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Girl Talk On Remix As An Art Form

from the knock-on-wood dept

Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) recently participated in a live chat as part of a Download Decade series run by the Globe and Mail. Gillis makes music entirely from samples, combining existing songs in creative ways to make something new. His last album, which was offered as a pay-what-you-want download, used over 300 samples. Even though he's been held up in Congress as an example of why traditional copyright laws might no longer make sense, it seems like a lawsuit is inevitable because Gillis doesn't license any of the samples he uses. Yet, there has been no legal action to date (knock on wood!). Gillis argues that his sampling is fair use because it's transformative, but that hasn't been tested in court.

In the chat, he responded to a question I raised about why he uses a noncommercial license for his music (as he makes commercial use of others' works), arguing that transformative fair use would still allow commercial use of his music and noting that his label suggested the noncommercial license as a "safe move." Gillis was also asked whether he's surprised that he still hasn't faced a lawsuit, even though his profile has been much higher in the past few years.
Kind of. I believe in what I'm doing. I do not think it should be illegal. But at the same time, if you look at the history of sample-based music, it is somewhat surprising. Biz Markie, 2 Live Crew, Danger Mouse, Negativland, etc. Those are the people who laid the groundwork. They all had issues.
He notes that he was under the radar with his first couple albums, but since 2006, it's been hard for him to ignore publications like the Rolling Stone and the New York Times talking about how he's going to get sued. Yet, no lawsuits. He says times are changing.
The way the general public views intellectual property in 2009 is much different than in 1999. Look around the internet. So much content comes from pre-existing media. We're used to it now. Christian Bale goes crazy on the set of T4. That turns into a techno song, which then turns into a cartoon on YouTube, which will then turn into a T-shirt. Everyone is constantly exchanging ideas and building upon previously existing material. So the idea of a remix being a real artform is being validated in our culture every day.
Certainly, artists like Girl Talk, as well as others ranging from DJ Kutiman to the creator of the "rap chop" video, have been debunking the myths about "original" content, showing people that remixing can be creative and original and that it contributes to culture. Still, there are plenty of people who believe otherwise. Hopefully, Gillis continues to avoid legal troubles, though I don't think things have changed so much that this isn't still a huge risk. But, insofar as the remix is increasingly validated as an art form, perhaps a lawsuit would end up highlighting the limits that copyright law places on artistic expression nowadays.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 15th, 2009 @ 5:19pm

    I want this t-shirt

    Christian Bale goes crazy on the set of T4. That turns into a techno song, which then turns into a cartoon on YouTube, which will then turn into a T-shirt. Everyone is constantly exchanging ideas and building upon previously existing material. So the idea of a remix being a real artform is being validated in our culture every day.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 16th, 2009 @ 4:36am

    the remix is creative the content is not. truly creative people would make their own music.

     

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  3.  
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    Eclecticdave (profile), May 16th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    Creativity

    > the remix is creative the content is not. truly creative people would make their own music.

    Why stop there? :

    "The music is creative but the chords are not. Truly creative people would make their own chords"

    And then :

    "The chords are creative but the instruments are not. Truly creative people would make their own instruments!"

    Who are you to say where the line should be drawn? And why do you think it's a good idea to place arbitrary limits on creativity?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 16th, 2009 @ 7:27am

    Re: Creativity

    Well, I hope they paid the musical instrument patent owners for the copies they made.

     

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  5.  
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    Mike (profile), May 16th, 2009 @ 12:06pm

    Re:

    the remix is creative the content is not. truly creative people would make their own music.

    Uh, it is his own music.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 16th, 2009 @ 1:30pm

    Re: Creativity

    not exactly the same thing. sort of like saying book isnt creative because it uses letters like other books. moronic. chords and notes are base products. songs are finished products. you dont get to call them base products just cuz you want to. dont confuse tools with end products. its moronic to do otherwise

     

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  7.  
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    Easily Amused, May 16th, 2009 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Creativity

    And you will notice that he isn't using the songs... he is using bits and pieces of them, the building blocks of the song, if you will.

