The Truth About Remixes

The Truth About Remixes

Innovation is a remix of the past. Time and time again, we find the most groundbreaking inventions are improvements upon past creations. Take the flash drive for example. The development of personal computers brought about the “need to store more and more information… with [the desire of] portability… from machine to machine (Londonip, 2014).” The flash drive was created in order to fill the void left behind by its predecessor, the floppy disc, in order to give consumers more freedom in terms of capacity and convenience. Similar stories are prevalent throughout history. The past serves as the foundational building blocks of the future.

The storyline in RIP: A Remix Manifesto that I found to be the most compelling illustration of copyright law was the idea that culture always builds on the past (SocialRedChannel, 2013). Advancement is nearly impossible without an application of previous knowledge. In the case of music, it’s almost unreasonable to think that new sounds can be created without incorporating or modifying old sounds. Artists will always look to the past in order to connect with their audience, illustrate an appreciation for past cultures, strengthen their musical compositions, and create imaginative recordings that challenge the status quo. If artists were not allowed to build upon the past, music would not be where it is today. Take Rock N Roll, for example. The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame Foundation identifies the genres of Rhythm & Blues, Country, Jazz, Gospel, and Folk as Rock N Roll’s “immediate roots (RockHall, 2013).” If that’s the case, then one of the greatest genres in music is a mashup. Hip-Hop can also be considered a mashup. It builds upon past genres like Rock does, but it is also heavily influenced by sampling. One of the most iconic figures in Hip Hop, Jay-Z, recently sampled Nina Simone’s Four Women on his daring single The Story of O.J. (Unterberger, 2017). He did so in order to pay homage to the previous creator, and expand on the ideas of the original record. Jay-Z wanted to give his take on the topic and put a modern twist on the song. 21 Savage also recently sampled Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Flashbulbs on his single, Bank Account (Unterberger, 2017). Both songs reached the Billboard 100, with the Story of O.J. peaking at #23 and Bank Account reaching #12 (Billboard, n.d.). Is it merely coincidence that a genre so heavily influenced by sampling is now the most popular genre in the music industry (Nielsen, 2018)? I don’t think so. The fact that Hip Hop can take something old and make it into something new is one of the reasons why it is so popular today. It’s daring, imaginative, and creative. It’s a culture that consistently builds on the past, and it’s driving the music industry into the future.

I understand that authors should have protection when it comes to guarding their intellectual property, but progression should be the ultimate goal, not inertia. We are in an era where things move at a very rapid pace. Creators are extremely active and need the proper tools to produce the products of the future. However, copyright law puts a limit on what they can utilize. It prevents culture from moving forward.

The fact of the matter is, mashups are “the result of two or more sources of content or data” being blended together to create a new application (Gerber, 2006). We use “mashups” every day. For example, internet sites such as Expedia and Priceline are mashups that allow consumers to easily compare vacation plans. Another example of a mashup is Angie’s List, “a directory service of general contractors, with customer reviews and opinions (Gil, 2018).” Some may argue that internet mashups and music mashups are very different, but the concept is the same: combine two or more sources of data in order to create an innovative way of consumption. The only real difference is, internet mashups connect the consumer to the seller. Music mashups, on the other hand, are viewed as competition to the original creation. But that misconception can be corrected through collaboration, in my opinion.

What many mashup artists don’t realize is that the original authors often feel like they are being undercut and unappreciated. Coherently, resistance will always be felt when creating something revolutionary that defies the norm. The phonograph was resisted by composers that were accustomed to making money from sheet music. Digital downloads were resisted by labels and artists that grew comfortable generating profits from physical albums. And streaming applications were resisted by companies that believed consumers should pay for a copy of music, instead of a subscription. In the end, that resistance eventually became support. I believe the same will occur when it comes to mashups, sampling, and remixing, but collaboration among all parties would certainly make things much smoother. Collaboration will turn resistance into support, especially if that same support becomes compensation.

Mashups should be legal, as long as the original author is acknowledged and profits with the new artist. As I explained earlier, mashups push music forward and have the power to create new genres, which will turn create new customers, new products, and new markets. Making mashups legal will create revolutionary styles of music that define previous classifications, which will grow the industry as a whole. While it’s unknown how much money Jay-Z or 21 Savage paid to clear the samples from Four Women and Flashbulbs (respectively), it’s clear that mashups are embraced as long as the original copyright owner is compensated. But money should not limit creativity. Everyone should be allowed to create, especially in music. While I believe that mashups should be legal, there should be some guidelines, rules, and regulations that protect the original creators. Here are the rules I propose:

  • A mashup should not be made to purposely discredit the original author. It should be used as a building block to create something new, not as a stepping stone to destroy a piece of art. Malice should be prohibited.
  • The original author has to be credited, and he must be entitled to royalties if the new creation is generating revenue. This brings me to my next point.
  • Mashups should not contain more than 9 samples. The more samples that are in a mashup, the harder it is to determine a royalty percentage. If the authors are capped at 10, the process can be simplified by establishing that each author is entitled to 10% of royalties. However, these can be negotiated among the creators, depending on the significance of each sample and the final product.

