RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 11 of 13

This is part 11 of 13 of my reaction to RIP: A remix Manifesto. You can find previous posts here: Part 0, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10. Who knew it would take me 6 months to react to all of them. I see that version 2.0 of this documentary is out. I better get blogging.

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It would be very easy for a person in favor of strong copyright control to push Girl Talk to the periphery of culture. To say he is just some dumb kid who doesn’t understand how the world works. It is interesting to see what Greg Gillis does for a living. Even more interesting is his run in with other types of intellectual property control, patents. Copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Oh, my.

I did a bit of Googling on Amplive and found that an agreement had been reached with all parties involved. The album is available for free download here.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows album is a landmark in music distribution. They were the first big band to try the “name your price” model. You could download the music for any price. They also offered a higher quality physical discbox with more tracks and artwork for $80. This discbox went on to sell over 100,000 copies.

As mentioned in this part of Remix, they also got involved with their fans.  At fans downloaded the song Nude, remixed it, uploaded it, and the band voted on the top remixes. This is a level of fan engagement the world hadn’t seen before. They are also currently in the midst of another contest with another song.

Personally, my favorite remix was done by 23 year old James Huston while he was a student at the Glaskow School of Art. He uses and old Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer, Epson LX-81, HP Scanjet 3c, and a bunch of hard drives as his instruments. It doesn’t get more creative than this.

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 8 of 13

This is part 8 of 13 of my reaction to RIP: A remix Manifesto. You can find previous posts here: Part 0, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7. This reaction series wasn’t going to take this long. Life is crazy like that. I will see if I can get through the rest soon. Here is part 8.

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It all comes back to Mickey Mouse. I have always found it very interesting how Walt Disney used previous public domain works and then turned into a litigious monster. This snippet doesn’t do Disney’s hold over the copyright system justice. Monica Mazzitelli does it a bit better in The Disney Trap: How Copyright Steals our Stories. Stick with it, you may miss the sarcasm in the thick of Italian accents.

I think the best video I have found about Disney and Copyright has to be by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University. He created a humorous, yet informative, review of copyright principles delivered through the words of the very folks we can thank for nearly endless copyright terms. Enjoy.

Not much else to react to in this bit of Remix. One lasting question: Is there a good reason for copyright to last 70 years after death?

Great Lessig Quote

This weekend I finally started Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. It is a great look into our copyright laws and ideas to make it reasonable again in the world of “read/write” culture. I am not that far into it, but I had to share a great quote on page 79. He is discussing Japanese children and how their media culture encourages kids to engage in recombinant and user-driven content at a very early age. Here he compares with US culture:

American kids have it different. The focus is not: “Here’s something, do something with it.” The focus is instead: “Here’s something, buy it.” “The U.S. has a stronger cultural investment in the idea of childhood innocence,” Ito explains, “and it also has a more protectionist view with respect to media content.” And this “protectionism” extends into schooling as well.” “Entertainment” is separate from “education.” So any skill learned in this “remix culture” is “constructed oppositionally to academic achievement.” Thus, while “remix culture” flourishes with adult-oriented media in the United States, “there’s still a lot of resistance to media that are coded as children’s media being really fully [integrated] into that space.”

I am still letting that sink in. Are our students passive consumers of knowledge as he suggests? Part of me wants to think that is the traditional approach to education in a nutshell. It seems things are changing though. MLTI has brought so many different creative possibilities to the learning process of Maine kids. Now if we could just encourage the next step; creating a amenable legal environment that encouraged students to create new culture out of old. Yeah, I am talking to you congress.

RIP: A remix Manifesto -A reaction – Part 7 of 13

This is part 7 of 13 of my reaction to RIP: A remix Manifesto. You can find previous posts here: Part 0, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

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I really meant to have this blog series done at this point, but life has gotten in the way. It has been interesting though, as I have had time to get into Girl Talk’s music. I have to say it is very good. It isn’t just simple copy and pasting of music. It is more than that. He makes complex collages of sound. They are new and original works. I encourage you to take a listen to a few of the songs on his MySpace page. Even if they are not your cup of tea, you have to admit there is quite a bit of skill and creativity involved.