    There are a lot of examples of 'finished products' that are used as ingredients in other products. Have you ever made a sandwich? That bread was a finished product too.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 16th, 2009 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Creativity

    yes i pay for the bread to make a sandwich. so if i sell it i paid for the parts. if i steal the bread and then sell it as a sandwich it is the same no? musician plays a note that is a creation. someone else records it and uses it they didnt create the note the musician did. the musician plays 4 notes. record each one seperate use it to make a song. who played the song??? musician did.

     

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  9.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), May 16th, 2009 @ 7:58pm

    Re: Re: Creativity

    I think the whole point of this kind of remix is that is that it destroys the distinction between tools and end products. Gillis uses the end products of other people as his tools.

    Which, actually, is quite natural. When you write an essay or a non-fiction book, you are often using the end products of others as your sources to draw on as you create something new.

    I think that the ThruYou project best illustrates it. The songs of others are simply the DJ's instruments.

    The distinction between base and finished products isn't written in stone, nor is it objective. All artists, to some degree, take the finished products of others to use as their base products. Remix artists, even more so than most.

     

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  10.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), May 16th, 2009 @ 8:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Creativity

    Is the sound of the note the sum total of its artistic effect? A note is musical because of things like context and intent. In remixes, like Gillis', he creates a new and original context from the notes that other musicians played. The frequencies and raw audio was created by someone else, but the artistic components that evoke emotion, Gillis largely controls.

     

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  11.  
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    Mojo Bone, May 16th, 2009 @ 9:46pm

    Blaise has this right, I think. Context and intent are part of the work; the notes themselves, divorced from the other two, belong to everyone, and should be free for any transformative or parodic use.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), May 16th, 2009 @ 11:51pm

    the Remix Dilemma

    A simple solution to the sampling and remix problem is to use 1980's technology/programming, random sentence generation. Do the same for Musical notes. Mix the music and sentences. Generate and publish everything you produce on the internet. All you need is for one person to sing every word in the english laguage. Copyright is automatic from what I have read here.

    Also you can sue the big three for every song they produce after about 6 months on a standard PC.

     

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    Hepaestus (profile), May 17th, 2009 @ 12:16am

    Follow up

    I just ran the random sentence software in Visual studio for 30 minutes with a case statement looking for .... 1) hit me baby one more time, 2) I am still a guy, 3) I was blue and lonely, 4) wont you be my girl, 5) you shook me all night long 6) When daddy let me drive....... 10) When I was young


    Out of the 10 lines/titles from songs I had 4 hits.

    Wow I am a pop star

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 17th, 2009 @ 7:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Creativity

    remix artists should not be ones choosing if something is base product or finished product. i will go to car dealer say that ferrari is just base product i will take it for free put new rims on it now it is finished product then i sell it for $100000. sorry real world doesnt work like that musicians did the playing it is up to them not the dj.

     

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  15.  
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    Xanthir, FCD, May 18th, 2009 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Creativity

    remix artists should not be ones choosing if something is base product or finished product. i will go to car dealer say that ferrari is just base product i will take it for free put new rims on it now it is finished product then i sell it for $100000. sorry real world doesnt work like that musicians did the playing it is up to them not the dj.

    And the day you can make a perfect copy of that Ferrari for a fraction of a cent without damaging the original Ferrari at all (in fact, you'd just be copying the copy of the Ferrari that the original owner already created and sent to you over the internet, or possibly copying the copy that Google copied from the copy that the original owner copied onto his webhost which then copied another version to send to the Google spider, which then makes many copies distributed over Google's content distribution servers*), your argument will be relevant.

    Until then, physical goods are finite. Digital goods are infinite. One of them can be copied perfectly for a fraction of a cent without harming the original. The other can't. I hope you can distinguish which is which.

    *There is likely more copying going on here than I indicated.

     

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