The idea of creating a music video for someone without permission has been floating around in my head for a couple of years now. I knew that in order to be successful at it certain variables would have to come into play in exactly the right order. Those variables occurred on the night of September 19th at about 11pm.
I was reading a blog about graffiti and found a link to the leaked files of the new Thom Yorke single (which I had not heard about). Being a fan I downloaded them right away and was struck by the intensity of the b-side track “the Hollow Earth.” Listening to the track a couple of times I realized that a video for this piece would be perfect. I began sketching out my idea, collecting the variables – which include a large number of Banksy‘s pieces – and began editing and rendering the video. By 3am on September 20th I had finished the version I would put up on youtube.
In the ‘about’ section I wrote that the video was ‘official’. I also specifically wrote the kind of details I had found on other official videos for Radiohead and other bands. After waiting for the video to upload I went to bed, it was after all 4am.
When I got up on the morning of the 20th the video had received about 1500 hits, which is a lot for my work. I was impressed and after making coffee and thinking about the shape of the video and its content I decided this is the video that I had been thinking about making for some time.
I immediately began promoting the video to the world. I posted it on my facebook and myspace pages, sent links to some Radiohead forums and facebook fan pages and then finally about 3pm in the afternoon I decided to write a press release for the video. The short 300 word press release was sent to all the major media outlets I had contacts for. At this point the youtube video had less than 2000 hits.
Throughout the day the youtube count stayed the same (about 1800 hits) but the ratings went up and so did the comments. (The count often stays a static number for long periods if there is a lot of traffic). The majority of the comments I received were very positive about the video.
The next morning (Sept 21st) I woke to find that the video had 26,500 hits. That’s about 24k in 24 hours. I discovered that the online music magazine NME had run a piece on the video and that there feed was spreading across the web like wildfire. By noon on the 21st it was being featured on sites including Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, BBC, the Guardian, Dose, and many many others as well as hundreds of blogs and Radiohead fan sites. I was astonished.
Then at about 3pm that afternoon I received an email from Holly Cushing – Banksy‘s agent. After negotiating our talking on the phone (neither of us wanted to give out a number) we eventually had a conversation. She explained that Banksy does own the ‘intellectual property rights’ to all of his images and that he was upset about the video. I apologized and said I did not want to upset Banksy but that the video was done without permission from he or Yorke. I described it to her as a “prank.” Once she realized this (that I was not paid by Yorke to make the video and did not have permission) she was much easier about the whole thing but asked that I retract anything that might suggest Banksy’s intentional involvement. I said I would do what I could. I then changed the word ‘courtesy” to the words “appropriated from” in the youtube credits.
By this point things were pretty out of hand. The various sites that had picked it up had spread it everywhere. Some sites, starting with Pitchfork, had tried to get a quote from Yorke and Banksy about the video and upon finding out they had nothing to do with it amended their articles to say the video was unofficial. Many other sites followed suit over the next few hours. Often just putting the letters “un” before official in their existing articles. None of them removed their articles or the embedded video link to my work.
But the virus had already spread too far. Thousands of sites had picked up the video, the cumulation being a TV spot made by ITN for the EU newsfeed. By the time I woke up on the morning of Sept 22nd the video had reached 30k hits on youtube.
This morning when I awoke on Sept 23rd the video was still on youtube. It had 48,000 hits, 200 ratings (4.5 stars out of 5) and 37 comments. It had been reviewed on hundreds of websites and was being talked about by thousands of people, not bad for three days. But I wondered, when would Yorke chime in on all of this?
That came this afternoon at about 1pm. I went to youtube to check the progress and got the pink slip that said that
“This is to notify you that we have removed or disabled access to the following material as a result of a third-party notification by Thom Yorke claiming that this material is infringing: Thom Yorke – The Hollow Earth – by Raymond Salvatore Harmon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2DQ50-4qXY”
Ironically at that time there were, and still are, 6 or more other videos that use the same audio. Most of them just a still image but two of them are actually my video just uploaded by other people.
I have to ask myself, why is it that my work, which was born out of creativity, is more of a copyright violation than the others that merely wish to spread the music? Especially considering the audio is now available as a free download online!
This whole thing, an experience in creating a viral video piece and manipulating the mass media due to their weakness for iconic celebrities like Banksy and Yorke, is part of the larger picture of my work. The media controls what you know, but who controls the media? My 300 word ‘press release’ caused a lot of conversation over the past few days. But I am no pro – how many press releases come from corporations that dictate what the media tells us? How can we know the truth? When something is labeled “official” or “safe” how can we be sure it is? The reality is that we have no idea and never will.
Years ago I meet Alejandro Jodorowsky after a screening of Holy Mountain at the Chicago Underground Film Fest and asked him about the esoteric influences on his work. I said, “What made you read those books that this imagery comes from?” His reply was this:
“When I was young I was looking for the truth. Now that I am old I know there is no truth.”
PS The most amusing part of this entire spectacle has been to watch as Radiohead fans run amok talking about the whole thing online. The ongoing debate about the degree to which I am an “asshole” and a “douchebag” among half literate 15 year olds has left me with a smile for the past week.
If you are hated, then people are doing what they have been told to do. That they are discussing the work means that the shape of the project is complete. The individual opinions don’t matter – what matters is that they have been controlled but it is unfortunate that they do not perceive the extent of this control.
No idea how long it will last: