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The Art of Adaptation of Art
And the rails are being laid to civilize the web3 wild west. Plus why you shouldn't write off Meta completely (occasional dunking on Zuck aside).
1/ Fair Use vs. Warhol’s Factory
We live in the golden age of online art piracy. Platforms like eBay, Etsy, and Amazon are rife with “print-on-demand” scams cashing in on the estates of artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol (all of which stopped authenticating works in 2012). Any painting, poster, or print you purchase online these days comes shrouded with the possibility that it might be as “limited-edition,” “vintage,” or “original” as it claims. That plausible deniability allows buyers and sellers alike to maintain the fantasy that they could truly win the lottery. Maybe you really can score a Basquiat for $189.99 because some mysterious collector left them “in storage” then conveniently “died in 2013.” You’ve seen Pawn Stars, right?
This Schrödinger’s cat style game of Real / Fake Russian Roulette that dominates the discourse around technology and art today makes last week’s Supreme Court hearing over Andy Warhol’s Prince series a matter of monumental importance for artists’ everywhere.
The story begins in 1981. Lynn Goldsmith, veteran photographer of rock stars (whose work can be found on over 100 album covers) had been commissioned by Newsweek to take a series of portraits of up-and-coming artist Prince. In studio, Goldsmith accentuated the musician’s androgyny and vulnerability with purple eyeshadow and lip gloss, then adjusted the lighting so that the final shot captured tiny pinpricks of light in his eyes. Ultimately, Newsweek opted to run the story with images captured at a Prince concert rather than the studio shots, so Goldsmith held on to the photos for future publication or licensing.
Just 3 years later, Prince had become a global phenomenon and Vanity Fair reached out to Andy Warhol to create an illustration for a feature on the musician. One of Goldsmith’s black-and-white photos was put forward by the magazine as a reference, and the photographer was paid $400 in licensing fees along with the promise that the image would only be used in this one issue of Vanity Fair. There’s no evidence Warhol himself was aware of the licensing agreement, but he went on to produce 16 silk-screens — which he copyrighted. One of which ran with the article:
When Prince died in 2016, Condé Nast ran a tribute and paid the Warhol Foundation $10,250 to run the original illustration on the cover. Goldsmith received no payment or credit, causing her to eventually sue the Foundation. Her claim? That Warhol infringed on her copyright and the Foundation owes her potentially millions in unpaid licensing fees and royalties.
As riveting as copyright laws are, this lawsuit over how much or how little Andy Warhol “transformed” Goldsmith’s original photographs may change how courts look at art going forward.
The Biden administration, which has come down on Goldsmith’s side, argued in legal filings that Warhol’s silkscreens shouldn’t be treated differently from books that are creatively adapted into movies. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the art world has turned out in support of the Warhol Foundation — which has generously helped fund conceptual artists like Barbara Kruger for years.
Warhol’s legacy — particularly the many artists, filmmakers, musicians, and literati he inspired through the Factory — is viewed by many as the paradigm of “transformative fair use” in visual art. Sampling, collage, reproduction, and homage have been a cornerstone of the creation of art of all different types of mediums for years — and artists are understandably touchy at the prospect of being forced to put these concepts into black-or-white boxes.
“If Andy Warhol’s work is no longer considered fair use, it could send a chilling message for rising and current artists whose work rely on pre-existing materials and works of art.”
— Cathay Smith, professor @ the University of Montana’s Blewett School of Law
In Kruger’s work for example, referential sampling as a vehicle for social commentary is the point:
It remains to be seen where the judges will come down on the issue, which will mark the first time the highest court in the United States delivers an opinion on what is and is not a work of art since 1994 — when it established that parodies can qualify for fair use protections. The ramifications of that ruling are still being felt today in everything from South Park and SNL to hip-hop — and this landmark case could be the next watershed moment.
