Authorship in the Post Modern World

Who is the creator of a song made in an application like Acid or Garageband?  To whom do we attribute performance credits?  For home users, this may simply be a great party argument, but for musicians, labels and developers the question has deep implications and no easy answers.

There are some clear dividing lines: for instance the royalty-free supplied loops are obviously performed by someone else.  But who?  The software that makes it all possible was written by someone else, who conceptualized all possibilities available in the form of features; add another package and you add another vision (not your own).

Form and function follow information.  We shape raw hits, loops and images with intention, and this process of shaping creates a split between reality/performance and product/presentation.  Images created to promote a product or idea can be reshaped to defame or defeat the original goals.  In an information-driven society authorship is now primarily associated with the parties who shape the mediated message, with no respect to the crafters of any specific image, sound or data structure.  While it is harder to define the totality of ownership, authorship may now be linked to quality or clarity of the finished product.  Successful pieces deliver a message or idea.  Unsuccessful projects are baffling pastiche.  When component images remain cohesive, and their original message remains intact, and manage to over-power the constructor’s goals, authorship remains with the crafts-folk, at least from a philosophical perspective.  In those cases, the original information reshapes the new form and defines the function.

President George Bush’s words and images from the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln naturally defy corruption, and frequently overshadow opponents attempts to reappropriate them.  The conceptual authors of the photo-op/stunt remain the authors of most subsequent political theater derived from their event.  This form of authorship transcends the mechanics of who operated the cameras, vtr’s and microphones, as well as the stories of beat reporters who prepared individual stories for their respective networks and employers.  The information delivered by most channels remains the story of the authors, despite many attempts to revise it.  Spectacularly, the database of this story accommodated outcomes that were in direct opposition to the apparent original message.

Clearly, stories, songs and ideas woven from threads of disparate information owe a large share of credit and intention to the authors and organizers of the databases from which the components are derived.  The more apparent that organization and design is in the final product, the greater the debt.  This may be an important measure for authorship and yardstick for design skill.

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