from Guy Debord

To Gerard Lebovici
Monday, 13 November 1973

Here are several notes in anticipation of legal action that could be brought against us. [Georges] Kiejman's talent[1] must be involved in this: but it seems to me that our position is not completely devoid of strength. Except when it is a question of pornographical literature, the judges like to pass themselves off as men of culture. Our chances will be decreased if they see the film. But this is improbable.

I think that we can view the film on Monday the 26th [November 1973].

Telephone me if you would like to get together this week. Next week I will be working on the mix.

Besh wishes,
Guy Debord

(Film: The Society of the Spectacle)
Bases for a defense in a possible lawsuit

1. Arguments of the production.

The producer, unlike a great number of merchants of the cinema, has proclaimed right off his absolute respect for artistic liberty. He is engaged in it by contract with the author. He must thus furnish to the author all that he judges useful for the realization of his film. The producer, considering himself to be morally obligated, has done the best that he could do, and by moving most urgently so as to satisfy the demands of the author.

It is to this producer that one, putting aside all recourse to the amiable, comes to bring several pecuniary demands that correspond to a de facto censorship. The producer, as he has already affirmed, is completely ready to pay the rights for the sequences on litigation, now that he has accomplished this engagement with the author. He can not, however, submit to preliminary private censors or to diverse dilatory proceedings capable of hindering the realization of the film, by falsifying the intellectual and artistic meanings.

The producer obviously admits the obligation to pay the ordinary rights; but not the supervisions and authorizations that, under the circumstances, are rendered obsolete by a new manner of conceiving cinematographic writing. With the current film, the cinema ascends to the level of independence of theoretical expression that has been known for centuries by the book; thus, such a practice must deeply involve a new legitimacy of the right to quotation -- and the proper legal definition of this right.

2. Arguments of the author.

In the work in question, the author treats modern society in its totality, which leads him -- and singularly from the fact that he uses here the cinematographic mode of communication -- to treat the cinema itself. In any case, he doesn't intend to justify to anyone the particular points that appear necessary to him to approach in this work, not to the possessors of the rights to any of the films that exist until now, nor to any kind of tribunal.

The current world has been transcribed so much into images that, today, one can find everywhere at least two kinds of owners: one who holds the actual ownership and another who posses the rights to the images that have been shot. And so this world paradoxically risks becoming invisible if one or both of these [types] of owners adds to the simple, cashable rights of reproduction the right to look and censor, which will quickly prevent the showing of this world, in each of its details and thus in its totality, in a manner that is not apologetic.

The prohibition of the re-use in whole or in part of existing images -- in a epoch that claims to give an eminent place to the very culture that is so cruelly lacking -- will amount to withdrawing from the artist the right to quote and the right to place pre-existing cultural data back into play; to withdrawing from the critique of the "spectacular society" the right to show what it speaks of.

Furthermore, the author does not claim a privileged status that would be recognized as that of an "artist." The critique of the spectacle is also a critique of art. But art, so as to be critiqued and superceded, at first has the need to be free. This has been the basis of its legal status, for centuries, in the bourgeois democracies. The question now is thus to know if the cinema is in some way an art, as claimed by current society. Or if it only belongs to the industrialists and police officers.

(Supplementary argument, in case several individuals complain about appearing in the film without their authorization.)

The author does not envision critiquing this or that detail of our epoch, a unionist or a star, but the generality of this epoch -- before which the details are indifferent. He has taken one or another of these details as a function of its accessibility, thus of the success of its spectacular distribution. Finally, it is rather an honor to appear in this film, which will carry off diverse passing figures from this epoch in the historic duration.

3. Arguments of the author and the producer in case of a complaint made by the owners of the Russian films.

One knows well that the constant practice of post-Czarist Russia, despite a recent and fallacious international agreement on the rights of authors, was to not recognize any rights of the foreign works that it didn't prohibit from distribution within its borders. All intellectual and artistic expression is, from the economic point of view, controled and possessed by the State. Today this State still can directly take seize the literary rights of opposition intellectuals who publish abroad. Thus, to agree to recognize any right for the use of the films produced in Russia would be to be complicit with this oppression. There are no author's rights in Russia; there are only the ownership rights of the totalitarian bureaucracy. In three words, whatever the consequences, our response would be, "Not a penny."

The complaints that are addressed to us can only have one meaning: the claim to export a political censorship, vexed by seeing several sequences of the history of the defeated proletarian revolution, falsified in the Russian versions, are re-used in their truth. To this surprising, political and economic indecency, one adds another unacceptable motif:

Inasmuch as it is notorious that a number of Russian writers and artists who contest -- even very moderately -- the society that is called soviet are currently locked up, even at this moment, in psychiatric asylums, the author of this film, who is more radically contestatory, obviously finds himself in a state of insanity from the point of view of the Russian government. Consequently, all complaints, direct or indirect, from the agents of this government will not be rightfully founded here ("There is neither crime nor offense," stipulates our Penal Code in cases of insanity, and the Civil Code has made the notion precise, in Article 489: "Even when this state presents lucid intervals").

[1] Lawyer retained by Gerard Lebovici.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005. Excerpts published in Autour des Films (Documents), the booklet accompanying Oeuvres Cinematographiques Completes, a three-DVD set released November 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2007.)

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