Copyright, Piracy, Parody

Copyright used to be the bane of my life. The mere mention of the word set my teeth on edge and made my hackles rise and nostrils flare. A large part of my old job involved assessing reprographic requests from researchers and deciding whether or not they could be fulfilled under ‘fair use’ guidelines of copyright law (the default answer was ‘no’). The collection I dealt with was vast and varied; encompassing everything from rare books, journals, and maps to public information leaflets, vehicle handbooks, and technical drawings. I became very familiar with this lovely flowchart. Labyrinthine doesn’t even cover it.

Ironically enough I have been guilty in the past of breaching these ‘fair use’ guidelines…when I was doing my undergraduate degree I would happily photocopy huge swathes of library books that I didn’t want to borrow, blithely ignoring the notice on the wall that implored me not to copy more than 5%… And I know that many among my cohort did the same. Why? Was it some sort of vague idea of ‘sticking it to the man’? Pseudo-socialist notions about the democratisation of information? Or simply being too skint to buy expensive academic texts? I suspect the latter; combined with the fact that our photocopying habits went unpoliced by library staff, leading us to believe that it didn’t really matter.

The following overview of copyright protection is taken from

“Copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission. You automatically get copyright protection when you create:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
  • original non-literary written work, eg software, web content and databases
  • sound and music recordings
  • film and television recordings
  • broadcasts
  • the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works

You can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of creation. Whether you mark the work or not doesn’t affect the level of protection you have.

How copyright protects your work:

Copyright prevents people from:

  • copying your work
  • distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale
  • renting or lending copies of your work
  • performing, showing or playing your work in public
  • making an adaptation of your work
  • putting it on the internet”

Copyright infringement is often referred to as piracy. The original meaning of ‘piracy’ is ‘the act of attacking ships in order to steal from them’. Digital or intellectual piracy involves the copying of an original work rather than the theft of a physical object, but the act of theft occurs when an unauthorised person exercises one of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder without permission.

Curiously, some scholars regard old-school pirates as early examples of progressive societies; with their true motive ‘not greed but justice’. Music piracy for example is replication, not theft. But home taping is killing music innit. Copyright laws are put in place to ensure that artists, writers, musician and other creative producers benefit from work they have they have created. And those producers are the poets starving in their garrets as well as the Taylor Swifts of the world.

UK copyright law now provides an exception’for the purposes of caricature, parody or pastiche’. There are a number of restrictions to this; including commercial harm and whether reasonable effort has been sought to gain permission. One of the justifying arguments for the (re)use of original work for the purposes of (critical) parody is the ‘free speech’aspect. Although I do wonder who decides if a parody is sufficiently critical. And y’know, whether it’s actually, like funny??  What are the criteria? I imagine a bunch of suits round a table in a board room, watching mash-ups of Star Wars v Pride and Prejudice v Bake Off.

I am quite the fan of parody. Producing a convincing mimesis of an established work or individual style requires a particular skill. Done well, it can be an affectionate homage to originality, a subtle mockery of hyperbole, or a critical satire of the status quo. Or indeed Status Quo.

#LAPIS Week 3: “@ Is For Activism”

We had a guest lecture this week from the awesome Eliza Angyanwe, freelance writer and commissioning editor. Among many other things we discussed the dawn of ‘open’ or ‘citizen’ journalism; a paradigm shift which is explained by this rather nice animation…

…and this Storify. Some of the key words and phrases from the Storify that really pop for me are participation, formation of communities of interest, attempts to reflect diversity, striving for transparency. Eliza stressed the importance of editors commissioning stories that reflect the realities of their readership; not what they think their readers should be reading.

The citizen journalism model has embraced (some might say co-opted) the blogging world; with ‘ordinary’ people writing about what they know and being globally platformed…for not much remuneration. The implication of course is to wonder how ‘professional’ journalists can compete, particularly as some of the best writing I have read in the last year or so has been on blogs.