2/ Zuck May Have the Last Laugh
If you’re reading this, you’re probably at least a semi-futurist. At F T R Lens, we’re obsessed with new technology and its potential impacts on society and culture. So we actually have something very much in common with both an internet supervillain and walking meme:
Mark Zuckerberg does himself no favors in the PR department, and his decision to go all-in on the metaverse has not been received well by Wall Street. Meta’s recent releases have been less than exciting and the stock has taken a nose dive (down >62% on the year). Though that may change as I force my family and friends to buy the Meta Quest so we can play Among Us in VR (now you can lie with your arms!):
Whatever you think of it’s fearless leader, Meta is truly taking a long-term view of the ‘metaverse’ and building some incredible hardware to make that future a reality while Apple’s Tim Cook and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel bet big on augmenting reality. It’s a battle of philosophies and ideas — Apple’s “walled garden” vs. Zuck and Tim Sweeney of Epic Games’ “interoperable worlds.”
Zuckerberg believes that the medium through which we experience the metaverse will not be a phone or computer — but a headset (eventually glasses) allowing for Mixed Reality experiences — and some of the technology demonstrated at Meta Connect 2022 (that I begrudgingly had to watch on Facebook) was truly compelling.
‘Anchoring technology’ will allow designers to build virtual objects or add virtual effects in a physical environment.
And allow for a much cooler desktop setup (it’s Minority Report - adjacent):
And interfacing with the device will get far more efficient. AI assistants will work in the background adapting to your movements and customizing how you actually engage with the tech. Eventually, the smallest of movements such as clenching a knuckle could deliver instructions to the device. Definitely an improvement over QWERTY.
Finally, Avatars still look goofy af but are seeing steady improvement. The ability to make eye contact and facial expressions really do add a level of presence that cannot exist on Zooms. Meta may be the butt of the joke now, but if the metaverse manifests as they predict, Zuckerberg will have the last (odd) laugh.
3/ From Extralegal to Legit: Taming the Web3 Wild West
Web3 is often and fittingly referred to as the Wild West. It’s the frontier of the internet — largely self-regulated by visionaries, opportunists, and madmen who buck against the “establishment” way of doing things.
But here’s the thing: in reality, living in the Wild West sucked. You had to watch your back at all times because outlaws, freak accidents, and the elements were liable to cause you to drop dead at a moment’s notice. Which is to say nothing of the general lack of running water, sanitation, and electricity.
If the Web3 is in it’s “Wild West” phase, expect it to be over soon. Web3 only really made it onto the radar of our lawmakers in 2021 when they brought executives from across the industry to explain the technology’s potential.
Since then, there has been Biden’s Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets. And now, the SEC is probing Yuga Labs (creator of Bored Apes Yacht Club) over their NFT sales and whether they are securities.
Yuga Labs may at one point have been operating at the edge of the law, but they’ve been preparing to go ‘legit’ for a long time. And while the SEC finally getting its hands dirty has freaked out the NFT world at large (not the first time)… This is actually a near ideal scenario to begin taming the Wild West in a way that protects investors without handicapping a budding tech revolution.
As we opined in the last edition, this is a huge step in the right direction of building trust with communities outside of the core crypto bro audience — many of whom still see NFTs as a money-laundering scheme (see: the latest EU draft bill).
Yuga Labs is the leader in the space and have been preparing for this moment. If anyone is prepared to go to battle (or work) with the SEC, it’s them.
The next step in taming the West? Elections. Since that 2021 Congressional Hearing, candidates and incumbents have realized that the crypto/web3 space will be voting, and an informed stance on the future of digital assets will be necessary to earn them.
Whether a candidate has a clue or not, they will now find themselves and their “crypto sentiment scores… based on publicly available statements” on Coinbase for their 103,000,000 users to see. And soon, those 103M will have the opportunity to donate right in the app:
In short order, the Wild West wasn’t so wild. And now railroads are being laid in web3 — meaning more people can start building and setting down roots. Civilization is coming (and that’s a good thing).
…And In Case You Missed It
F1 is prepping to enter the metaverse and filed eight trademark applications for “F1” related to NFT, metaverse and crypto
Google continues leaning into crypto making Ethereum address now searchable and allowing users to pay with crypto for cloud services
The White House releases an AI Bill of Rights
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