Tactics, Strategies and Copyright Laws

Paraphrasing Lev Manovich paraphrasing Michel de Certeau, there are strategies and there are tactics; strategies are the tools of institutions to regulate our lives, and our tactics are the tricks and techniques we develop to deal with these big, impersonal structures and turn them to our own ends, like using the highway (strategy) but taking shortcuts (tactic) to get home faster; “In other words, an individual can’t physically reorganize the city but she can adopt itself to her needs by choosing how she moves through it. A tactic “expects to have to work on things in order to make them its own, or to make them ‘habitable’” (Manovich).

When we talk about strategies and tactics in the media, strategies tend to be the medium that product is delivered through (radio, television, the major label system) and tactics are ways that artists and fans try to communicate through that system. Manovich’s point is that, in recent years, the institutions have absorbed the tactics of self-definition (style choices like: punk, goth, metalhead, indie) and turned them into marketing strategies. People choose an identity and then express it by buying products that fit that narrow niche. I feel like what this means is that institutions have been very successful in their grand strategy, which is to make it so people’s concept of self-expression is inextricable from the logic of capitalism.

What is interesting about this is that there is now a conflict between corporate institutions over the source material of these (formerly?) grassroots self-definition tactics: art. The providers of popular art, like music (major labels, RIAA), want to make sure they can continue making money off of the product they produce, and they fight hard to protect their copyrights; other media channels, such as Google’s YouTube site, have flourished because of people violating copyright and sharing music and video content, often with their own twist on it (again, remixing as a form of tactic). In-roads are being made to mending these fences through pre-video ads and corporate synergy (think of how Bauuer’s Harlem Shake was monetized, or Gagnam Style), but there are still thousands of videos pulled down every day for violating copyright, even when the copyright being violated is incidental to why people are actually watching the video.

Banksy quote, as designed by Karina Nurdinova.

Banksy quote, as designed by Karina Nurdinova.

In my opinion, the key to making a free “cultural commons” is to rely on networks that corporations do not control, like The Pirate Bay, to gain access to the pop culture materials that produsers need in order to make remixes. The results can be uploaded to public networks like YouTube where a case can be made to protect them on the basis of their artistic merit/lack of having a profit motive. As Jenkins says, “we lose the ability to have any real influence over the directions that our culture takes if we do not find ways to engage in active dialogue with media industries.” It is not healthy for the culture as a whole if we receive the messages created by these corporations uncritically, and without a response tactic that changes the original object so that is suits our purposes as individuals and not just as consumers. As Banksy’s speech (in image form above) says about advertisements, “Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.”

Jenkins, H. (2004) The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence  International Journal of Cultural Studies March 2004 7: 33-43
Manovich, l. (2008) The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?


2 thoughts on “Tactics, Strategies and Copyright Laws

  1. I agree with your post, especially the last part about that any advertisement that involves public space and we have no choice but to see it is ours to do what we like with it, although to be devils advocate, some people might say it is the individuals responsibility to be aware of copying and remixing but I think that the big corporations need to take the brunt of the responsibility. I think it is going to be hard to control who owns what with the creativity that is out there and how easy it is to create videos, movies or anything online. I know a few year back I worked at CIBC and a client received a 10 million dollar settlement from sueing Disney for stealing his ideas. I am not sure the ins and outs but the big corporations think they can bully the individual and with the convergence of media companies buying up all forms of media, it might get worse. I think the individual should fight all they can !!

  2. You bring up an interesting point here; that of the reciprocal relationship we must adopt with mass media. I think your reference to Banksy says it perfectly; how are we to participate in the grand cultural “dialogue” when there are so many restrictions put on our modes of interpretation? What I really appreciate about your post is that, to me, it does not seem like you are proposing a rebellion, but rather, suggesting that we take advantage of the cultural materials that are imposed on us. True individualism, in a society that is governed by capitalism, is virtually impossible, but, through the “tactic” strategies you’ve discussed, we can further develop subgenres and sub-subgenres that meet our needs and tastes.

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