Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Send in the Clowns

Recently The Los Angeles Times covered the intellectual property infringement lawsuit against celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton filed by the paparazzi photo agency X17 in "Perez Hilton Takes Their Best Shots." Apparently X17 is complaining that Hilton wasn't properly accrediting their snaps, and they are now publishing their own rival gossip blog X17online, which is full of dreary shots of celebrities Christmas shopping. The lawsuit alleges that the dollar value of some of their most scandalous pics of star misbehavior, which were slated to be sold to print tabloids, actually dropped as a direct result of Perez's scoops that previewed the material. Access to the X17 site involves elaborate approval procedures, which yours truly was not able to charm on scholarly research grounds. The agency is also loudly declaring their use of a new interface that prevents easy right-click acquisition of digital files, as if we all don't know what that "print screen" button is for on the keyboard.

Hilton often Photoshops the images that he gets illicitly from the photo agencies and then adds rude comments or obscene graffiti (along with his own proprietary URL) . He also periodically looks at intersections between real and virtual worlds as he did in a piece on how fans created sims of their favorite celebrity Paris Hilton for online role playing games, as can be seen in the photo above. I don't like the catty misogyny of his gossip coverage, even if I might appreciate the way he thumbs his nose at this kind of IP litigation, as even his choice of sound-alike name indicates. The curious can see this recent Saturday Night Live monologue to get a sense of the main kind of story Perez Hilton runs.

Of course, even though I'm an IP activist, my general feeling is: a pox on both your houses. Digital culture is about being a media star yourself and making your own brand; it's not about marketing the pre-fabricated corporatized images of others. Even if you do it in an out-of-the-closet "queen of all media" allegedly subversive way, I don't dig the patriarchal voyeurism that this kind of "journalism" supports.

When it comes to entertainment based on copying, I say send in the real clowns. Last night I went to see Slava's Snowshow, which was gloriously full of imitation of the work of others: music, gags, costumes, and all. In our trademark-happy era, Slava is lucky not to be facing lawsuit claims about his nose or bald head or about the way he delivered the conventional clown-full-of-arrows schtick with an unauthorized pathos. And those who want to extend the rights of content producers beyond first sale might say: that umbrella has been modified to spray water on people rather than protect them from the elements. According to the blog about unintentional legal humor perpetuated by lawyers, Lowering the Bar, there certainly have been clown-related IP lawsuits in the past.

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