I posted the Sonic Outlaws video about Negativeland the other day, and I’ve now actually had the chance to look through it fully. In it there are plenty of interesting sound-bites and quotes that got me thinking about the nature of appropriation and the artistic traditions that exist around the subject. There’s also a few other things that I need to research further that were mentioned in the film. Things like Detournment, (which a very quick Google search seems to show originates from Guy Debord and SI), someone called Marshall McLuhan and the Billboard Bandits (not necessarily in that order).

Returning to Negativeland, I suppose they should be classed as Culture Jammers; they take clips of audio from various sources including TV, records, radio scanners and the like (and also video in the live shows) and mix it up, repurposing and recontextualising it before redistributing it as their own work. The crux of the film revolves around discussion of the appropriation of some U2 clips and the ensuing legal battle and how this stacks up with both the law as it stands, and the history of appropriation through the ages. On the face of it, U2 themselves may not have been against what Negativeland were doing, certainly that’s what The Edge said in the interview, that it was the record company’s doing, but the first problem would have been the “U2″ cover and how this would fall outside of the copyright fair use clause that would allow them to carry on…

(I guess the copyright rests with Negativeland, but possibly a bit contentious)

The cover could cause confusion and financial loss as it could lead to people buying that instead of the new U2 album that was due for release around the same time. In a story filled with amusing turns, the band took advantage that the news machine does exactly as they did and re-reported a bogus press release (without checking any facts) that the band were somehow connected to an axe murder that occurred, supposedly, following a row over one of their records. This went from fanzine to music press to mainstream news to the point the story had to be retracted. A story that was appropriated without question – as one of the members of Negativeland mentioned – reprinting, cannibalising and copying is so routine, it’s frightening!

Much of the discussion centred around the nature of the arts and a history of appropriation and copying, be it a tune that is reused for something else, or how paintings inform painters, how something will sbde incorporated in the art of another and presented to the viewing public as something new: “In the visual arts there is a long-standing tradition of found image collage, from [Kurt] Schwitters and [Bazon? Not sure who is being referred to here] Brock, and [Robert] Rauschenberg and [Andy] Warhol. In modern terms, appropriation is often about culture jamming, capturing the corporately controlled subjects of the one way media barrage, reorganising them to be a comment upon themselves and spitting them back into the barrage for cultural consideration.” (circa 35min into the film)

All this ties in with the idea of visual culture, of these representations (TV, music/muzak, high art, speech, dreams and ultimately society) and how it structures the way people behave (loosely from Visual Methodologies). At the start of that book, there is also an introduction to occularcentrism, and the centrality of the visual to Western society – something the postmodernists, SI, Debord and Baudrillard spoke of, and something I will inevitably come back to later during the MA.

Another ironic turn of events was with the ZooTV tour when U2 appropriated TV images and redistributed them as part of the show. Surely this is exactly the same as what they sued Negativeland for, although as they are “bigger” they got away with it, with many of the media providers probably happy to be appropriated by U2 in this way…

There was also some discussion on the copyright laws (of America) and fair use in terms of parody. Now, I’d always considered a more traditional use of the word:

1. An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect:
the film is a parody of the horror genre (from

however, there is another definition too:

Although a parody can be considered a derivative work under United States Copyright Law, it can be protected from claims by the copyright owner of the original work under the fair use doctrine, which is codified in 17 U.S.C. § 107. The Supreme Court of the United States stated that parody “is the use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comments on that author’s works”. That commentary function provides some justification for use of the older work. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. (from

The UK laws are different but changing, so will see on that one.

Lots to think about and something of small level of reassurance that Some Unholy War / Victory are not going to get me into too much trouble…

Rose, G (2014)
Visual Methodologies. 3rd Edition. London. Sage Publications Ltd

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