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“Mashup Conclusion” (TDMC Remix)

Music and video mashups continue to proliferate in this digital age.  Proprietary laws which protect artists and their affiliated companies from having their material stolen or used without their permission will continue to be criticized and circumvented by other artists.  With such acclaimed artists like DJ Danger Mouse and Girl Talk who have left their mark on mashup culture, I believe that we will continue see more and more artists like these in the future.

Hopefully, businesses will continue to adapt to these cultural changes and work towards a compromise or better solution instead of simply just continuing to tighten or extend the years of proprietary laws.  The current model of copyright laws are based off of greed, control, and exclusion benefiting more of the companies than the individual artists.  On one hand, artists should have rights to protect their works and the incentive of financial gain if anyone wishes to use it.  However, the prices to which other artists or individuals must pay in order to sample or use one’s material is too high.  As a result of these outrageous fees, individuals will continue to challenge and circumvent the systems in place with the risk of being sued.  However, the question remains – are companies going to sue everyone or just those who they feel are extensively profiting off of their material?  Is it just a matter of ethics or a matter of money?

“Everyone has access [to content]. Enforcement is a global problem. It is a practical problem, because of the reach of where the content might appear.  Finding [infringed copyrighted content] is harder.  One issue the law has to deal with is this new sense of a user ‘right’, referring to that of mashup creators.  User-generated mashups are changing the face of copyright laws, which have to evolve to catch up with the Internet generation.  Laws need a way to catch up with changing culture.  This could be in a greater recognition by the courts of the social use of user expression, or legislative change.  On the part of businesses, having a solid online business model will help prevent broadcasters from taking down every use of their content.  Businesses should have a clear and robust revenue stream online. We’re not there yet.” Mary Wong, an expert on intellectual property (IP).

Music and Videos are data that have a code.  They can be sliced, spliced, edited, and mashed together to get an entirely different code.  Remixing or mashing up the code in one’s own unique way allows a person to potentially enrich the value of the existing program.  While artists can conjure up their rights to “Fair Use” = an exemption in U.S. copyright law that allows limited use of works under copyright without permission from the rights holders.   Parody, teaching, news reporting and commentary are some of the uses allowed under fair use, the stipulations under which one can use copyright material without the owner’s permission seems limited and weakly defined.  “Transformative works” need to be better defined.

Mashups will continue to challenge the system of copyright while copyleft and other alternatives challenge the traditional statues and ideologies.  One of the biggest downsides to this debate is the incentive for artists to create an original work and have someone take it without permission, recognition, or even payment.  Of course, this is extreme, however, defenders and advocates for mashup and remix culture will continue to push for a more open system.  Lastly, people need to recognize the significance that whole new genres have been birthed due to sampling, remixing, and mashups.  Consider this in a brief article by Grant Gross,

Artists shouldn’t face threats of huge fines and prison time for sampling from copyright works, said filmmaker Nina Paley, creator of the film “Sita Sings the Blues”, Paley, speaking at an event in Washington, D.C., called for a wholesale rewrite of copyright law to allow mashup artists to create new works without threat of lawsuits or prison time.  Paley’s 2008 film uses several songs from 1920s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, and copyright holders demanded she pay US$220,000 for use of the works. Paley eventually settled for $50,000.

$220, 000 US dollars?  $50, 000 dollars?  Honestly, who can afford to pay money like this to use other people’s work?  I would argue that the average person cannot.  No wonder people are so vexed at the current proprietary system.  Peep the video.  Thanks.

Bonus listening: If you want to you can also listen to this song that I made using parts of a sermon by a Christian apologetic Ravi Zacharias and Common’s instrumental to his song “Resurrection”.  It took me a couple days to fit things together the way that I wanted to.  I can only imagine trying to fit together an a cappella  and an instrumental let alone put together a song using sampled-snippets of other songs.  Like hip-hop producer 9th Wonder exclaimed, it’s not as easy as it looks/sounds.  Enjoy.

Resurrection (Ravi Zacharias Remix)

Until next time, try not to get sued-  Clear your samples and get permission if you can afford it.  :)

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  1. Jimena 22:49, Apr 12th, 10

    Great post, Ryan! I loved the content and the form. It really opens a debate that can’t be easily solved.
    I find the comparison between a visual collage and a musical collage super interesting. The reason for music (and video) being so harshly ruled is probably its commercial possibilities.

    But for me, it all narrows down to consider mash-ups as a form of art, a completely different product than the ones they sample from. I believe that all art is, in a way, reinterpretation, and that all reinterpretation is a new creation. This makes me think of a huge debate we had a couple of years in Mexico’s federal artistic grants program, trying to define if actors and instrumentalists (as opposed to writers and composers) should be defined as “creators” or “interpreters”. In the end, after months of discussions and philosophical debates with experts, they decided that actors could receive the term “creators”–because even if they are ‘performing’someone else’s script, their personal interpretation is a form of unique creation. I believe sampling (visual or auditive) to be the same case. By sampling sound, the DJ is a)homaging the original artist, b)creating something completely new, and c)keeping the original author, and his work, alive. So thinking about your question, I believe it’s much more a matter of money than of ethics. I’d be honored if someone else used my work in their new creations: it would help me, as an artist, transcend. This is not to say that the artist doesn’t deserve to live from that homage, of course… but since it’s mainly about making money, the prices are crazy!

  2. Leslie 23:37, Apr 12th, 10

    Awesome post! Like Jimena, I definitely thought the comparison of visual collages vs musical collages to be interesting- that’s quite an amusing point.

    I also thought it an interesting point that even if you had the money to pay to use all of these songs, it would take a long time to get through all the legal steps. It’s a lot of hassle and money for something that’s just done out of fun/amusement/interest in experimentation on a lot of occasions. The legal steps sucks the creativity out of the process it seems like.

    I also liked a point brought up closer to the end- that listening to these songs from the past can educate people. It gets people interested in songs/artists that they might not have ever listened to otherwise. I think I mentioned last week- it’s like free a advertisement. It seems like a balanced system to me when left alone on that account- let new artists sample your music, and you might find a new audience listening & hopefully purchasing your music.

  3. Juliette 06:59, Apr 13th, 10

    Ryan you raised a very interesting and important debate.

    Using another’s artist creation used to be a positive thing like a kind of tip of the hat. There is plainty of examples of “homage” in cinama or in music like in Jazz.
    Nowadays it is mostly condidered as a theft.
    I would be curious to know what has operated this schift?

  4. mushon 08:42, Apr 13th, 10

    Just to play devil’s advocate here: In my book avoiding being sued is not really an ethical dilemma. On the other hand, breaking the law might is.

  5. nadine 11:09, Apr 13th, 10

    Great video, very professional! What I love about this travelogue is that you can see how people progress :-)

    There is no right or wrong: it is equally important to protect creators as making vast cultural heritage accessible and available to everyone. It’s a good moment to continue our discussion on orphan works. The Google Books settlement represents an interesting case: as they proceed by “first scan, the ask questions later!”- copyright is circumvented (or more or less ignored).Is that the way to go?

  6. Juliette 11:50, Apr 24th, 10

    I really loved your travelogue on mashup because it is definitely becoming more and more important to be aware of the issues that it has raised. The problem of copyrights is far from being solved espacially considering all the financial interest that are at stake.
    However, besides copyright, mashups also come down to the act of creation and the work of artist. What kind of work of art do artist create.
    Here is an interesting link to a polemic post “remix culture is a myth” that has generated a lot of comments

    Also I have edited the Wikipedia page on Mashup to pinpoint the problems related to creation and to the role of artists that it raises.