Part VII: Photographer Shoots Starling! Pictures Inside!
[Continued from Ungoo: Part VI]
The most recent attempt to create a common venue for cultural commentary and debate is Starafugl, a website started and edited by author Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl. It’s been around since last winter. As I have been involved in various ways, I am liable to be considered biased when I claim that Starafugl has had a convincing first few months. I claim it, all the same. Starafugl ran into trouble a few weeks back, when it received its first ever invoice. The invoice charged Starafugl for a photograph, that had been used to illustrate an article published on the site. The photo had already gone somewhat viral before it appeared on Starafugl, so chances are you have seen it. Figuring poet and bodybuilder Sölvi Fannar Viðarsson, standing tall, naked, in the midst of a mountainous scenery, resting his hands on an impressive sword, which also serves to hide his genitals, it is quite an image. Kristinn Sigurður Sigurðsson’s delightfully ambiguous article, which the image illustrated, employed irony, less towards the poet’s poetics, more against the derision the poet already suffered. The invoice was sent, on behalf of photographer Geirix, by Myndstef, an organization which takes care of collecting such fees.
So far so normal. As it is, though, the króna-free symbolic economy behind the website would not survive such charges becoming habitual. The editor closed the site for a week or two, then reopened with all images blurred beyond recognition. During the crisis, he has raised sensible questions about guidelines of fair use. He points out that such rules seem pretty clear when it comes to quoting texts, but nonexistent when it comes to images. An author has no rights, only duties, once quipped filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who, in his eight-hour TV-series on the history of cinema, relied heavily on hijacked clips from other people’s films. I agree with Godard on principle, but probably he got away with it, not on principle, but as an exception, mainly because he’s Godard. Copyright holders tend to have the force of law on their side. The actual consequences then often become a question of might rather than right. Which leaves me sympathetic towards the photographer as well. Access to funding is not equal among the arts, and most photographers are forced to rely completely on sales and royalties, or alternately, give it up.
All in all, this seems to be yet another example of copyright legislation in dire need of update. The case, however, also highlights the subject-material of this article: that open cultural critique, commentary and intellectual debate is now more or less a volunteer-based scene. Left mostly unpaid, it is precarious to the point of extinction, easily overturned by a photographer seeking remuneration for his work. The editor and the photographer are, if not on the same boat, then wading through very similar waters.
[To be continued …]