Ahoy, Me Hearties! Pirate Philosophy by Gary Hall

Open Access publishing is not all that scary

Yesterday, Film Studies For Free‘s author attended a very stimulating talk on a subject dear to this blog’s heart: Open Access publishing in the Humanities.

Tireless proponent and exponent of radical Open Access Professor Gary Hall gave his lecture — ‘Pirate Philosophy’ — as part of the Research in Progress Seminar Series at the School of Media and Film at the University of Sussex, a talk he had also delivered at his own institution, Coventry University. The Sussex event was chaired by Caroline Bassett, whose own writing on digital media is well worth checking out: click HERE for an online Open Access article by her on Web 2.0 and read about her new book, The Arc and the Machine: Narrative and New Media (complete with its discussion of Gus Van Sant’s film Elephant) HERE.

A description of the earlier version of Gary Hall’s talk, available online, reads as follows (with the odd hyperlink added, as usual, by FSFF):

This Lecture presented a series of performative media projects or ‘media gifts’. Operating at the intersection of art, media and philosophy, these projects – which include an open access archive and a ‘liquid book’ – are gifts in that they are part of the ‘academic gift economy’ which circulates research for free rather than as market commodities. They are performative in that they are instances of media that produce the things of which they speak and are engaged primarily through their performance.

The media gift that this Lecture focussed on was ‘Pirate Philosophy’. This project investigated some of the implications of internet pirate philosophy for the arts and humanities, particularly the latter’s ideas of authorship, the book, the academic journal, scholarly publishing, intellectual property, copyright law, content creation and cultural production. ‘Pirate Philosophy’ explores such ideas both philosophically and legally through the creation of an actual ‘pirate’ text.

Hall’s lecture richly explored all sorts of different models for Open Access as well as, very engagingly, the current relevance to these matters of the work of a variety of cultural theorists (most prominently Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Zygmunt Bauman, and the gift-economics of Marcel Mauss — ‘gifts are never free’, but instead often give rise to reciprocal exchange).

The question session at the end of the seminar showed that many of those attending were, in part, inspired by Hall’s call to piracy/self-piracy, but were residually anxious in the ways that academics employed (or working towards being employed) by the current system so often are about the challenges to conventional systems of academic, and other, authorship that Web 2.0 has raised, and that Web 3.0 will take even further. Hall’s tactical refusal to assuage those anxieties was well met by this attendee, though. A little pirate heartiness will indeed be necessary if the lockdown culture of Western Academia is truly to change. (But that’s easy for this blogger to say…)

All these debates are closely connected to ones about the spreadability of digital moving image materials as well as text-based ones. Interested FSFF readers should also check out Gary Hall’s website together with Culture Machine, the online journal he co-founded and edits, which will have an upcoming issue on Pirate Philosophy. You should also visit and support CSeARCH, the pioneering Humanities online-archive he co-founded in 1999. Hall’s latest book Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now is a highly compelling read, but you can get some sense of his detailed arguments from the following online conference proceedings piece: ‘The Politics and Ethics of Electronic Archiving’; and from the following interview: ‘OA in the Humanities Badlands’.

If you’ve got as far as this point in this post, ye verily deserve today’s final, ‘piratical’ gift: a video of Hall’s lecture as given at Coventry University on September 29, 2008:


Film Studies For Free‘s author promises to return to the fascinating questions about authorship, online and otherwise, raised by Hall’s work in a future post for her research blog Directing Cinema.

‘If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead’: Michael Moore, Henry Jenkins, and Sheila Seles

As many of you will already know (Film Studies For Free hopes), the best English-language Media Studies blog in the whole World Wide Web is Henry JenkinsConfessions of an Aca-Fan. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Two of the Aca-Fan‘s most recent posts (‘Why Universities Shouldn’t Create “Something like YouTube” (Part One)‘ and ‘Why Universities Shouldn’t Create “Something like YouTube” (Part Two)‘) are such important contributions to debates about the future role of the internet in university-level education (and beyond) that I feel they should be required reading for anyone at any level in the academy responsible for determining future policies about ‘user-generated content‘ and other related matters.

Film Studies For Free will leave that resounding recommendation with you for now. Today’s blog post is concerned more with a slightly different intervention from Jenkins and the MIT Comparative Media Studies lab, on ‘spreadable media’.

In the Aca-Fan‘s post on April 24, 2007, ‘Slash Me, Mash Me, Spread Me…‘, Jenkins wrote the following about ‘the sensibilities of a generation of popular artists who have grown up in an era of cult media’ and participatory culture.

They know what fan creativity can accomplish and they want to be part of the game rather than sitting on the sidelines.

At the same time, we can see this as reflecting the growing appreciation within the media industry of what often gets called “viral marketing“: that is, they recognize the buzz that comes when grassroots intermediaries embrace a property and pass it along to their friends. C3 research associate Joshua Green and I have begun exploring what we call “spreadable media.” Our core argument is that we are moving from an era when stickiness was the highest virtue because the goal of pull media was to attract consumers to your site and hold them there as long as possible, not unlike, say, a roach hotel. Instead, we argue that in the era of convergence culture, what media producers need to develop [is] spreadable media. Spreadable content is designed to be circulated by grassroots intermediaries who pass it along to their friends or circulate it through larger communities (whether a fandom or a brand tribe). It is through this process of spreading that the content gains greater resonance in the culture, taking on new meanings, finding new audiences, attracting new markets, and generating new values. In a world of spreadable media, we are going to see more and more media producers openly embrace fan practices, encouraging us to take media in our own hands, and do our part to insure the long term viability of media we like. [All hyper-links added by Film Studies For Free]

In her most recent posting (October 17, 2008) on the group blog Convergence Culture Consortium — ‘Looking a Gift Economy in the Mouth: Michael Moore’s SLACKER UPRISING’ — Sheila Seles very valuably takes up this matter of ‘spreadable content’ in relation to the kind of online, free, film content with which Film Studies For Free, not idly named, is hugely concerned: specifically, in Seles’ post, the free online distribution by documentarian Michael Moore of his latest film Slacker Uprising (get it HERE only if you reside in the USA or Canada).

I haven’t seen this film yet, but Seles asks some very important questions about Moore’s distribution tactic, and she compares the case of Slacker Uprising with that of other films distributed in this and similar ways, such as Robert Greenwald‘s Iraq for Sale, which used to be (putatively) legally available completely for free via Google Video (the much linked-to page suggests it’s now been removed).

Film Studies For Free urges you to read Seles’ fascinating post, and asks its readers earnestly for any opinions about her concluding argument in it, in the context of wider debates about spreadable culture: will ‘Slacker Uprising […] provide an interesting example of the impact of quality and branding as we try to articulate tangible distinctions between “free” content and content that will spread’?

We might wonder also if, to borrow Seles’ post’s titular metaphor (and ‘mashup’ along the way two old proverbs and a cliché), are these ‘gift horsesfor courses, or is there no such thing — in indie-film download-land, at least — as a truly free thoroughbred?

Answers, please, in an email or on a comments page.