Kind of Blue.txt-1

ASCII Prints

This is a silly little thing I was playing around with which has stuck with me so I’m recording it here in case it leads to something more.

I’ve long been intrigued by copyright over images, specifically the point where, through resolution degradation, similarity ceases to occur and a “new” image is created. Andy Baio bumped into this when Jay Maisel, who short the cover photo of Mile Davis’s A Kind of Blue album, objected to the pixelated version Andy used on his commissioned chiptune covers album, A Kind Of Bloop. Sure, the pixel version resembles and evokes the original, that’s kind of the point, but where do you draw the line?

L-R: The original cover, the pixel-art cover, and two further abstractions.

I guess the line is drawn at the point where a those familiar with the original can see it. So what about this?

That’s the computer code that, when read as a JPEG, produces this image on a computer screen. (Caveat - I removed all whitespace so it would fit in a rectangle and the whitespace is part of the code so it won’t actually render correctly, but you can create your own simply by changing .jpg to .txt)

So, to a computer, that collection of ASCII letterforms resembles the original photograph. Which begs my question - if I were to print and frame this code, and sell it, would it be copyright infringement? You could copyright the code that comes out of the creator’s computer (the original file uploaded to Flickr, for example) but what about derived versions that have been resized and compressed? The code for those will be completely different to the original.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, other than indulging my childish desire to piss off copyright-obsessed photographers, but I have a suspicion there’s something interesting hiding under there, something about how we attach meaning to visual art without acknowledging the underlying code which has its own meaning in a different language. And how this relates to pre-digital artistic mediums from the paint on the canvas to the photons on the cinema screen.

And, of course, it evokes The Matrix, which is where it all gets a little embarrassing to be fair so I’d better stop.