Hyperlinked Essay

“Remixing” is “referring to any reworking of already existing cultural work(s)

In academia we are told to reference our ideas. We are told that most of our ideas will have similarities to the ideas of scholars gone before us. But what confuses me is that you can acknowledge writers before you as inspiration, even copy huge slabs of their writing to use as part of your own work, but the second the format is that of video or audio, it becomes copyright infringement. Lawrence Lessig discusses this well; he believes that you should have the same freedom in video as in writing.

It is also worth noting that “None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; and we can put the pieces together if we pool our resources and combine our skills. Collective intelligence can be seen as an alternative source of media power. We are learning how to use that power through our day-to-day interactions within convergence culture.“(page 4). When we consider this, it becomes clear that we must learn off each other to develop hybrid ideas, not fight over who the ideas belong to, learning and creativity are closely linked to plagiarism and adaptation. Why can’t copyright holders consider (so long as they are not losing large amounts of money) that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…“, and that without imitation, many artists wouldn’t have developed the skills they required.

“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work … progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.” – Henry Ford’s famous quote is somewhat echoed by Mark Twain in a letter he wrote to Helen Keller in 1903, “For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources… When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his… It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone or any other important thing — and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.”

A man who has made a living out of remixing is Greg Gillis, AKA the music artist Girl Talk. Gillis uses preexisting music samples from popular songs and layers them over one another. This mash-up style of music raises many questions regarding music copyright laws, but Gillis defends his music as within the realms of “Fair Use”. “I basically believe in that idea [of Fair Use], that if you create something out of pre-existing media, that’s transformative, that’s not negatively impacting the potential sales of the artist you’re sampling, if it’s not hurting them in some way, then you should be allowed to make your art and put it out there. I think, even in the years of doing this, the conversation has shifted a good bit.”

Gillis highlights the main contributing factor when he says “…potential sales of the artist you’re sampling”. The problem is money. People can make money from remixing. Take music for example, entire albums can be devoted to remixed versions of songs, and they can sell quite well. But this isn’t where the real money comes from, as Kirby Ferguson describes, HUGE amounts of money can be made by suing someone for copyright infringement or patent disputes. Ferguson states that “62 percent of all patent lawsuits are now over software. The estimated wealth lost is half a trillion dollars.“. That is a strikingly large amount of money, and that is where the real problem lies, huge amounts of money like that attract companies and their lawyers who want a cut for themselves.

Kirby Ferguson’s series “Everything is a Remix” highlights the issue well, and he summarises it effectively: “We believe that ideas are property and we’re excessively territorial when we feel that property belongs to us. Our laws then indulge this bias with ever-broadening protections and massive rewards. Meanwhile huge legal fees encourge defendants to pay-up and settle out of court.”

One possible solution to the madness comes from Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who says. “It wouldn’t take much; what it would take is that there should be some line between penalty and some actual harm. Requiring the owner to show some actual damage would put us a long way to a sane copyright policy.


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