Should Art Be Outlawed if It's Remixed, Mashed-Up, or Sampled?

If you visit YouTube often enough, you might end up watching Superman or Simba from the Lion King singing, "Crank That," a song made popular on YouTube by the rapper Soulja Boy for its accompanying dance and various user-generated videos that reinterpreted the artist's original. Or you may catch a view of one of the many remixes and spoofs of Beyonce's, "SIngle Ladies," that in and of itself is a remix of Gwen Verdon's "Mexican Breakfast," choreographed by Bob Fosse.

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l. to. r. Lawrence Lessig, Steven Johnson, and Shepard Fairey. Photo by Peter Foley

 

These were just some of the examples of "Remix" that Lawrence Lessig, author of Remix, Making Art And Commerce Thrive In The Hybrid Economy, and founder of Law at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society, showed during a discussion at the New York Public Library last week.

"The one thing we should recognize is that we can not kill this form of expression, we can only criminilize it. We can't stop our kids from being active in ways that you or i were not growing up. We can only drive them underground. We can't make them passive. We can only make them pirates. Is that any good?" said Lessig.

The discussion, which begged the question, "What is the future for art and ideas in an age when practically anything can be copied, pasted, downloaded or sampled, and re-imagined?" included Lessig, along with artist Shepard Fairey, and was moderated by Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America.

Fairey's own art, in the form of the Hope poster he created for the Obama campaign, recently came under fire for its remix properties. The poster illustrates a photo of the President credited to the AP and photographer Mannie Garcia. The AP accused Fairey of copyright infringement, to which the artist responded by pre-emptively suing the AP claiming his use of the image was fair use. His case is being handled by the center that Lessig founded at Stanford.

"I wanted to make an image that I felt represented Barack Obama as someone who was not outside the mainstream like the right wing was trying to potray him. Someone who had the characteristic of leadership. He could bring change and hope, and progress, and that he was a patriot. So the colors were very important. And the idea of the blue and the red blue states and the red states converging right there in the middle was very important to this image," said Fairey

"After i made that image and it got some traction on the Internet, i sent some out on my own dime, and the obama campaign said they really liked the style of that image and they had some images I could work from," he added. "So i did change, and then later Time magazine asked me to do something similar for their cover. The Obama photo was originally from a 2006 Darfur panel with George Clooney that acutally wasn't even relevant in terms of news anymore. It was an unspectacular, unexceptional photo, but after it became a poster the original gained more value.

Here are some highlights from the evening's talk:

The terrorists in this war [the copyright war] are our children. This wave of terrorism is threatening artists like Shephard Fairey. It's threatening kids. The RIAA is suing more than 28,000 kids for using material on the 'net illegally, according to the RIAA, but to no effect because the one thing we know about P2P filesharers is that they don't read supreme court decisions. - Lawrence Lessig

Remix had been a very impoartant part of my body of work. Drawing from references that a lot of people understand is a great way to establish where you are coming from in a piece of communication. As an artist I'm very much a populist and i believe that connecting with as many people as possible through acceptable metaphors is crucial to what i do. It's a really big part of my work. - Shephard Fairey

My view is it's clear we should be deregulating this form of expression. Remix should be free of regulation to facilitate it to flourish in the way that it already is. - Lawrence Lessig

i want to allow people to frequently use my images as long as it's something that's transformative and even if it isn't, if it's such small scale that i see something of myself when i was a kid in my mother's office running off copies of album covers to make stencils from to make my own T-shirts. The instance I will go after someone is if the work isn't transformative and it's made purely for exploitative profit. i actually went after some of the people that bootlegged the Obama image because I had given all the money over to the ACLU and the movement for Prop. 8 in California. One guy we knew bragged about buying a Mercedes with the profits from bootleg posters. If it's used as tool of communication and not for profit i'm never gonna have a problem with it. The things that inspired me to make art were about frequently being irreverent toward protected mark,s so it's all in the spirit of what I do. - Shephard Fairey

Our kids live in a time of constant prohibitions, constantly living life against the law. Normal behavior is deemed to be criminal behavior. That title is extraodinarily corrosive. It is extraordinarily corrupting. It is corrupting of the rule of law and the very ideals of a democracy. We have to do better if not for the RIAA or the MPAA, then at least for them. - Lawrence Lessig