If you like his music you can buy his album online. This is where is gets interesting. Girl Talk is part of a newer generation of musicians that are changing the way we buy music. If you click the link to buy his album Illegal Art, you are taken to a page where you name your price. Any price gives you the ability to download the entire album as high-quality 320kbps mp3s. $5 or more adds the option of FLAC files and the option of downloading a seamless (no breaks) version of the entire album. $10 or more give you everything plus a packaged CD when it becomes available. That is pretty cool. It gets better.

After inputting your price, it will take you to the download page. You then download the music. Notice I didn’t say you pay yet. The payment system only comes into play after you have downloaded the music. The system works on the honor system. After you have downloaded the music it will then take you to the paypal page. If you wanted, you could skip paying all together. This is a bold statement for how he wants transactions to work for his music. I would be interested in the statistics for how many people pay. I would guess it is more than people think. Girl Talk is putting is money where his mouth is. He is banking that people will like his music enough to pay him on the honor system. He is allowing people to pay what they think his art is worth.

I downloaded the entire album for free. It was only after I listened to it that I went back and paid him $13. I am sure others have paid less and more. To me, $13 seemed like a fair price. I am sure this payment method is not the way to go for every artist, but it is rather refreshing to see someone be so open and free with their art.

I agree that copyright seems to have gotten out of control. It does indeed seem to be very one sided. So one sided, that it is hard to convince people to even engage in discussion about it.

To save you some time I have found the full version of the remixes mentioned in this segment.

Girl Talk – Bounce That – Professor Matthew Soar at Concordia University in Montréal, as a contribution to the Open Source Cinema Project, teamed with his students and spent what he describes as “three very intensive weeks rotoscoping a concert video” of Girl Talk. They were, he says, inspired by Bob Sabiston’s digital rotoscoping (Snack and Drink, Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly), and by Christine Harold’s OurSpace: Resisting the Corporate Control of Culture, a textbook used for his communications course.

OLIO – A short film that was submitted to Open Source Cinema’s remix contest.

Darth Vader Feels Blue – A touching moment between father and son. Beautiful.

Imagine Rx2008 – A video crash up of george bush & friends performing john lennon’s “imagine” vs. lou reed’s “walk on the wild side.”

I need to find that version of Lessig’s lecture. The talk in this video segment seems to be the same topic as the introduction in his new book Remix. I have just started reading it and will most certainly post my thoughts here. So far it is very much along the lines as this movie. The most notable point is Lessig’s idea of a read/write culture. Not only do we have the ability to consume media, we now have the ability to create and share with ease. Modern technology has democtratized the creative landscape. Technology has truly given the power back to the people.

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 5 of 13

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I keep coming back to one question. Is there a good reason to have copyright last longer than the author of the work?

How much does the author get from traditional methods anyways. Cents per copy sold. In this situation only a few can be profitable. Which is why there is only a few bands on the radio at one given time. It would cost too much to have a diverse selection of music. Superstars are cheap. I would argue it is also the reason that popular music is bland and simple.

I recently read Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen. In the book, I was exposed to Christensen’s ideas on what he calls, disruptive innovation. Which boils down to letting go of the old way of doing things when a new path becomes available that serves people better. This is disruptive to the existing systems, which in turn they fight. This idea matches up to point 2 on A Remixer’s Manifesto: The past always tried to control the future.

However, technology giveth, technology taketh away. Digital technology makes copying information easy. Shouldn’t our legal systems match up to modern technology and ability? Shouldn’t we be able to get past the whole litigation instead of change cycle we are currently in.

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 4 of 13

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Now you know why why restraunts have their own song for birthdays. They don’t want to get sued.

Why does copyright apply after death? What right does Warner Brothers have to get money for others creations? The arguement goes something like this: Warner Brothers puts up a lot of money to spread the music across the world so asking for ownership over the content isn’t that much to ask.

The problem with this line of thinking is that today, everyone has the ability to publish content to the web. The publisher isn’t required for a mass audience anymore. Corporate copyright ownership over content (they took no part in creating) does nothing but protect the old business model and hold creativity back. Thoughts?

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 3 of 13

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Who has a problem with remixed music? Old people.

Now hang on a second. Let me define old people before you throw an ageism lawsuit at me.

I am not using the term old to denote age. Understand I am not insulting veterans of life. This copyright war has nothing to do with the age of a person.

The definition of old I am using is past times. As in days of old. Meaning people with a mindset that does not include participation in modern digital culture.

