Free! magazine



News: April 9, 2004

Heads up, Harry Potter fans (and foes). Stay Free! was recently fortunate enough to sponsor a screening of Wizard People, Dear Reader, at the NY Underground Film Festival and we're so taken with it that we have made it available for download on the Illegal Art Exhibit site.

To experience this, you'll need to get a copy of the first Harry Potter movie and watch it with the sound off, replacing the original soundtrack with the Wizard People mp3s.

But first, some background: WIZARD PEOPLE, DEAR READER -- a retelling of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR's STONE -- is nothing short of brilliant. Its creator, Brad Neely of Austin, Texas, is a comic-book artist, but you won't find any of his images here. Instead, WIZARD PEOPLE uses the entire visual portion of the first Harry Potter movie, stripping out the sound and replacing it with Neely's own gravely voiced narration. That the movie is two-and-half hours long should indicate that the guy is a little, well, obsessive (which for me was one of the lures). But novelty alone does not a movie make; even Neely's friends -- his intended audience -- would probably have a hard time sitting through this if it weren't so stunningly crafted.

The characters in WIZARD PEOPLE are much like those in HARRY POTTER, and in the end, the key parts of the story are essentially unchanged. Neely's creation is of course a different version, and, despite a few "fuck words," it's an affectionate take on HP. As such, WIZARD PEOPLE owes less to Mystery Science Theater than to the musical cover song. Some will want to call this a parody, but to do so oversimplifies its art. Neely has taken a film widely considered to be a faithful rendering of a book and made it inescapably literary, a story in the old-time sense. Broken into chapters, Neely's words create images that flesh out the ones on screen. Harry's obnoxious cousin "Roastbeefy" is rendered "a mean little puke who is borderline retarded and must shout moistly every stupid sentence he manages to piece together."

When Harry selects his first magic wand, the narrator clues us in:

"Ed Vanders rushes into Harry's view like a scarecrow carcass, a dreadful visage indeed... Master H is beginning to feel animosity toward his own celebrity. Harry gazes at the man's skin, a ketchupy callus of a face. 'I will make spells that save me from looking like him.' Harry [notes]... The mental notes are stacking."

In a way, WIZARD PEOPLE almost seems to be a throwback to oral story-telling. The soundtrack makes a certain kind of sense without the accompanying movie, but that's like listening to the teacher read a picture book without the pictures. WIZARD PEOPLE is bookish but not quite a book, movie-like but not quite a movie. Neely has, one imagines, hit upon something entirely new. And that, dear readers, is a roundabout way of saying that you simply must check this out. We've posted the audio portion of WIZARD PEOPLE, which you can download and burn onto two CDs. You'll also need a copy of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which you can rent or buy as you choose. See the website for full instructions.

Major thanks to Ed Halter for turning us on to this.


News: March 26, 2004

For those of you following the copyright wars, our hero, Lawrence Lessig, has a new book out that should be required reading. "Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity" is available in hardback from Penguin Press. But leave it to Larry to go and give the whole damn thing away! Yes, Professor Lessig has posted the entire book online, under a Creative Commons, so users can download it gratis.

Or if you prefer, here's a short excerpt.

In other copyright news, Lessig is involved (albeit indirectly) in another challenge to the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). Two archives that post public domain books, films, audio, and other works on the internet have asked a federal court to declare that copyright restrictions on orphaned works -- works whose copyright has not expired but which are no longer available -- violate the constitution.

This may sound a lot like the recent Eldred v. Ashcroft case but it's not. Essentially, this suit is about allowing works whose copyright owners are missing in action to revert to the public domain. The plaintiffs in the case are the Internet Archive and Prelinger Archives. The Prelinger Archives, for example, contains thousands of educational, industrial, and "how to" films, from the late 1920s to the present. Many of these films can't be digitized and posted online because the copyright owners can't be found. Back when you had to renew copyrights, over eighty percent of all copyrights were not renewed, which enriched the public domain. But with the passage of CTEA, the public domain is withering, and these films are likely to deteriorate and be lost.

What's interesting here is that they're using the Eldred Supreme Court decision *upholding* CTEA to argue *against* the CTEA and the related Berne Convention Implementation Act (BCIA).

