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.
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:
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