Will DRM kill art?

During my unexpected visit to Seattle I visited the Seattle Art Museum and saw an exhibit by Christian Marclay. Mr. Marclay works in a number of mediums, but I was intrigued by two pieces he has created in ways that future artists may be barred from experimenting with:

Telephones (1995): “Joins snippets of phone conversations culled from hundreds of Hollywood films, creating a cacophony of dialing, ringing, beeping and unfulfilled dialog.� This piece runs 7 minutes and I think flows very well. It gets at the many emotions expressed through our phone conversations. It's also trying to identify the movies used with the 5 second clips that Mr. Marclay uses.

Video Quartet (2002): “Uses clips from hundreds of movie scenes depicting musical performance, vocalization and general noisemaking. Carefully sampled and edited, these cinematic and audio quotations create an integrated sound composition.� This piece ran 14 minutes long and I didn't get it. As an artiste might say, I'm rather burgeroise in my tastes when it comes to artwork. However, the two friends who watched it with me seemed to like it.

What these two pieces have in common is that they are great examples of fair use of copyrighted materials to create a genuinely new work of art. There is not enough of any one film used to incur infringement.

However, the rise of Digital Rights Management may put a stop to such creative reuse of prior work. For example, Mr. Marclay could easily snip little bits out of current VHS tapes, but modern DVDs (at least in my experience) don't allow you to copy as much as a single screenshot. Even though an artist like Mr. Marclay has a legal right to small samples of movies for his work, the technology doesn't care. If he uses decryption software to get those LEGAL snippets, then he could be prosecuted under DMCA. Worse may be on the way with the onset of “broadcast flags.� Widespread use of this technology may prevent artists like Mr. Marclay from legally recording future movie samples. For a clear and thoughtful overview of “broadcast flag� issues, please see Walt Crawford's Cites & Insights Special Issue on the subject. It's the best way to come up to speed quickly on this topic.

Whether or not Christian Marclay is your cup of tea, you should be concerned about the technological amputation of currently legal artistic techniques.


Daniel,He's been active for years with a variety of materials. In the 1970's he would manipulate recorded music (LPs, 45's, etc.) with variable speed, literally cutting and splicing disks together, drilling holes off-center for mounting on the turntable spindles, etc. It may not be someone's "cup of tea" as you wrote, but it was an interesting strategy for creating "new" sounds from "old". He compiled some anthologies of some of his audio work and those may still be available.

Sorry about the score of "1"...I still haven't figured out how do to that, as I'm usually on LISNEWS while "on the run", multitasking away. SO, I did enjoy your journal entry and I hope I've helped you find another facet of Marclay's work. Adios!

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