Stay Free! interview with Rick Prelinger of Prelinger Archives. Kahle v. Ashcroft FAQ

New York-based artist Joy Garnett has been threatened with a lawsuit for creating Molotov, a painting based on a 1978 photograph. Though Joy has removed an image of the offending work from her website, supporters have rallied around her cause and created art based on HER art. You can see the image and read more about it here:

My personal faves, of the Molotov-inspired artwork:

A bill now circulating in Congress would make it easier to pursue criminal prosecutions against file sharers. According to Sen. Orrin Hatch ("Sen." stands for Senile), operators of peer-to-peer networks are running a conspiracy in which they lure children and young people with free music, movies and pornography.

News: March 8, 2004


If there's anything more mind-numbing than dealing with legal threats it's writing about them, so I'll keep this short: Capitol/EMI seems to have backed off on its threats to sue us (and others that have posted DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album) but now Sony has stepped forward with threats of its own. There are, after all, two sets of copyright for every music recording: rights to the composition and rights to the master recording. EMI owns the rights to the master recording of the Beatles' White Album (which the Grey Album samples) but Sony owns the compositions. This past week, lawyers at Sony/ATM told our internet service provider (ISP) to take down the Grey Album recordings from the Illegal Art Exhibit site or risk legal action. Our ISP complied, but we're now happy to report that we've moved the site to another web host. The Grey Album is once again now available, along with other "infringing" works, at Thanks to our ace legal team (EFF, Kurt Opsahl, and Kohel Haver) and the Online Policy Group for helping get us back up.


Stay Free! just received a contract asking us to approve the use of Stay Free! issue #21 as set dressing for an upcoming Hollywood production... which means that at some point during The Jacket (starring Adrien Brody, Kris Kristofferson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh), a copy of Stay Free! may appear. The fact that companies feel they have to clear every copyrighted or trademarked item that appears on screen is problematic but, hey, I've always wanted to be a product placement.

(I did this a year ago but it's still mostly relevant. From the fine zine Crimewave USA. )


Saturday, March 13, 10:30 pm - Stay Free! is sponsoring a screening of Wizard People and Harry Potter Parking Lot at the New York Underground Film Festival. Hope to see you there! Anthology Film Archives, 2nd Ave. at 2nd Street.

    Wizard People: Brad Neely took the first Harry Potter movie, cut out the sound, added his own narration and -- voila! -- Wizard People. Apparently, the home-made mutation was so hilarious that NYUFF folks leapt at the chance to show it. As I have yet to see it, I'll take their word for it.

    Harry Potter Parking Lot is another installment in Jeff Krulick's "Parking Lot" series, this time documenting mega-fans waiting in line to meet author JK Rowling. Memo to non-New Yorkers: you can watch this short online here.

Saturday and Sunday, March 13-14, Socialist Scholars Conference at Cooper Union. Stay Free! will be tabling on both days. Come out and say hi!


News: February 25, 2004

Ah, the saga of DJ Dangermouse continues. EMI sent out a cease and desist notice to Stay Free!/Illegal Art and about 150 other websites this week, claiming "willful violation of [copyright] laws." EMI wanted to prevent Grey Tuesday, an online protest of Capitol's attempt to squash Dangermouse's "Grey Album," from taking place. This New York Times article below has the crucial background info.

What this means for Stay Free! is as of yet unclear. I'd much rather report on other people's lawsuits than get dragged into one myself, but, having spent over a year praising artists who have stood up to this sort of corporate bullying, we can't very well duck out ourselves.... so we haven't removed the contested mp3s, and don't plan to. With luck, Capitol will back down and realize that suing a bunch of marginal publishers is only going to bring more publicity to an album they'd like to suppress. But if they do come after us, we'll have a rock solid fair use argument. Prof. Zittrain's comment (see the NYT story) notwithstanding, there are exactly zero laws that state that what we're doing is illegal. Nor, for that matter, are there laws forbidding Dangermouse from appropriating the Beatles's recordings -- these legal threats are all based on the precedent set by a single court case from the early 1990s (See O'Sullivan v. Biz Markie). A habit, in other words.

You can find the cease and desist letter on the Downhill Battle site (I would post it myself but I'm lazy... and, besides, the letters are pretty much all the same).