The blogs I read the most are written by people who are outside mainstream journalism; whose realities are definitely not reflected by the negative, shaming narratives forced on them by the media. They are written by people with disabilities, transgender people, people involved in sex work. People who are marginalised, criminalised and denied a platform by society, and their writing is articulate, passionate and humorous in equal measures. The bloggers I follow tend to be active across multiple social medias, and following them has opened my eyes to the value of the (sometimes) neutral and egalitarian platform that social medias provide for us to shout from. From to the No More Page 3 campaign (whatever you might think of that; and what I think about it might just surprise you), @ is for activism.

Anger Is An Energy

#LAPIS Week 2: Original works and Marshall McLuhan (the original Eminem)

During the course of this lecture, discussion turned to the phenomenon of the reproduction of works of art on a mass scale, in both physical and digital format. Nowadays we can possess an image of the Mona Lisa on a keyring, a mug or a pair of pants. And yet we still make the cultural pilgrimage to the Louvre to gaze upon the original. We progress through the Slough of Despond on Parisian public transport, tarry a while in the Plain Ease of the Tuileries, and finally pass the Wicket Gate of 21st century security procedures at the entrance to the Celestial City itself…

We still fetishize original images. There is an aura to ‘the original’ which still makes us genuflect almost involuntarily. Why? Do we find it intellectually or emotionally edifying in some way? Does it make us feel virtuous; or superior to all those plebs who just do a Google image search? Or do we simply relish and even find comfort in the collective live experience? I did not attend the first ‘live’ lecture of the #INM380 module. But I still engaged with the topic via the background reading and the tweets and blog posts of my classmates. Did I miss out on the intangible essence of #LAPIS? Or was I able to engage better without the pressure of presence; without acting out ‘sitting-in-a-lecture-at-City-University-London’ behaviours and all the associated constraints?

The medium is never neutral. The medium is the message

Marshall McLuhan turned the media spotlight onto media itself. Published in 1967, his book The Medium is the Message became a seminal text and one of the first cornerstones of media theory; revealing the constructs of the monster that we term ‘The Mass Media’.


Put simply, M.M explored the notion that the form or essential nature of a medium embeds itself in the message that it transmits; thus influencing how the message is perceived and understood. Ok, we might say, fair enough. How does that impact on everyday life though? I have reverted to Wikipedia for a decent paraphrased explanation of this:

‘McLuhan describes the “content” of a medium as a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.[8] This means that people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time.[7] As society’s values, norms, and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium.’

Some questions we might ask ourselves in light of these ideas…

  • Does the ‘medium/message’ theory leave space for critique of content?
  • What are the limitations of representation/reproduction?
  • Does mass reproduction canonise, fossilise or in fact dilute the essence of an original document, text or image?
  • Or does it in fact engender the democratisation of knowledge and information?

#LAPIS Week 1

I missed the first lecture (slapped wrist!!) I won’t tell you why as it’s a bit TMI (sorry) but I decided to complete the Venn diagram exercise, to show the logical relations (and differences) between libraries and publishing. (Links again! Hurrah!)

I started off by thinking in terms of binary oppositions…’open’—-‘closed’; ‘private’—-‘public’ and so on. However, I ended up with a lot more overlap than I expected (which I suspect was the point of the exercise….)


A Confession

I come from an arts background; professional, academic and cultural. I did an undergraduate degree in drama education and performance-making and have worked exclusively in small-scale arts organisations, galleries and museums.

I like contemporary art: you know, the sort that makes people go ‘oh, my five year old could do that!’

I like the sort of theatre performances that don’t have a proper storyline, or much of a script, and usually don’t even take place in a theatre.

I’m arty and I know it.