My favorite Warhol quote : It's the duty of intelligent men (and I'd add women) to continuously restate the obvious. The idea there being that we're all so daft that the obvious isn't as obvious as it should be. In these kinds of communications we say the same thing over and over in subtly new ways. I don't think I ever had an original thought in my life. There may be some people aware of that on the Internet. However, i'm using that very tool to come up with art that I've charged gazillions of dollars for. There can be creativity even within elements of recycling. It has democratized this process that is incredibly powerful for people who were powerless before and I couldn't be happier. - Shephard Fairey

Here are some highlights from my tweetstream related to the evening's talk:

lynneluvah: @bigced sorry won't be able to. going to see lawrence lessig, shepard fairey, and steven johnson tomorrow night http://is.gd/kQfa
about 2 days ago
bigced: Are you saying they are more important than me?!??!?!??!?!
about 2 days ago
santagati: seems like a pretty dope lineup...I think I might have to check that out myself.
about 2 days ago
lynneluvah: Shepherd fairey at nypl talking about images in public spaces
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Fairey highlights how obey emerged from andre the giant.
about a day ago
jerrylore: not many folks know that it was Andre as his first design, I still have a sticker of Andre the Giant
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Lawrence lessig says viacom is tolerant of people who remix their works but not folks who just straight up jack it
about a day ago
lynneluvah: first question via nypl blog was submitted by dj spooky asking fairey about creativity w.in this remix culture.
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Discussion veered toward original thought vs original expression
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Gentleman sitting next to me just asked if I was tweeting this. He's tweeting on his phone 2 and now following me.
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Lessig just called out afkap for asking woman with child dancing in vid on yt. He says it was poor jusgment.
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Lessig says all this remix culture is literacy in 21st century
about a day ago
lynneluvah: Books are a hopeful medium bc they can be digitized and live far beyond the original work or its copyright
about a day ago
roprice: @abenamer but publishers can extend copyrights on books indefinitely... will that be an obstacle to remix culture in C21?
about a day ago
lynneluvah: @abenamer it was nice meeting you tonight at #lessigfaireyjohnson
about a day ago
lynneluvah: @blogdiva aye paul wasn't there, he wrote in a question on a blog and it was the first they read. nypl event called remix http://is.gd/kQfa
about a day ago
lynneluvah: i love that nypl is using drupal, they just have to get that url structure together
about a day ago
lynneluvah: @roprice that's a tough one. we can't copy the text in google books — so that info can't be remixed. need to think on that some more.
about a day ago
lynneluvah: @asiaticlight that was lawrence lessig talking not me on that quote about the remix capabilities with books
about a day ago
juleslov: what did you think overall of the panel? Saw you went didn't get to say hi.
about a day ago
lynneluvah: @jerrylore right. i had forgotten about andre too. but everyone knows about obey.
about a day ago
lynneluvah: @juleslov the panel was inspiring. now if only we could get govt to listen. i say creative commons for all works of art.
about 14 hours ago
lynneluvah: Reading: Want to waive copyright? Creative Commons has a tool for you - Ars Technica http://tinyurl.com/d738gd
about 14 hours ago

Related Stories:
What Does Silicon Valley Want from Washington? - Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig on Creativity, Business, Money and Politics
Tone Deaf Chronicles: AP Knocks Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey Fights Back

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3 Comments

  • Kevin Ohannessian

    At a conference on the 2012 Olympic Games this month, I had the opportunity to ask NBC General Counsel Rick Cotton about his thoughts on fair use and remixing. He had mentioned that popular video sites like YouTube have video-fingerprinting software that detects and removes copyrighted NBC content. I asked how loose the "fingerprinting" was -- specifically, if a user can splice and change footage enough to make it his or her own, and put it on YouTube as "original" work. His response was that NBC considers none of that activity fair use. (His exact words: "The short answer is: No.")

  • Ivars Ulinskis

    Definitely copy rights must be remade into actual rights to copy and stay not criminalized rather then allowing the only option for being nominated breaking the law and violating somebody else`s rights.

    The question is whether the corporate giants will approve a sure waste of legal tender just because children of the world are willing to express?

  • Lynne d Johnson

    Copyright is in place to make sure the orginator of a work gets paid. But what if, like in the case of Fairey's "Hope" poster, the remix brings more value to the original--making people want to purchase the original just as much as the remix. Or at least brings attention to the photographer, as Fairey, in every interview about the poster, gave credit to AP and the original photographer. Won't people now seek the work of that photographer? Do remixes, mashups, and samples really steal money out of the pockets of original artists? In the case of Soulja Boy, who was used as an example, all the remixing that caught on like wildfire brought his song and album to the #1 spot. I think publishers and media companies, as well as govt, have to rethink copyright laws-- just a little bit.