More Messages: The Works

The latest Message column focuses on Try-Works, a blog whose mission includes bashing the bashers of firebrand CU professor Ward Churchill. In the beginning, the overseer of the page used the pseudonym "John Moredock" -- but thanks to the efforts of anti-Churchill gadfly Grant Crowell (pictured), Moredock was recently revealed to be Benjamin Whitmer, an instructor in the very Ethnic Studies department where Churchill once taught. (Churchill is appealing CU's decision to sack him. Right now, he's on paid leave.) This act suggests that Crowell and Whitmer aren't on the same wavelength -- and a wealth of online material proves it.

Crowell, who lives outside Chicago, is putting together a documentary film under the auspices of his own Walking Eagle Productions, and his raw material includes footage of Churchill from several of the prof's public appearances; when he can't man the camera himself, Crowell pays others to do so. Some of these recordings can be viewed at this YouTube link, as can lengthy clips of Crowell explaining his goals. In addition, Crowell has posted an e-mail exchange between him and Churchill in which the latter objects to being videotaped for a rather novel reason; he believes that everything he says is protected by copyright.

Here's the crux of Churchill's argument, offered in 2005 after Crowell personally taped a Churchill appearance at DePaul, a university in the Chicago area:

Okay, Mr. Walking Eagle, try this:

What I say is copyrighted, just like the work of any other "performer," to be recorded only with my express permission, and subsequently used in any fashion whatsoever only with my explicit consent.

You, for whatever reason(s), seem to have an extraordinarily difficult time wrapping your mind around the simple fact that I am under NO obligation to allow you to record me (or otherwise participate in your various "projects").

Translated, that means the following: although you're obviously entitled to purchase any/all of my CDs, you have NO "entitlement" to record me yourself.

The fact that you had a pocket-sized recording device smuggled into the room where I spoke at DePaul, despite the express prohibition on doing so repeatedly announced by the sponsors, has resulted in you/anyone associated with "Walking Eagle Productions" being permanently barred from recording my talks.

Should "bootleg" recordings of my material turn up in anything you happen to produce -- a "documentary film," for instance -- you may rest assured that you will be sued on exactly the same grounds as you would were you to use material recorded without authorization at a Dylan or Steve Earle concert.

Predictably, Whitmer takes Churchill's side in this debate; his articulation of the issue can be found here under the headline "Paid Provocateurs." But another Try-Works post gets into even weirder territory. In it, Whitmer asserts that Crowell followed up his outing of Moredock "with a bizarre phone call to my home last night to let me know that he'd be seeing me after class one of these days."

The Internet: Bringing people together. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts