Picasso – Tableau d’une surexposition which was suppressed by the Picasso Estate..