These three rules should satisfy many of the demands made by music artists and labels when it comes to mashups.

I believe copyright is a necessary law that empowers creators and allows them to benefit from the execution of their ideas. It puts the power in the hands of authors and copyright owners. That’s my personal opinion. Many people can think of brilliant ideas, but it takes effort and commitment to execute on those concepts. People who can make their ideas a reality should be rewarded, appreciated, and protected. However, I believe some changes can be made to improve copyright law. “Broadening copyright protection to encompass new forms of creative expression has been a consistent and driving force behind the evolution of copyright law (Carpenter, 2016)” yet mashups have been consistently resisted in the digital era. That needs to change.

Today’s world is extremely different than it was when the Constitution was created. There is no way that our founding fathers could have predicted a digital era, where written letters, postal systems, and newspapers have essentially been replaced by cellphones, the internet, and computers. They couldn’t have predicted that music would turn into a billion-dollar industry, where an artist has the ability to make money every time a listener hears their song. And they certainly couldn’t have predicted that technology would permit any person to be an inventor/creator. So how can we continue to implement the same laws from the 1700s in a 21st Century world? We have to make changes, in order “to promote the progress of science and useful arts (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Sec. 8, 1787).” The two changes I would like to be seen made to copyright law include the following:

  1. Reduce the terms of copyright from 70 years after the original author’s death to 10 years. For corporations, change it from 90 years to 20. The logic behind this is simple, get the most out of your creation as quickly as possible and prevent monopolization. If you have a brilliant piece of work, you shouldn’t be idle in capitalizing on the benefits. Get on it immediately. If you cannot get the most out of your work in 10-20 years, someone else should be given the opportunity to realize its full potential. It will put pressure on creators/inventors to make use of their products in the immediate future, as well as prevent corporations from monopolizing music (i.e. Warner and the Happy Birthday song).
  2. Allow others to make alternate versions (derivatives) of the original creation, as long as royalties are paid to the original author. This will solve many of the problems people have with copyright law, and will take the shackles off 21st century creators. Some people cannot pay upfront to secure licensing, but imagination shouldn’t be exclusive to the wealthy. Everyone should be allowed to exhibit their creativity. This proposed change will create a level playing field for all creators, while properly acknowledging and compensating original authors. As long as the derivative shows some level of creativity and doesn’t directly attack the original author, it should be permitted.

Copyright law covers a wide variety of works, but as an artist and music professional, I can only give my perspective through a musical scope. Copyright should protect authors and original creations, but it shouldn’t deter others from building upon those creations in order to push our culture forward. Instead of outlawing creativity and shackling those who break copyright law (figuratively and literally), collaboration should be encouraged and changes should be implemented to reflect a 21st Century world. Only then will our society truly be able to maximize imagination and creativity. Only then will our culture be able to evolve and move forward.

References

Billboard. (n.d.). 21 Savage chart history – Bank Account. Retrieved from https://www.billboard.com/music/21-savage/chart-history/hot-100/song/1034072

Billboard. (n.d.). Jay-Z chart history – The story of O.J. Retrieved from https://www.billboard.com/music/jay-z/chart-history/hot-100/song/1032734

Carpenter, M. M. (2016). If It’s Broke, Fix It: Fixing Fixation. Columbia Journal Of Law & The Arts, 39(3), 355-364. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.oclc.fullsail.edu:81/login.aspx?direct=true&db=asu&AN=115389537&site=ehost-live

Gerber, R. S. (2006). Mixing It up on the Web: Legal Issues Arising from Internet “Mashups”. Intellectual Property & Technology Law Journal18(8), 11-14. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.oclc.fullsail.edu:81/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=21673641&site=ehost-live

Gil, P. (2018, April 2018). What is an internet ‘mashup’? Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-an-internet-mashup-2483413

Londonip. (2014, September 15). 20 groundbreaking inventions from the last 100 years. Retrieved from http://www.londonip.co.uk/20-groundbreaking-inventions-from-the-last-100-years/

Nielsen. (2018, January 3). 2017 U.S. Music Year-End Report. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/reports/2018/2017-music-us-year-end-report.html

Rock Hall. (2013, October 18). The roots and definition of rock and roll. Retrieved from https://www.rockhall.com/roots-and-definition-rock-and-roll

[SocialRedChannel]. (2013, August 1). RiP: A remix manifesto. Complete [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTH6_MGE98k

U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Sec. 8. Retrieved from https://fairuse.stanford.edu/law/us-constitution/

Unterberger, A. (2017, December 29). The 50 best samples, covers and references of 2017: Critic’s picks. Retrieved from https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/list/8084999/best-samples-covers-references-2017

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