Mashups, Remix And Digital Era Essay
Mc Leod’s Confessions of Intellectual Property, Copyright and Creativity
In 2004 the hip-pop artist Danger Mouse produced a singular album called The Grey Album. It was based on mashing up instrumental fragments from the Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s vocals from The Black Album. The Grey Album turned out to be an outstanding work as sounds and creativity, besides it had been downloaded around one million times. Eventually the Grey Album could have been rewarded given the popularity it obtained. Despite Danger Mouse’s idea was brilliant the album caused a complex and delicate issue involving creativity, digital and remix culture, and above all copyright and intellectual properties. All these aspects have very labile boundary lines so, especially nowadays, it is particularly hard to manage a balanced strategy to defend copyright and creativity at the same time.
Furthermore, modern technologies and the diffusion of the internet allow a different use of copyrighted materials already uploaded in a free access web. The Digital Natives are the highest consumers of the web and, ironically, they have a serious lack of knowledge in copyright.
In the past the copyright laws had been used to inhibit all the forms of creativity that could harm the owners of the already copyrighted contents, establishing a regime for intellectual properties. Today things are completely different, remix and mash up technics opened the path to a more controversial usage of creativity and copyright. On the one hand it is true that combining old culture stuff together may bring to new creative tendencies, on the other hand the copyright laws need to be reformulated in order to guarantee the copyright owners from unregulated exploitation of their own work.
It is agreeable with Mc Leod that the experiments of the Musique Concrète opened the path to the modern Mashups and remix concepts. When Pierre Schaeffer started his experiments he had relatively poor tools, his motivation was the curiosity to experiment something new. The same was for the musicians and the composers that turned the Musique Concrète experiments into a wide avant-garde movement. Creativity was the incentive to explore new fields, as much as happens today with Mashups.
As a matter of fact the reuse of works of art and content that were meant differently from the original authors can generate other art, while the Web 2.0 increasingly expands the possibilities to copy and combine. So works of art merge themselves with the functionalities of the online application. This is a revolution in terms of pure creativity.
Mc Leod sustains that the possibilities available in the mashup technics are limited and limiting because he considers the issue only from one point of view: the repertoire is narrow and it is strictly tied to the simplicity of the pop songs. The pop culture had been strongly criticized also by Theodore Adorno, a prestigious exponent of the Frankfurt School. He was convinced that pop music was plain and formulaic, so easy to paste and combine with each other. Such a traditionalist and critical point of view considered the pop culture as the proof that culture had no more creativity to express. Pop music and formulaic patterns can still create an innovative music. This is not a weakness but a strength, indeed it is even better to merge two or more simple products into one because the combination can be surprising and marketable. Furthermore the repertoire is not limited as before, because peer to peer programs and file sharing programs allow a diffusion of the repertoire widely, in spite of the copyright laws.
Lawrence Lessing highlights the meeting point between creativity and copyright laws. He believes that education is the key to establish fair parameters for creativity and copyright. Creative Commons and General Public Licence can mitigate the impact of the copyright on mashup products and the original creator’s right on copyrighted materials.
The conflict between copyright and creativity explored by Mc Leod can be agreeable, considering how hard is to fix the illegal boundaries and the freedom of creativity. To a certain degree the Digital Native consider the copyright law unreasonable. Especially young people are unaware of the illegality used to find material on the web because it is extremely easy to access to previous authors’ copyrighted contents.
On the other side the copyright regime was created to balance the interests of creators and the benefits of the making culture publicly available for reuse and deconstruction. As John Palfrey highlights, the right to reuse the exiting material, copyrighted or not, is in the public interest because it allows the creating circle to preserve and constantly inspire itself. Unfortunately copyright holders seem to be more focused on strengthen the existing copyright laws than revise them in favor of fruition of culture as public patrimony.
Given these competing interests, the fair use of copyright works as controller over the monopoly that copyright holders would easily impose on free fruition of shared cultural heritage. Therefore, Mc Load’s point of view is understandable and sharable, especially when he points out that it is essential to protect a fair use of rights and defend free exchange of ideas against privatization to maintain democracy.
Mc Leod, clearly affirms his position on Mashups, considering them as a form of limited creativity (86)
O'Brien reported Professor Lawrence Lessing’s theory on education as a key concept able to tie copyright to creativity (4)
Lamb Brian, “Dr. Mashup or Why Educators Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love The Remix”,Educause Review, July/August Web.2007
Mc Leod Kembrew, “Confessions of an Intellectual (Property): Danger Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Sonny Bono, and My Long and Winding Path as a Copyright Activist Academic”, Popular Music and Society, Vol.28, No 1, Web. February 2005
O'Brien, Damien and Fitzgerald, Brian (2006) “Mashups, remixes and copyright law”.
Internet Law Bulletin, Vol.9, No2, Web. 2006
Palfrey John, Gasser Urs, “ Youth, Creativity, and Copyright in the Digital Age”, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Vol.1, No2, Web. 2009