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While the recent Google Books ruling by the US Second Circuit has once again proven how the US copyright system is – thanks to its fair use provision – more flexible and adaptable to digital challenges than its European counterpart, in other fields the legal situation is very similar on both sides of the Atlantic. One such field is digital sampling in music, which is the topic of the book “Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling” by McLeod and DiCola (2011, Duke University Press).
Sampling is a comparably recent practice where parts of sound recordings are reused in creating new works. According to McLeod and DiCola, “a good appropriated sample has […] a good quality of its own, and it has a strong reference that evokes cultural resonance as well” (p. 99, emphasis added). The latter of the two, cultural resonance, not only adds an additional meta-layer of cultural reference to a song but is also the main reason for legal calamities associated with sampling. As with remix practices more generally, a core characteristic of sampling is that the old remains visible within the new and is not hidden behind a (more or less transparent) veil of originality.
However, this visibility of creative raw materials – that is, samples of previous works – is considered as some form of creative “short-cut” by the courts, which require samplers to clear each and every sample they use, as small and tiny the portion of sound may be. McLeod and DiCola:
“Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films held that no de minimis exception applied to sound recordings. […] [T]he bottom line was, as the ruling stated, ‘Get a license or do not sample.’” (pp. 139, 141)
In Germany, the decision “Metall auf Metall” by Germany’s highest court had identical consequences. The detrimental effects of such a restrictive application of current copyright to the artistic practice of sampling are the reason why sampling-based creativity suffers from permission culture.
Remixing has long since become a part of our daily lives. Today, when amateurs and artists work with images, texts and music, they are inspired and free. However, in many cases copyright law gets in their way.
During what turned out to be the not-so-hot summer of 2014, a wave of ice water crashed through the internet. Throughout the world, people were filming themselves as they poured buckets of cold water over their heads, sharing the results in social networks and then nominating their friends to perform this strange ritual, which was quickly dubbed the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was a digital chain letter of sorts that spread like wildfire through the internet. The whole thing was actually a call for donations to the ALS Association. ALS is a rare nerve disease.
But this is only a partial description of the phenomenon. In contrast to a chain letter, each ice water performance also had an individual note; it was a continuation of the general motif. In this sense, the Ice Bucket Challenge is also prototypical for digital remix culture.
An example of this remix character is a version of the Ice Bucket Challenge that is circulating in the internet: it is based on the Edvard Munch’s famous picture “The Scream”. The internet picture is a remix and lives off of an interaction between the old and the new. Without a clearly recognizable reference to Edvard Munch’s series of paintings “The Scream”, it would be as inexplicable as it would be without any previous knowledge of the Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon. This is the essence of a remix: the old, original work remains identifiable in the new work.
The example of the Ice Bucket Challenge is revealing. It illustrates how the internet and digital technologies have contributed to the rise in broadly disseminated – not to mention democratized – remix culture. As a mass phenomenon, this new remix culture is characterized by numerous contradictions. Read the rest of this entry »
At the heart of culture lies creative recursion: re-applying creative practices to artifacts resulting from previous creative practices. Remix culture could then be defined as processes of creative recursion that make this recursion as such recognizably visible. This is what makes a remix reflexive, as is explained by Eduardo Navas over at remixtheory.net:
[remix] allegorizes and extends the aesthetic of sampling, where the remixed version challenges the aura of the original and claims autonomy even when it carries the name of the original; material is added or deleted, but the original tracks are largely left intact to be recognizable.
As a result, works of remix communicate always and simultaneously on at least two levels: the asthetics of the remix as a new work and its status as a remix, referencing the remixed works. A nice example of the communicative power of remixing as recognizable creative recursion is provided by the most recent election campaign of the Pirate Party of Lower Saxony in Germany. To communicate ‘piracy’ as a brand, the pirate party creatively ‘pirated’ prominent brands. Find below several of the respective campaign posters, all of which can be found on the campaign portal ideenkopierer.de (“idea copiers”; some of the translations are taken from Torrentfreak):
We may not have Alps in Lower Saxony, but we want to ensure that students continue to know that cows are not purple. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the things that make blogs particularly interesting are series. The “series” series recommends series at related blogs. This time I am introducing the online video series called “Everything is a Remix“, featured on a blog with the same name.
Technically, “Everything is a Remix” is not so much a series presented at blog but a blog devoted to a series of the same name. By now, New York-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has put together the first two of what in the end should be four parts of a video series to demonstrate the importance remixing had and still has for our culture. I find the two episodes so far more than stunning. While the first episode focuses remixing in the field of music, the second episode deals with movies. In addition to his impressive videos, Ferguson also meticulously lists his source material (e.g. list of songs used in Pt. I) and gives detailed transcripts of his videos (e.g. transcript of Pt. II).
Everything is a Remix, Pt. I:
Everything is a Remix, Pt. II:
When watching the videos in Europe, keep in mind that technically publishing those most creative works for free on his blog does not conform to European copyright law, which lacks a general fair use clause that allows such derivative work in the US.
One famous quote of Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig claims that “[t]here is no art that doesn’t re-use.” In research, this principle is called “standing on the shoulders of giants” and meant to acknowledge that even the most original article largely builds upon previous achievements by numerous predecessors; a fact evidenced by an ever growing number of citations in current journal articles.
But what holds for the most pedantic researcher, namely that it is impossible to accurately give credit to all intellectual influences leading to an article, is even more true for novelists and musicians. In case of the former this regularly leads to heated debates about whether “borrowing” ideas or even passages from other books is mere plagiarism or some form of “intertextuality“. In Europe, for example, the Independent recapitulates at length the recent discussion whether the debut novel by German writer Helene Hegemann was plagiarism or “intertextual mixing“; in the second edition of her novel “Axolotl Roadkill”, Hegemann responded to critics by listing all her sources in an appendix.
Could it be that giving credit becomes more important when obviously building upon others’ works becomes both more common and more explicit? Developed particularly to allow mash-ups and remixing, all the different Creative Commons licenses, for instance, include the “attribution”-clause, which requires to give credit. In the realm of music, hip hop is probably best known for re-using – “sampling” – portions of existing sound recordings in creating new works. And again, giving credit is an essential part of hip hop culture, as was demonstrated by Eminem in his 2003 Grammy Award speech: Read the rest of this entry »