Marybeth Peters seems to be an old person. You and I see them everyday. On the surface, proud of the fact they don’t have a computer at home. I have an inkling this isn’t pride, but thinly veiled fear of things new and changing. Marybeth represents the old mindset that wants to keep things the way they are. What scares me most is that she works for the US copyright office. Shouldn’t the copyright office be the one exploring the changes that digital technologies are bringing. Instead, it seems that they aren’t engaging in the discussion and making criminals out of our kids.

Music building on old music is a great point. Is any music without influence? Are we kidding ourselves by pretending there is a line that marks influence and ripping off? If I hadn’t already posted the The Axis of Awesome video in the first part of this series, it would be worth putting it here. If there is a line, it is a subjective one at best.

At what point does an idea become devoid of influence. Is that even possible? If not, is the idea of copyright flawed from the start?

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 2 of 13

Back again. Almost a month since this blog series started. I have been away for my blog for a while. My wife and I (she did all the work) had a baby girl. Paige Olivia hart was born on March 31st. Check out our family blog at for pictures. Now, back to reactions and ramblings on RIP: A remix Manifesto.

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Can you own an idea? I am talking in the traditional sense. Is it the same as owning a car? I own a 1999 Volvo Cross Country. Certain rights come along with owning this car. I can drive it, let other people drive it, smash it, paint it, or do anything else that ownership and the law allows me to do. With my car, you have no rights. If I give or sell the car to you it becomes yours. I no longer have a car.

Ideas are different by nature. In regards to property, ideas have no inherent value. If I share an idea with you, I still have the idea. We both have a copy of the idea without goods trading hands. This isn’t to say owning an idea is worthless in the monetary sense. Copyright, trademarks, and patents have given control over the application of ideas in an attempt to insert inherent value. A rather successful attempt.

You might have heard John Cage, the late American minimalist composer. In 1952, Cage composed his most controversial and most popular piece, 4’33″. The piece is written for any instrument an instructs the musician to not play. Meaning that the piece is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The intent was for the listener to hear the ambient noise of the environment while the piece was performed. You may think it odd, but I assure you it is a real composition.

You might not have heard of Mike Batt. Mike is a British songwriter/singer. In 2002 his current group (at the time), The Planets, released the classical album Classical Graffiti. One of the tracks on the Album, “A One Minute Silence”, consisted of one minute of silence. It was credited to “Batt/Cage.”

The owners of the copyrights to John Cage’s music sued Batt for copyright infringement. The felt they were entitled royalties from Batt as he performed a version of Cage’s 4’33″. The result of the lawsuit ended with Batt paying an out of court six-figure settlement.

Is this common sense? No. Is it the current state of things? Yes. This isn’t a rare occurrence either. If you don’t believe be just take a look at the state of US patents. US patent 5443036, a method of inducing aerobic exercise in an unrestrained cat (i.e. a laser pointer) and US patent 6368227, a method of swinging on a swing (i.e. swinging sideways) should get you started.

But I digress.

The ease of creating and publishing digital content on the Internet has made publishers increasingly obsolete. It no longer takes millions of dollars to get content or idea to the masses. Technology has leveled the playing field. As more and more of our culture can be represented as ones and zeros, the concept of ideas as property become less viable. As more consumers have the ability to create content, the product becomes less valuable than the process of creating the product. Meaning, since I can send information as a digital file for practically no cost, the inherent value lies in the creation of the content. Which effectively cuts publishers out of the circle. They not longer have a stranglehold on added value to content. On the Internet, we are all our own publishers.

The video gets a bit melodramatic about “the copyRIGHT.” The point they seem to be trying to make is the content publishers have strong armed congress into some pretty scary laws and regulations on how their content can be consumed. In American culture we tend to think everything has to be owned. Which is probably why we assume the same over ideas even though they are different than items of material value. We have shunned the public domain, where nothing is controlled and all is allowed.

I am not arguing everything should be in the public domain. Balance is needed. The scale is weighing very heavy on the side of copyright holders. Did you know that in the US copyright last for the life of the author plus 70 years. Copyright is also automatic. There is no file to form or fee to pay. As soon as you doodle on a napkin, it is copyrighted. Currently, there is no work entering the public domain due to copyright running out. Thanks to the Mickey Mouse Protection Act…I mean the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, copyright limits were increased. This act made works of 1923 or after still copyrighted. The earliest any of it will enter the public domain in 2019. That is if they don’t increase the limits again when Disney is fearing Mickey Mouse entering the public domain. At what point does the interest of the commons take precedence over the interest of copyright holders, let alone private corporations.

