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An estimated 3-minute read

Mash Up Culture

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Before reading the rest of this post, I request you to visit the link attached to footnote number one and view the video to ‘United State of Pop 2009’.[1] The song is entirely made up of snippets of Billboard Magazine’s top 25 songs from 2009. Scrolling to the bottom of the page, you will notice a disclaimer by the artist, DJ Earworm stating that the mash-up is not for profit and directing those who like the tracks to the original versions of the songs. Oddly though, the page also provides a download button for the mash-up itself. This is because apart from the individual songs which have been mashed together, listeners also enjoy the mash-up itself because somehow it does sound like an entirely new song. Yet, copyright law sees a mash-up, not as creativity, but as copyright infringement with the extremely narrow exception of ‘fair use’. This raises an important question – has copyright law fulfilled its intention of behaving as an incentive for creative outflow? Disney has produced some of the most creative work of the 20th century. Yet stories like Snow White and Cinderella existed long before Disney remixed them into movies. Today, copyright law gives artists exclusive rights over their works and all derivatives. It has allowed for the Mickey Mouse extension of twenty more years of copyright protection, such that “no one can do to Disney what Disney did to the Brothers Grim”.[2]

Technological advancement and the prevalence of the internet have brought mash-up culture to the forefront of a society where pop culture is a binding force. Since access to creative works and the technology to adapt them is easy, many use mash-ups and remixes to express their message through an already popular song or video. Technology has also caused fashions to change increasingly quickly and many times, the only way for a creation to stay popular is if it is remixed to suitably adapt to that change. The law should not stand in the way of these emerging modes of creative expression and the fact is that it can not, however hard it may try. Thus to preserve any respect for the Rule of Law, our thinking needs to adapt from “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved”.[3] Creative Commons is Lawrence Lessig’s non-profit organisation which does this by allowing the creator himself to decide what fair use of his work is (with the conventional notion of fair use being the bare minimum) so that potential artists are not discouraged by the hassle of obtaining individual permission to use his work.[4]

The fundamental notion behind mash-up culture is that borrowing from and contributing to others’ work can create a symbiosis of sorts where creativity is only further nurtured. For example, YouTube’s “The Best Wedding Entrance Ever” is a popular video where a wedding march is set to Chris Brown’s hit single, ‘Forever’.[5] As per YouTube’s policy, those who held rights over the official music video to ‘Forever’ were notified as soon as the wedding video was uploaded, however they chose not to allege infringement and allowed it instead. The result was that the Chris Brown single which had fallen off the charts weeks earlier became popular once again. Simultaneously, the couple from the wedding shot to fame and their video was parodied on an episode of the famous sitcom, ‘The Office’. This shows that sometimes the use of another’s work can have a positive impact on his potential market. Even DJ Earworm has found that though his disclaimer states that he will remove any work that original artists’ disapprove of, he has never had to actually do so because most artists know that his remixes only remind people of the beauty of their songs.[6] Thus when the original artists only benefit from his work, why does the law not allow him to commercially benefit too?

[1] http://djearworm.com/united-state-of-pop-2009-blame-it-on-the-pop.htm

[2] Lawrence Lessig, “Re-examining the Remix” http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/lessig_nyed.html.

[3] This is the opinion of lawyer and Harvard professor, Lawrence Lessig. See http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html

[4] http://creativecommons.org/about/

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8DCt3Lmi28

[6] http://edition.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Music/01/25/dj.earworm/index.html

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