Bearing all that in mind, I’m still adjusting to the scary fact that I am currently doing a course that has ‘Science’ in the title. But! I decided to look at it as an opportunity to exit my comfort zone; to explore and engage with ideas and discourses that I hadn’t given headspace to before. And, as I should probably have predicted; I started seeing links between what I already know and what I am learning about on my course at City. Hence the title of this blog: the world (both physical and metaphysical) is a mass of discourses, theories, and pluralities of meaning. It can seem a complete mess. But it is a web. There are links everywhere. And this blog (as well as detailing ideas explored in our #LAPIS #INM380 lectures) will function as a space of reflection and discovery as I explore these links.

You Never Walk Into The Same Library Twice

Working in an academic library is great and all, but if you’re remotely interested in anything at all then you will be confronted constantly by productivity drains in the seductive shape of BOOKS. Last week, I fell prey to this little minx…

Non-places: An Introduction to Supermodernity by the French anthropologist Marc Auge.

I’ve come across it before in my undergraduate adventures in the realms of alternative theatre practice and as I flicked furtively through it I started to see some LIS resonances…

One of Auge’s ideas is that the ‘supermodern’ society is subject to constant ‘decentring’:

  • Cities are defined globally by their capacity to import and export people, products, images and messages.
  • They are defined spatially by quality, efficiency and scale of infrastructures; thus the ‘relation with the exterior is written into the landscape’. (Auge 2008)
  • In individual dwellings, television and internet stand in for the ‘hearth of antiquity’. (Auge 2008)
  • Finally, as individuals we are decentred from ourselves: we all use gadgets which place us in contact with the remotest parts of the outside world. We can exist in an intellectual/musical/visual environment wholly independent of our physical surroundings.

Sound familiar?? I can see links here to our discussions about information architecture, immersive documents and that much-used (and often mis-used) term INFORMATION OVERLOAD…. 

DIGRESSION KLAXON: While I was looking for an article on information overload I found loads of interesting pages and feverishly bookmarked them to read later. This, of course is information overload in action: trying to deal with more information than you are able to process to make decisions. But it has sparked my interest: brief glimpses of terms like ‘information diet’ and ‘infoxication’ have inspired the beginnings of thoughts which I will catch up on and might develop futher…

Anyway.  Back to Monsieur Auge. The room in his theoretical house that I am most eager to explore is the notion of ‘non-places’. So: ( please note that I am probably over-simplifying this theory…!)

  • An anthropological ‘place’ could be defined as a place inscribed with a social bond or collective history.
  • A ‘non-place’ could be defined as a place of transience and ever-shifting population, a place that is liminal and decentred. An airport lounge, a hotel room, a motorway service station, an internet café and so on.
  • We increasingly inhabit ‘non-places’ more frequently and for longer. Indeed, Auge admits that ‘…non-places are the real measure of our time’ and ‘[place] is never completely erased; [non-place] never totally completed.’ (Auge 2008 p. 64)

Now this for me is the really key implication for LIS:

‘If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be identified as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.’ (Auge 2008)

Going by that definition, I would argue that libraries are places and non-places at the same time. Traditionally a library is very deeply inscribed with collective history and concerned with shared identity. There can be a real sense of the library as one of the hubs of community, and indeed as an embodiment of the ‘hearth of antiquity’ that Auge notes the loss of.

However! Libraries are literally places of transience, with a temporary and ever–shifting population. You never walk into the same library twice, as a wise philosopher once didn’t say. And I am starting to see how a library is also a decentred place: yes, it facilitates the exchange of information but none of this goes on in the space itself. Indeed, verbal communication is often expressly forbidden. As library users we store information for use at another time, or we transmit/transmute it elsewhere. Similarly information and knowledge management is often concerned with the abstract and the intangible.

Some further questions:

  • If non-places are indeed the real measure of our time, how can LIS negotiate this? Are immersive documents the future?
  • How can we ensure that library spaces are dynamic and ever-developing and stop them becoming archaic?
  • How do we approach preservation?
  • What conversations do we need to have about the closure of libraries and the dissemination of collections? How do we tell people that this is A Bad Idea?


