Copy, a user’s manual


Dominique Baffier, Pierre-Marc de Biasi, Olivier Bomsel, Laura Bossi, Daniel Bougnoux, Jean-François Colosimo, Régis Debray (organisateur), Françoise Gaillard, Antoine Gallimard, Alain Giffard, Robert Kopp, Yannick Maignien, Rémi Mathis, Hélène Maurel-Indart, Michel Melot, Louise Merzeau (organisateur), Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, Gérard Régnier dit Jean Clair, Maryvonne de Saint Pulgent, Monique Sicard, Vincent Tiffon

Dominique Baffier Michel Melot Maryvonne de Saint Pulgent Olivier Bomsel Laura Bossi Régis Debray Pierre-Marc de Biasi Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes Jean-François Colosimo Daniel Bougnoux Françoise Gaillard Monique Sicard Yannick Maignien Gérard Régnier dit Jean Clair Vincent Tiffon Antoine Gallimard Rémi Mathis Hélène Maurel-Indart Alain Giffard Louise Merzeau Robert Kopp Copie, mode d'emploi - Fondation des Trerilles, avril 2012


Copy, a user’s manual
by Régis Debray et Louise Merzeau
9 – 14 April, 2012


Organized by the journal Medium in collaboration with the Treilles Foundation, these interdisciplinary meetings aimed at questioning the values and conditions for copying in our culture, at a time when the rise of digital disrupts notions of ownership, originality and authenticity.

Copy, multiple, plagiarism, infringement, ownership, copy and paste, intellectual property, media studies

Organized by the journal Medium in collaboration with the Treilles Foundation these meetings aimed at examining values and methods of copying, from a mediological and interdisciplinary point of view, at a time when the rise of digital disrupts notions of property, originality and authenticity.
Regis Debray and Louise Merzeau introduced the discussion by recalling that the copy does not solely tend to trivialize the custom. Now part of information devices, the copy also forces mediators to re-consider its legitimacy, and question the traditional criteria of  legitimacy and  truth. This does not happen without tension, and this seminar intended to contribute to this difficult transition between two ages. First it recalled the many forms of copying through history (copying works, things, data, knowledge), and  sought to clarify the complex relationships the copy always maintained with the matrix, the original or the model. Then, it tried to discern what really brought the digital copy as a break in the logic of transmission.

The speeches were divided into four stages:

Origins: glorious copy – Genealogy
During the first day, interventions focused on intellectual property issues and copyright, hotbeds of concern among publishers as well as users. Maryvonne de Saint-Pulgent usefully reminded sources of copyright in France, before she questioned the current limitations of the public domain regarding the range of privileges granted to recipients. Jean-François Colosimo, the National Book Centre President, discussed the relative impact of digital technology on books, and emphasized on the necessity and vitality of mediations that regulate the industry. Olivier Bomsel focused back on “the institution of the sign, ” which link any publication to a presentation protocol and an economy of semantic productivity. Robert Kopp eventually showed how imitation and originality have alternately been valued or stigmatized, in literary theory as well as in the academic evaluation system, thus calling for a more nuanced approach of value oppositions.
Modalities: copious copy – Typology
The second day was devoted to a detailed examination of cases that show the diversity of copies and often their cultural ambiguity. Most commenters here have stressed the decisive role of logic accreditations, whether from the Academy or the market, and the importance of technical delivery of the copy.
By tracing a brief history of multiple (as opposed to the copy and imitation), Michel Melot has shown the paradoxes of artistic production in series and the artifices which this one must resort to so as to be recognized as original. Daniel Bougnoux reiterated the centrality of copying in the creative act, before forwarding the hypothesis of an allographic emancipation of works, as they come off the context of the aura, before engaging in games of interpretation. For his part, Jean Clair has presented a series of symptomatic cases, which show shifts of authority in works authentication and evaluation. He also showed how the copy could offer a richer perception than the original, depending on the conditions of the eyesight. Remi Mathis, Wikipedia France Director , has explained the special status of the online encyclopedia, between developing an original “work” and references to sources, both receptacle and knowledge resource for the copy. In the field of photography, Monique Sicard has returned to the inadequacies of a market that spends some images in a unique elitism, and that trivializes all others in absenting their materiality. Finally, Françoise Gaillard has presented examples of appropriation art, which paradoxically are playing with copyright while still rewarding the artist’s signature.

Annoyances: dangerous copy – Ethics
Broadening the scope of investigation, this third day sought to question the harm caused by the copy, under certain conditions of massification, homogenization, or delegation.
Elisabeth Ponsolle des Portes, the Comité Colbert’s General Delegate, first described the phenomenon of counterfeit luxury goods, where global industrialization is  being prejudicial to  knowhow and crafts vertues. For his part, Antoine Gallimard took note of the malaise that now surrounds his profession, advocating the importance of the contract with the author and the involvement of publishers in the life of ideas. Thus he wanted to distinguish the editorial postures of strategies pursued by the actors of the Web, named as industries of the copy. Helene Maurel-Indart returned meanwhile on the phenomenon of plagiarism, she addressed through the “gray areas” where the right is hardly setting clear boundaries between looting and inspiration. Finally, Pierre-Marc de Biasi showed how the digital process paradoxically causes an accurate shortage of copies, because the computing tools discourage authors to retain the successive states of their texts: updates practice makes so far memory lapses.
On this day, the concept of copy was also enriched by the intervention of Laura Bossi, who delivered the interpretation of biologists: from theories of evolution to that of symbiogenesis through heredity, she has in turn highlighted the ability for the living to change and ability to replicate – life is indicating precisely the combination of both.

Potential: promising copy – Futurology
In the last day, interventions focused on specific processes and challenges of the digital copy.
Describing the techniques and uses of copy-paste, Louise Merzeau set against a culture of copying, as art of editing and sharing, with an algorithmic management strategy, which threatens the cultural appropriation. Hence the claim of a right to copy, as a condition to transmission. For his part, Alain Giffard showed how “industrial readings” performed by and for robots copy the reader and cause attention conflicts which prevent from any meditation reading. In the field of virtual reconstruction, however, Dominique Baffier, curator of the Chauvet Cave, demonstrated how artifact and facsimile can not only preserve a threatened heritage, but also restore its mystery and splendor. Regarding music, Vincent Tiffon suggested that technical development has not fundamentally changed the place of the copy: it has always been at the heart of the processes of writing and composition, although “concrete music” (as DJ’s practices) has more systematized it than ever. In conclusion of these meetings, Yannick Maignien is meanwhile back on the relationship between copy, leaks and secret. At a time when the data are becoming increasingly present in the architecture of knowledge, issues of openness, transparency, retention and manipulation will acquire a new importance: the formation of opinions as the circulation of knowledge now depend on a subtle interplay between harvesting and source protection.


All presentations and discussions demonstrated the richness of this problem, and the desirability of crossing points of view and areas of expertise. The tensions introduced by the digital revolution are just more apparent. But also the countless resources available through the copy to creative or cultural process, and the need to revise many of the practices and standards to ensure sustainability.

This seminar will result in publishing a special issue of the journal Medium, forthcoming in summer 2012.

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