Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Copyright law vs. Creativity: The Legality of Remix

After watching RiP!: A Remix Manifesto last night, I wasn't sure how to respond. The problem was that the film got me thinking a lot, too much in fact, and it was hard for me to form some coherent thought about it. After sleeping on it, I now think can respond.

First of all, I loved the film. I thought his points about Disney borrowing (stealing) characters and plot from other stories really hit home for me. I remember when someone told me that The Lion King heavily borrowed from Shakespeare's Hamlet. And when I read the play in high school, it was hard not to notice the parallels. But that didn't take anything away from The Lion King as a film; it took the message of the play and retooled it for a younger audience, and they did it incredibly well. For the Disney corporation to then make it impossible for anyone to borrow (steal) anything from them for a similar purpose of creating something new and different with it, well, it's slightly hypocritical.

Since I can't use any stills from the film, here's a real lion.
Rebecca Wood, "Lion King" January 20, 2007 via Flickr, Creative Commons attribution

I'm also a big fan of Girl Talk, and I liked how he was represented in the film. One of my favorite parts of the entire film was when the director showed the woman in the copyright office footage of Girl Talk explaining his process. I just loved the look on her face as she realized that sampling music in order to create a new song was not only very creative but also incredibly difficult to do well. And, of course, the final song was something very different from the original.

And yet she still was hesitant about the law, saying that the severity of the punishment that could be dropped on Girl Talk would depend on which songs he used, how much of them he used, and (most importantly, I think), who owns the copyright to those songs.

I think this is important to note because in cases like this it seems that the law is only enforced when the company a) notices that their music has been re-appropriated and b) cares enough to sue the person for all he/she is worth.

In my mind, creative commons is where things are going. Corporations may care a lot about who uses the music and for what, but I think we are going to see a lot of artists support creative commons. There are tons of options when it comes to licensing, whether they be looking only for attribution or non-derivative or non-commercial use. I believe creativity is stifled due to the strictness of the copyright laws, and it doesn't have to be this way.

Anyways, if you haven't seen the documentary, absolutely watch it because it is definitely worth it. Whether you agree with its points or not, this is a discussion worth having.


  1. Great post, and hilarious picture caption. Let's add a crown to his head, maybe?

    It will be interesting to see if Creative Commons really is how things are going, whether people and corporations that manage media rights will incorporate it and its philosophy into what they do or not.

  2. like you pointed out the copyright owners attitude seems to be the biggest deciding factor in legality. Using material is legal if the copyright holder doesn't mind and it is considered fair use. It is then illegal if the copyright holder does care and can sue and win over ownership. The legal system is very confusing in this regard...