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Tag Archives: Viacom

Music/Video Mashups: What’s at Stake?

I apologize for the late post last week, here it was again in case you missed it>

One person’s copyright infringement is another person’s creative expression.” – Michela Ledwidge

Yesterday, when disco and hip-hop DJs of New York City were sampling different songs and weaving them together using different parts, instrumentals, vocal clips, and more, they originally had to acquire the vinyl record through legally purchasing it… unless someone was generous enough to give them the records that he or she did not want (Hunsicker, 2010).  Now a days, one can easily circumvent the economic laws of copyright and even purchasing property with the internet.  Peer-to-peer sharing and other video sites such as Youtube make viral proliferation of content and information easy as 1-2-3.  That being the case, copyright dilemmas have continued to grow in this digital age where consumers users are fighting back against the few, elite hegemonic powers and authorities who control so much of today’s intellectual and artistic content/property.

Furthermore, the economic system of music and online videos have greatly been affected by the popularity of music, file, and other video sharing websites.  This phenomenon has changed the way in which consumers people legally buy or illegally distribute music and other video content on the internet.  Besides, everyone is becoming their own DJ or mashup artist given the customizable playlists, sampling technologies, and other ways of individually tailoring someone else’s music to suit your own desires.  Hunsicker further asserts, “Not only is music more convenient to listen to, it also feels more personal, your own mix that you can be proud of.  With the right equipment, everyone can be a DJ.”

With regards to more or less music, artists like Girl Talk, DJ Danger Mouse, DJ Shadow, and many others have found Grey areas or ways to navigate outside the legal confines of copyright laws.  While there are those who would argue that these artists have infringed heavily upon copyright laws, others would defend them arguing that the very proprietary laws which protect certain artists, stifle other artists from re-appropriating it into something new.  Hunsicker proposes a comprise between copyrights and mashup artists:

What a mash-up artist is doing is taking DJing to a whole new level, they are creating entire new tracks, using pieces of a whole to create new songs.  There is an argument for a fair amount of creativity here, but the artist did not create each of the clips.  This is where there needs to be a compromise!  Laws need to be revised, so that a certain percentage of the royalties could be paid to the record companies, not in full, and so that the mash-up artist may be motivated to pay while still receiving individual benefits for his songs.

Okay, so what’s the big deal one might ask? What’s at stake?

“Basically, the music industry is slipping towards anarchy , and the record companies are trying to keep control of their revenue streams,” said Professor Sam Howard-Spink, professor of music copyright law at Steinhart School of Media, Culture, and Communications at New York University.  It has been widely accredited that the artist Girl Talk, a.k.a. Gregg Gillis, is a famous mash-up artist who uses an average of 21 music clips per song. If he paid, the cost would average $260,000 per song and $4.2 million per album according to “RiP: A Remix Manifesto.”

Where is the line drawn between mashups/remixing and stealing?  For many, the answer seems to lie in giving credit to the original.  Still, many would go further and ask for some sense of monetary compensation for using the original.  Obviously, being sued by someone for copyright infringement is the greatest risk at stake.  But then, how do artists like Girl Talk or DJ Danger Mouse find “legal loopholes” or ‘getting away’ with creating some of the most successful and acclaimed mashups to date?  According to a blog article from GENYU.NET, “This success does not go unnoticed by the music business—mash-ups are so popular online that the music industry has become more selective with their legal attacks, looking for a way to harness this genre without the legal complications.”

More artists are recognizing the potential in releasing their music or videos to the public for marketing purposes to create mashup contests.  This is an amazing way in which the public can participate in remixing/mashing up the artist’s original work and being recognized for it with a monetary prize or other awards.  For example, K-OS, a critically acclaimed Canadian hip-hop artist, released his last album to the public creating a remix contest.  He then released the remixed album containing the best remixes for sale on iTunes and throughout other music distributors sites.

Be careful Youtube (Google)?

>Lastly, since 2007 Viacom has accused Youtube (Now Google) of profiting from thousands of videos in a whopping 1 billion dollar lawsuit.  The impending future implications that the resulting lawsuit could have for not only Youtube but for copyright and mashup culture in general are vital.  Greg Sandoval, writing for CNET News online states,

“There’s a lot at stake, including the $1 billion damage amount Viacom seeks. Depending on how the dispute is decided, it could mean content-sharing on the Web will be far more restricted than now. On the other hand, for film studios, music labels, and other content creators, a Viacom loss could mean protecting copyright online becomes much more expensive and labor-intensive.”

In a bitter legal war, both Google and YouTube will have until April 30th to file motions for a summary judgment (basically the judge reviews the evidence on both sides and determines whether the case has enough merit to go to trial or not).  After that, then they would likely set a trial date for later this year.

Then why do it?

Because we live in an society enveloped by various juxtapositions of power and control that are constantly challenged such as the  rich vs. poor; open source vs. close source; creative commons vs. copyright; pay vs. pirate; etc.  DJ Danger Mouse exclaimed about the Grey Album (2004), a highly acclaimed mashup of The Beatles White Album and Jay Z’s Black album acapellas:

“A lot of people just assume I took some Beatles and, you know, threw some Jay-Z on top of it or mixed it up or looped it around, but it’s really a deconstruction. It’s not an easy thing to do. I was obsessed with the whole project, that’s all I was trying to do, see if I could do this. Once I got into it, I didn’t think about anything but finishing it. I stuck to those two because I thought it would be more challenging and more fun and more of a statement to what you could do with sample alone. It is an art form. It is music. You can do different things, it doesn’t have to be just what some people call stealing. It can be a lot more than that…This wasn’t supposed to happen… I just sent out a few tracks (and) now online stores are selling it and people are downloading it all over the place.” Burton denied being the agent provocateur, saying it “was not my intent to break copyright laws. It was my intent to make an art project.”

In a day called “Grey Tuesday” coordinated on February 24, 2004, Downhill Battle, an activist group, posted copies of Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album for free download on various participating websites in protest of EMI’s, a record company that ordered cease and desist of the mashup album.

Here’s this week’s mashup that I put together. Enjoy >

Thanks to/References:

A Few Good Men (1992); And Justice for All (1979); The Matrix (1999); Braveheart (1995); Lawrence Lessig; Training Day (2001); and Copyright Criminals (2009), Outkast+Queen Mashup from VillexHermannixValo.  Hopefully, my own mashup falls under the Fair Use Doctrine under educational use/criticism/teaching purposes.