[rumori] Deconstructing Beck- Fair Use letter #2 to Beck's attorney

Peter Conheim [rumori] Deconstructing Beck- Fair Use letter #2 to Beck's attorney
Tue, 12 May 1998 15:29:25 -0700 (PDT) (00895040965, Pine.LNX.3.96.980512152407.26907D-100000ATspider.webbnet.com)

There has been much back and forth on the subject of the Deconstructing
Beck pseudo-fracas on the Snuggles (Negativland) list. I'm not sure
if this has already been posted to Rumori, so please excuse me if it
has, but here's an exchange between Mark and Don (Nland) and Brian
MacPherson, attorney for Beck. It's a bit over the top, but
interesting. Unfortunately I didn't save their previous correspondence
but you'll get the drift. And as far as I know, Beck has been contacted
about the release by a listmember with connections to him, or at least an
attempt has been made. Further attempts might not be a bad idea, if
anyone is thus connected...


---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: Mon, 6 Apr 1998 19:48:27 -0700
From: Mark/Negativland

At 12:11 PM -0800 4/3/98, McPherson, Brian wrote:

>Hi Mark. I don't know you, but I do know a bit about your case. What
>Beck, Geffen, etc. plan to do is certainly none of your business, as far
>as I can tell. Furthermore, I kind of resent your unsolicited criticism
>of my knoeledge of copyright law. But hey, it's a free country, and I
>guess you have a lot of free time on your hands. Good day.
> Brian McPherson

Dear Mr McPherson

Greetings, and yes, we do tend to make plenty of free time to defend and
protect free appropriation which is at the procedural and aesthetic heart
of our entire body of work. No band is an island, and what is done to any
of us (legally speaking) is done to all of us.

To be perfectly honest, our references to the content of copyright law were
not intended to suggest anything about your knowledge of same, but to point
out that we have a little as well. When dealing with attorneys on the hunt,
we like to get quickly past the stage where they hope to collapse the
opposition with intimidating threats of "legal action" which count on the legal ignorance (and fear of lawers) of grass roots individuals to achieve
a quick and painless settlement. You understand, it's just an informative
tactic! But it does seem well placed, as indicated by your brief and casual
dismissal of all our thoughtful and constructive points in favor of just
telling us to butt out of this big business business. How typically
oblivious to the actual artistic issues involved here do you propose to be?
To quote ourselves - "ART IS NOT DEFINED AS A BUSINESS."
In defending this kind of work, we hope to implant the novel idea that when
art and commercial law come into conflict, the contest should be resolved
on a level playing field - one that takes the imperatives, perogatives,
and creative impetus of the art practice involved fully into account. For
too long, the music biz has been in the business of suppressing valid works
of contemporary music which employ free appropriation and sampling by
invoking laws that (however poorly considered time proves them to be) were
NEVER intended to be used for this purpose. The copyright laws predate the
kind of technologies ( samplers, computers, cassette decks, VCR's, xerox
machines, etc) which ENCOURAGE this practice, and the people who wrote
them could not have had a clue about these new developments in the creation
of new works. But now it's happening, and it is incumbent on all of you who
employ these now inadequate and blind-sided laws to make the crucial
distinctions between whole-work piracy and bootlegging and the culturally
valuable practice of collage which uses elements and fragments of the existing
culture surrounding us all.

Truly, we would love to get the law itself brought up to date in this
regard, but this cultural wisdom continues to elude all those "in charge." So for the time being, it's actually up to all of us who actually care
about our own cultural evolution to keep these laws out of places where
they don't belong. Are you so all-fired ready to apply poorly defined laws
to situations never forseen by those laws... for what purpose? (Should we
suspect economic opportunism, total marketplace control, or criticism
deflection from you here?) It should be obvious that these are the kinds of
reasons that make attempting to get "prior permission" for doing this kind of work futile because it will not be given even if economic small fry like
us could afford the cost, which we can't. This is why parody is a legally
protected form. But the misguided use of these laws against other forms of
appropriative expression amounts to the same kind of censorship parody is
intended to be protected from. Once again, when the "infringing" work is NOT infringing - it is neither supplanting nor competing with the source
used (and in this case the source is not even recognizable!) - what
possible purpose is there in crushing it? There is absolutely NO threat to
Beck's profits here! Why wouldn't you LIKE the free publicity and
advertising? We don't get it, but we're also quite used to expecting
knee-jerk, formula bound reactions on the part of corporate culture owners
with sloppy law at their disposal.

This is an IMPORTANT struggle to open up the fewer and fewer, and
increasingly centralized and monopolistic cultural institutions (which
inevitably presume themselves to BE our national culture) to direct
reference commentary, criticism, and RE-CREATION from the however silly
perceptions held by those of us who by choice remain totally "outside" those corporately controled channels of mass distribution and mass
communication. Is there actually something wrong with this? Or does it
strike you, as it does us, that this is probably a healthy alternative
which should be kept alive and kicking? Let's not even bring up FREE
SPEECH. Oops, well there it is anyway. But seriously, Brian, can you
possibly explain the BENEFIT to our national cultural agenda in the "legal" suppression you are engaged in? This is NOT a mountain that needs to be
climbed just because it's there!

Please excuse our bluntness, and you shouldn't take our arguments
personally, as we eagerly debate this art survival issue in the same
obnoxiously vigorous way with all who will pay attention. We'd love to hear
more detailed justifications for the path you are paid to pursue, if you
can possibly spare the time. It might actually hone your skills for the
coming court battle... (Yes, you guessed it, just another threatening


P.S. Aren't you slightly curious as to what the person you are representing
thinks about all this? Does Beck even know this is happening? We'd be
interested in HIS opinion, even though according to most corporate label
contracts, you guys have taken over ownership of his work in perpetuity and
"it's out of his hands." Curiously untenable for the artist being appropriated to be completely out of the loop, wouldn't you say?

P.P.S. Can we get an address from you to send you a copy of our book?

P.P.P.S. Can you please forward this to Peter Brodsky of BMG (and Beck!) as
we still do not have his e-mail?
Thank you.