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Swede This Film!

Three things seem related today:

First:  I saw Be Kind, Rewind this weekend.  The movie has an amiable charm.  It’s a goofball of a film, wildly implausible at every level and built out of devices that scrape the pavement of the plot like broken mufflers.  But there’s a winning performance from Jack Black (is there any other kind?, as Jack Nicholson might say) and a populist heart that’s hard to ignore, even while Cinema Paradiso is a better film.  Cheers to the director and writer Michael Gondry for inventing the nonsensical “sweded” as a term to describe a Hollywood film that has been crudely and partly re-shot by video store employees using found objects and more than a little whimsy.  Jeers to Gondry for the idiotic “copyright lawyer” played by Sigourney Weaver, who shows up and claims that the “sweded” films are illegal under federal and state law.  Did Gondry’s write hand talk to left hand of lawyers who actually cleared the rights to the films that were “sweded”?  The official website, and the sweded films, is available here.  Surfing the blogosphere, it appears that there is a minor “sweding” insurgence around the world.

Congress might consider adding “the exclusive right to swede” to Section 106 of the Copyright Act.

Second:  Or not; people seem to think that they “own” something about the movies they watch and the culture they consume.  The gall. The Times reports today on the unresolved issues surrounding the Facebook application Scrabulous, which we might call a “sweded” version of the Scrabble board game.  It’s difficult to explain exactly why Scrabulous players don’t understand that the Scrabble game is copyrighted, except that it must seem mighty counterintuitive to suppose that anyone could own the right to build your own crossword puzzle, even to own the right to publicly perform your own crossword puzzle.   The idea/expression dichotomony doesn’t quite capture the sense that Scrabulous players are building something of their own, rather than building something that belongs to Hasbro; the game, like the sweded films, is something of a found object to be manipulated.

Thou shalt not swede?

Third:  Christoph Buchel is very, very angry.  Back in September, he lost his VARA claim against MassMoCA; the Copyright Act and a district judge didn’t agree with the art world’s conclusion that the museum should not have displayed an unfinished installation without the consent of the artist.  Buchel is striking back, making “art” out of the artifacts of the litigation.  There are two ways to go about this, it seems to me.  Buchel is taking the contentious path.  The artifactual legal world is an adversary, which can be subdued only by making it, literally, art.  By contrast, Christo and his wife, who at least as deeply as Buchel know the pain of legal process as it applies to art, strike me as taking a different (high) road.  Christo swedes the law; he’s been quoted as saying that the years of land use battles that precede his installations are part of the artistic process itself.  We, not it, are part of the art.

Swede this post.

(With apologies — not really — to Abbie Hoffman.)

3 thoughts on “Swede This Film!”

  1. I don’t see why the game is copyrighted. The rules of taking turns making a crossword puzzle word-by-word using a variety of letters is idea not expression. Other aspects of the game such as the number of tiles per player or the distribution of tiles are not copyrightable on either originality or merger grounds because they are largely determined by the structure of English words. It seems to me that the game is not copyrightable.

    The board, on the other hand, is probably is copyrightable, but the board is not the game. Admittedly, they did copy the board…

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