Also, here's the man who signed it.

all for now,


News: November 18, 2003

In our current issue, Alexandra reviews an amazing 1973 public service movie by Disney, entitled VD Attack. Thanks to our man Skip at AV Geeks, you can now download the film if you have a high-speed connection:

Right-click here to download
(749 mb; Click here for help with this mpeg2 file.)



We've been inconsistent about running letters to the editor in the past but, for the record, we gladly accept them and will run them in the magazine whenever space permits. Here's a recent one from the 'hood:

Re: "Secret Shopper" by Matthew Flaming (Issue 21)

Flaming forgot to include the price-per-measure information below the shelf price of many products. Ostensibly, these notices allow shoppers to do price comparisons, but the units priced vary between brands -- from weight to volume to whatever else they can think of. One jar of grape jam will be per pound, one per gallon, and one per 100 jars. I've even seen items labeled per item, i.e., a bag of rice labeled $4.99 on the price tag and $4.99/unit for price comparison.

I recently confronted a manager at my local Key Foods about this and was told that these numbers are provided by the manufacturers, not the stores, and that the stores have no control over them! In any case, I have been taking a Sharpie with me when I shop and adding my own comments to the tags when they are incorrect or give inane information.

Adam Steinberg
Brooklyn, NY



EXPERIAN: The Experian corporation claims to "hold more demographic and credit information on individuals and businesses than any other company in the world," and that very well may be. But what caught my eye was a new item in the company's fall catalog. Experian is now offering marketers the chance to use what it calls a "True Hipster" database. The catalog doesn't identify how Experian identified the true hipster, but from the accompanying photograph we know he wears a beige ski-cap and sunglasses.
(Thanks to Chris Hoofnagle)

DOWNHILL BATTLE: Here's a great site about how the music industry--with help from Apple's iTunes--is screwing over musicians as well as fans. A smart look at the politics of filesharing: Downhill Battle. See especially iTunesiSBogus
(Thanks to Noah Scalin)

From the WALL STREET JOURNAL: 'Two, Four, Six, Eight... This Pill Works Great!' Doctors Try Placebo Effect to Boost Power Of Real Drugs; Manipulating the Patient
Unfortunately, this WSJ article ignores the crucial point that if doctors are allowed to lie to patients en masse then patients will trust them even less. It also says nothing about direct-to-consumer advertising, which in itself feeds placebo effects. I wrote about this years ago, incidentally, and the argument remains quite prescient if I dare say so myself.

And in case you missed this fabulous article from the NYT Magazine:
"There's a killer haunting America's inner cities. Not drugs. Not handguns But... stress?" By Helen Epstein


News: October 1, 2003

Stay Free! is please to announce the fifth installment of the Illegal Art Exhibit, which hits Philadelphia this Friday. Thanks to Inja Coates at Media for organizing this round. I'll be down for the opening and the panel this weekend, and there are gobs of film screenings, workshops, and other festivities throughout the month so check it out.



You gotta love new technologies that erode the line between yuppies and crazy people. Here in Brooklyn, I often walk by people talking to themselves and it's not always easy to tell the cell phone ear budded execs from the homeless schizophrenics -- at least not from their conversations. Still, there are a couple of new inventions in the works I'm decidedly less thrilled about. One promises to give advertisers the ability to beam soundwaves to, say, grocery store shoppers. The audio equivalent of laser beams, HyperSonic Sound can only be heard within a very limited range. Marketers hope to use it to send audio messages that only one or two people in a crowded aisle could hear. New York Times Magazine article

Now another company is claiming that it can project images into thin air. I don't mean onto buildings, sidewalks, or clouds -- I'm talking about supermodels and cola bottles floating in the air around your head!

Pretty soon, it won't just be the Wall Streeters and fasionistas who resemble the mentally ill, it'll be all of us!


"Branded anything but Unique"

An Australian newspaper reports on the ever-increasing trend in the U.S. of naming children after brands. We learn of a three-year old named Timberland ("The alternative was Reebok"), 11 Bentleys, five Jaguars, a Xerox, and a Bologna.


News: 12 August, 2003

It's been ages since I did an update so here are some things I've been thinking about when I'm not thinking of the new Stay Free...

