I ran across the phrase “intellectual disobedience” while putting together questions for an interview with artist Nina Paley (@ninapaley). Paley is active in the free culture space, so I figured the “intellectual” portion of that term must be related to “intellectual property.” During our chat at Foo Camp 2012, I learned there’s much more to it.
“Intellectual disobedience is civil disobedience plus intellectual property,” Paley explained. “A lot of people infringe copyright and they’re apologetic … If you know as much about the law as, unfortunately, I do, I cannot claim ignorance and I cannot claim fair use … I know that I’m infringing copyright and I don’t apologize for it.”
The phrase “intellectual disobedience” has a call-to-arms ring to it, but Paley characterized it as an introspective personal choice driven by a need to create. “It’s important for me as an artist to make art, and the degree of self-censorship that is required by the law is too great,” Paley said. “In order to have integrity as a human being and as an artist, I guess I’m going to be conscientiously violating the law because there’s no way to comply with the law and remain a free human being.”
It struck me that Paley’s stance plugs into a long-view sense of copyright inevitability — eventually, the momentum of real-world content use will overrun the blockades of entrenched content industries (this is already in progress). What’s interesting is that while Paley sees great hope in content culture, she doesn’t believe copyright laws will change anytime soon:
“I’m not hopeful for the laws changing. A lot of other people are, so maybe we’ll have meaningful copyright reform. I doubt it, and I don’t think it matters. I think the tools are available for people to create and share culture, and they’re going to do that. They might be doing it illegally, and at a certain point, it’s going to be more than the system can handle. I will say that if the power structure as it exists wants to continue, they’re going to have to reform. It’s not sustainable. Copyright law, as it is, is just completely out of touch with human behavior.”
I also asked Paley about the people and projects she’s following these days:
- The Non-Adventures of Wonderella
- Bob the Angry Flower
- Ebertfest: Roger Ebert’s Film Festival
You can see the full interview in the following video.