This need for balance is brought to light in the Remixer’s Manifesto. These four principles provide a definition for how we might attain a better and more equitable system.

A Remixer’s Manifesto

1. Culture always builds on the past.

2. That past always tries to control the future.

3. Our future is becoming less free

4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.

At the end, Girl Talk talks about sampling an instrument. Is making a collage of two songs together morally wrong? My mind immediately thought of a middle school art project that I did for Mrs. Barnes. We took parts of cereal boxes and made collages. Essentially, we were creating art by building on the work of others. Did I break the law in 8th grade? If so, did it hurt anyone? A better question might be, did it help anyone? My mom and dad would say it did, as they got a great piece of art for the fridge.

I also looked up the remix of Bert and Ernie and M.O.P.’s Ante Up on YouTube. I provided it for you below. It is clever and quite funny. It is also breaking many current copyright laws.

Onto part 3.

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 6 of 13

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Not much to say about this one. Pretty self-explanatory.

Gotta love the RIAA lawyers. “You are guilty! Oh it wasn’t you? Blame your kids!”

I have been a very big Larry Lessig fan since his 2000 book Code and Other Laws of CyberSpace. He has made such impassioned speeches on the subject of copyright. His ideas are very common sense and take into account law as well as technical possibility.

Fair use = Free speech. Gotta love the line, “I can still get sued, but now I have a defense.” Why does fair use have to be such a gray area?

RIP: A remix Manifesto – A reaction – Part 1 of 13

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I am saving my thoughts on the Open Source Cinema site for later. I want a bit more time to mess around with the mixing tools they have provided. It took me a while to embed the video here, but the adventure was worthwhile. It lead me to Kaltura, an open source interactive video platform. This will be something exciting to play with. I will most certainly be sharing my experience with it in the next couple of weeks.

I teach about 30 undergrads a semester. The topic of copyright always comes up as we work with pictures, audio and video throughout the semester. In each of the eight sections of this class I have taught in the past two years, there has been at least one student sued by either the RIAA or the MPAA for copyright infringement. That is crazy. I had one student who was sued $400,000. The point here isn’t that they shouldn’t have gotten in trouble. We have copyright laws and they make certain protections to copyright owners. However, it appears to me copyright has greatly over stepped its original intent and is grossly misinterpreted to make criminals out of every day people.

Watching part 1 of this documentary, I can’t help but think of the rave scene in Matrix Reloaded. I worry that it may turn off a certain group of people the message. That group being over a certain age. If so, I would have to remind them that Elvis was going to destroy the moral fiber of this country once and there was a riot at the 1913 premier of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Whether or not you think this music is original, isn’t the point. Because the rules of this game don’t depend on who made the song. It depends on who owns the copyright. And according to the people who do, sampling, even a note, is grounds for a lawsuit.

I have to give them props for pointing out it is about who owns the copyright. This is probably going to come into play later. We shouldn’t assume the the copyright owner is the creator of the song. If not, what is the true interest behind the copyright owner? Is it to protect artists or their profit motive?

I can hear some people now. “What is wrong with making a profit?” Nothing. Profit is a part of innovation. It isn’t everything though. The problem I have is when the ones making the profit have too much say in market conditions. This is why we generally don’t like monopolies. There is a balance between producers and consumers. The RIAA is fighting tooth and nail against file sharing, when what they should have been doing all along is finding better ways to get music to consumers.

Music in of itself is a hard thing to claim ownership over as well. In most western music, there are 12 notes. Our music is made by combing these notes in different ways with different instruments. Historically, this has led to music that builds on the ideas of others. Don’t believe me?

C Major, G Major, A Minor, F Major.

There. I proved it. Those are four chords that are the basis for song after song. This video I found on YouTube does a better job at displaying this popular chord progression.

The question of originality isn’t as black and white as it first appears to be. Can someone own the copyright to this or any chord progression? How about the types of instruments you use or sounds they make? What is the point where a song sounds different than another? Can we realistically make these types of judgments? I would argue no and I and thinking this documentary is going to agree with me. Or me with it. Either way.

It is also interesting to point out that they are encouraging remixing of the documentary. It is kind of like a wiki for video. I will have to play with that as I continue watching. On to part 2.

edit: You can listen to some of Girl Talk’s music at MySpace.