From the Wall Street Journal: Six Degrees of Exploitation? New Programs Help Companies 'Mine' Worker Relationships
It's the evil anti-Friendster! New software allows companies to harvest the personal relationships of their employees, using Orwellian-sounding tools like the "Relationship Mining Engine." I suppose it was inevitable. I've always been a little suspicious of the academic study of social networking for this very reason. Many scholars who analyze email forwards and web log files have only the best intentions: to help indie media spread "virally." Still, this kind of knowledge is ultimately more beneficial to businesses than do-gooders for the simple fact that businesses are more likely to find more uses for it, uses that aren't hindered by a concern with their effect on people.



There's been lots of press lately about flash mobs, those organized efforts to get masses of people to meet for a few minutes in a designated public location for no reason at all. My friend Bill organized the first flash mob here in New York, but there are plenty of precedents. For example, the Cacophony Society (in various incarnations) amasses huge crowds of people dressed as brides to parade through cities across the US.

The Madagascar Institute recently organized a two-minute musical in front of the New York Public Library; participants conspired to meet on the street and, at a precise time, erupted "spontaneously" into song. And then there's Chenguin, an enormous creature--half chicken, half penguin--occasionally summoned to appear with a large posse in busy NYC intersections.

Personally, I'd much rather happen across Chenguin or his cousin Chixon (half chicken, half Richard Nixon) than a flash mob. I've seen more than my share of mobs, thank you. Inexplicable crowds are generally not something that gives one pause in New York. (Bill is quite savvy about this and, as his MOB Project has grown, his original concept has grown and become much more elaborate.) But what's interesting about flash mobs is not the events themselves but their extraordinary popularity. Since launching in New York last June, mob projects have spread across North America to Italy, Germany, and beyond. "The latest craze from the United States has hit Europe with (random) vengeance," writes the EU Observer.

So why have simple flash mobs exploded virally, unlike the more ambitious projects? The fact that tons of media people participated in the first mob certainly didn't hurt. But my guess is that flash mobs took off precisely because they're less ambitious; they take less effort. But who knows. I'll leave this for the contagious media experts to analyze.

A Cacophony Society brides parade page
Madagascar Institute
Wired on flash mobs
More flash mobs background


Comrade Alexandra sent me this LA Times Magazine article over a year ago about America's supersizing of everything from meals to sports heroes to cars and homes. An excellent historical overview of consumer culture.
Living Ever Larger; How Wretched Excess Became a Way of Life, by Patrick J. Kiger


Here's a fine article based on Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq, the great new book by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber:

Trading on fear: From the start, the invasion of Iraq was seen in the US as a marketing project. Selling 'Brand America' abroad was an abject failure; but at home, it worked....


News: 30 June, 2003

We've got several things happening on the Stay Free! business front, so, at the risk of being boring, I'm going to get them all over with at once:


Stay Free's media literacy curriculum--including readings, discussion notes, and Powerpoint slide shows--is now online.

Teachers out there who want to use these lessons or adapt them for their own needs are certainly welcome to do so. I taught a 12th grade class ("Mass Media and Consumer Culture") this year at the Berkeley Carroll School here in Brooklyn, and this course is based on that. As Channel One, AOL-Time Warner, and other big media companies are increasingly sponsoring media education, I wanted to provide an example of what a non-corporate curriculum might look like. At some point, I hope to post more info about my philosophy on media literacy but for now, this should do.


In time for the Illegal Art Exhibit opening in San Francisco this week, we're putting together a special DVD with some of the film & video shorts featured in the show. Namely:

Keith Sanborn, "The Artwork in the Age..."
Brian Boyce, "State of the Union"
Michael Colton, "Puppy Love"
Michal Levy, "Giant Steps"
Tim Maloney with Negativland, "Gimme the Mermaid"
Paul Harvey Oswald, Natural Thing
Brian Spinks, Bill Wasik and Eugene Mirman, "Black Thunder"
Eric Fensler, "GI Joe PSAs"
D. Jean Hester, "Buy Me"
Eileen Maxson, "Untitled"
Joe Gibbons, "Barbie's Audition"

(Most of these can be viewed online at

We're making a very limited number of the DVDs (100 or so) to give away as premiums to people who make donations of $30 or more to Stay Free and Illegal Art. If you'd like a DVD, you can either donate by credit card or check:

Credit card / Paypal

Or send check or money order to: Stay Free, 23 Hawthorne Street Brooklyn NY 11225