The image in my blog header is a work of art entitled The History of the World, by the 2004 Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller.  Deller is probably my favourite contemporary artist, responsible for works such as The Battle of Orgreave, in which he invited a historical re-enactment society to re-enact the violent confrontation between police and picketing minors in 1984 in Orgreave, South Yorkshire; and of course the Stonehenge bouncy castle.

Of The History of the World, Deller says ‘I drew this diagram about the social, political and musical connections between house music and brass bands – it shows a thought process in action’. ( But, as I was pondering last week’s DITA session, it started to look like something else to me. It looks like a web. It is a web. It is a network of information. It’s a database laid bare; an index to a world where you can go from bandstands in northern parks to Kraftwerk via the Miner’s Strike in a just a few easy steps.

I love music, and fashion, and I have always been interested in social history. I am becoming increasingly fascinated by the way socio-political issues are addressed by the popular culture of the day; how designers are influenced by street-style; how pop music can be a rallying cry against injustice. And in my world-view it is all interconnected. And as we learned in DITA last week meaning is always contextual, and always cultural. No form of discourse is hermetically sealed. We are always searching from a biased starting point.

In the light of this, my thoughts drifted towards the notion of sub-cultures. Punk. Mod. Rocker. Goth. New Romantic. This instinctive yet overt tribalism seems to me to be a very primal and deep-rooted aspect of what it means to be human. It is something I consider to be very important in understanding the world. So it follows that I might want to research it further, to analyse and investigate and feed my findings back into other areas of study. But how? There have been many books written on the subject, including Street Style by Ted Polhemus, which is as close as I will ever get to having a Bible.

There is also this website. However  it makes me itchy because it isn’t ordered or archived in a coherent way. And really, how can something as fluid and subject to mutation be indexed? Is it the impossible task? Can we ever start to think our way towards a taxonomy of sub cultures?

First Musings

I believe that, as well as providing us with opportunities for quiet contemplation and scholarly behaviours; libraries and information services should be active, alive and organic. They should be participatory spaces, inspiring users to try out new ways of engaging with the world and encouraging commitment to life-long learning. This awesomely ambitious mission statement requires a strong base triangulation model, in which effective information delivery systems and trained, adaptable staff are as important as engaging content.

Until very recently I worked in the library of the Imperial War Museum London. IWM oversees a national reference collection of printed material on all matters relating to conflict since 1914. The library comprises a myriad of different types of information items from books, journals and official government publications to maps, technical drawings and ephemera. I gained an excellent view of how information management is central to the ongoing development of IWM: as a centre for public engagement and life-long learning, as a commercial enterprise and as a renowned academic research institution.

The collections are accessible in a number of different ways. A fairly recent development has been the Explore History Centre (EHC), a user-centred walk-in space where visitors can access collections digitally and link to online databases as well as browsing a selection of books. Staff members from the Collections Access team are also present to answer questions and ‘sign-post’ visitors to the information they require. There is also a more formal research space where users can order further material from the library collections as well as the document and sound archives. This two-tier model is sensitive to the ‘personal user journey’: it is often the case that a visitor will wander in with a family history query- perhaps having rarely engaged with information services prior to this- and be guided towards engaging with the collections digitally or progressing to the research room. I observed that this informal approach has resulted in a highly diverse audience demographic, as the Collections Access team have developed the skills necessary to ‘coax’ users into articulating the nature of the information they seek, thus enabling them to discover the satisfaction of the finding process for themselves.

I am passionate about diversity within audience development, and believe that we should strive to create a network of information rather than a hierarchy. My favourite library collections at IWM are the ephemera collections. The term ‘ephemeral’ means to be transitory and exist only briefly; so ‘ephemeral items’ are by definition not intended to be retained or preserved. But many libraries and museums preserve them precisely because they tell us so much: because they are largely produced to meet the immediate and particular needs of society at a particular time they are a brilliant reflection of the ‘moods and mores’ of that society in a way that more formal documentation can never be. As the printer and ephemerist John Johnson said, ‘…the ephemera of today becomes the evidential data of tomorrow…’ (