Design by Calum Clark/AS Publicity Center

Evan Marczynski/The AS Review

It is a behemoth of images, sounds and information that we interact with every day, even when we do not realize that interaction is taking place. It makes us laugh, cry, think and seethe. It is our vast, ever-evolving media.

But who owns all of those pieces of information and artistic creation that exist in this intangible web of mass communication, and how are people dealing with current laws that regulate which of those pieces can and cannot be accessed and used?

On Tuesday, May 18 and Wednesday, May 19, the AS club Students for Media Literacy will present Media LitFest 2010, a free, two-day media literacy conference which focuses on intellectual property and copyright laws.

Sam Parker, founder of Students for Media Literacy, created the conference as part of his self-designed Fairhaven concentration centered around media literacy.

Parker said he is interested in exploring how media systems work and what can be done to make them as free and open as possible.

“I’ve always been interested in exploring the bigger picture of how we communicate,” he said.

To kickoff the conference, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday in the Fairhaven Auditorium,   archivist, writer and filmmaker Rick Prelinger will present a lecture titled “Yours, Mine and Theirs: Copyright and Cultural Heritage.” The lecture will focus on intellectual property and copyright laws and how they affect people’s ability to access highly influential cultural and artistic creative work.

Prelinger is the founder of the Prelinger Archives in San Francisco, Calif., which is a collection of over 60,000 films, most of which were donated to the Library of Congress in 2002. He also co-founded the Prelinger Library, a privately-funded public library, also based in San Francisco, which contains thousands of books and periodicals, as well as digital literary material.

Later that evening at 7 and 9 p.m., Students for Media Literacy and ASP Films will show a documentary titled “Copyright Criminals” in Viking Union 552. The film will also be shown twice the following night (Wednesday) at the same times and location.

The 2009 film, directed by Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod, examines the creative and commercial value of the practice of sampling in popular music. After the screening, there will be a panel discussion about the issues brought up in the film.

From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Viking Union 565, there will be a local media panel with representatives from a number of Bellingham-based media organizations and publications such as What’s Up! magazine, Grow Northwest and Cascadia Weekly.

Parker said the local media panel will talk about how community-based publications should function and how they can help democracy on a local level.

The final event will be a second lecture by Prelinger titled “History is One Second Ago and How You Can Intervene in the Future,” from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in SMATE 110.

Parker said he chose to focus the conference on copyright law because the debate surrounding who should own the rights to intellectual or artistic property is a dense and complex topic that people do not always pay much attention to.
He said copyright law affects college students in particular, from the widespread use of online file-sharing networks to students who create films or play popular music in a public space.

“It affects a lot of what happens in our daily lives, especially in the creative sphere,” he said.

Parker said that one aspect of copyright law he finds frustrating is the fact that the current laws seem to be set up more to protect the financial interests of large media companies who hold the ownership rights to particular creative works, rather than those rights being held by the artists who created the works.

“It often feels like it’s a system that’s set up to protect profits, rather than encourage or ensure any sort of intellectual freedom,” he said.

He added that he thinks this type of system can be dangerous to society because culture is made by people taking bits and pieces from past artists who have influenced them and using those pieces to make new creative work. Copyright laws stifle this by giving the rights of use and ownership to historical or influential creative work to media companies who milk them for profit instead of sharing them with other artists who want to use them to create new things, he said.
“I think some of the most interesting ideas that often impact culture as a whole are coming from the fringe … from people who are not in a position to profit from these copyright laws,” Parker said. “They are the ones restricted the most by them.”

By the end of the conference, Parker said he hopes that attendees will have gained a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding media literacy and copyright law.

He said the lectures, panel and film he has organized are not intended to definitively answer difficult and abstract questions, such as what is the future of media or what is the best direction for media to head in. Instead, the events are designed to help people recognize how the issues affect their daily lives.

“If I can get people to start asking questions, I think that’s absolutely the right step,” Parker said. “That’s ultimately the goal.”