Aesop Rock Admits That Copying Others Is How He Makes Music

from the good-for-him dept

We've discussed many times how creators copy all the time, and mentioned the T.S. Eliot quote:
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.
This is often shortened to something along the lines of "good artists copy, great artists steal" (and attributed to Picasso). Even so, outside of pure mashup artists, it's rare to see artists admit that they copy others for inspiration. However, Jon Lawrence points us to a cool "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) session at Reddit by the famed hip hop artist Aesop Rock (who, I never realized until now, attended high school at the same time I did, just one town over). At one point, someone asks him "what inspires your beats," and Aesop gives him a straightforward answer:
i just listen to old music til i hear a sound i like - then i steal it. rinse, repeat.
The thing is, assuming he means "copy" and not "steal" (sorry, sticking point around here), that's true of tons of creators, though just as Aesop does, they then do something cool and amazing with it. Still it's nice to see an artist of Aesop's stature willing to admit it up front. It's just too bad that those who don't understand how art works keep wanting to make this illegal.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:42pm

    Hey, he steals it. His words, don't correct the man.

     

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  2.  
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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:47pm

    Refreshing

    Gotta love that honesty.

    Judging from this ("attended high school at the same time I did, just one town over"), his non-rap skills most likely won a few truth-telling contests (two towns over).

    Also, this shit right here is the shit:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6dxYka2tRk

     

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  3.  
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    bob, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:50pm

    But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Because everyone knows that folks on P2P networks or people using Big Search's happy pointers to torrents aren't actually stealing. Nope. Only artists like this use that word.

    " It's just too bad that those who don't understand how art works keep wanting to make this illegal."

    Nope. It's too bad that those who don't understand how artists get paid want to argue that any file sharing couch potato is just as artistic as Mozart just because Mozart was influenced by Haydn a bit.

    We've argued these topics for years and we've built a perfectly usable definition of fair use, but that's not good enough for the plagiarists and the cheap couch potatoes. Nope. They want to pretend that downloading some song should be treated the same way as an artist who is creating something truly new.

    And no. Most of the remixes that take the hard work of photographers and put them alongside the hard work of musicians is not sufficiently new or original. Sorry. It's just a scheme so Big Search can sell more ads without sharing ad revenues with the photographer or the musician.

     

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  4.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Refreshing

    We don't like it when the city pigeons break wings...

    I have played that video for so many people since you first sent it to me.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:52pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    There are more amateur photographers than professional photographers. There are more amateur musicians than professional musicians.

    But only Big Artist gets all the rights, right?

     

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  6.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:55pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    We've argued these topics for years and we've built a perfectly usable definition of fair use

    Except that fair use no longer covers sampling, and artists like Aesop are forced to license every single split-second clip they use in a song or risk being sued...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    ...because, like it or not, he is using someone else's work, and they get to choose.

     

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  8.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    ..because, like it or not, he is using someone else's work, and they get to choose.

    Why? Because an artificial legal construct says so?

    You make it sound like it's just naturally that way - but it's not natural at all. And in fact, not very long ago, samples of under 8 seconds were considered fair use - then suddenly they weren't.

    Oppose sampling if you must, but please don't act like copyright is a fundamental law of the universe. It is a human creation, its limits change constantly, and there is plenty of room to debate what it should and should not cover.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    That's not how culture works though, well, maybe recorded music, but it's not like they're doing it for the art.

     

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  10.  
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    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:04pm

    This is totally ridiculous. I'm a firmware developer, and I have to say that every time I write a piece of code, I create it from whole cloth. Absolutely whole. I push aside all the code I've written before, all the code written by people I've worked with, all the examples I've been given; I discard everything I was taught in school about programming, all the documentation that comes with the products I use, and all the libraries that come with them. Because, you know, to re-use any of that prior art in any fashion would be stealing.

    The really tough part is inventing a new processor each time, without using any of the techniques ever used previously. Do you know how hard it is to invent working computer processors without using flip-flops? Because, you know. That would be stealing.

     

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  11.  
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    MM_Dandy, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:04pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    That's right, he said "steal," as in he took the beat out of the song, leaving silence in it's place.

    So...he probably didn't mean "steal" in the literal sense, did he?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Marcus, what happened is that people got greedy, took too much, pushed the envelope and... as it always does, the pendulum swung the other way.

    Copyright isn't a fundamental law of the universe. Ownership of your work, now that's fundamental.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Copyright lasts too long, after a certain point that ownership belongs to everyone. Strange kind of property there.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:13pm

    Your creation is yours until you release it to the world, then it belongs to the world. That's the natural law.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    From your first sentence, I thought you were arguing against copyright.

    Then I read your third and laughed.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:28pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    "should be treated the same way as an artist who is creating something truly new."

    So show me any piece of music that is "truly new" and we will talk. Everything is a derivative of something else.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvM1WghwrJY

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:32pm

    drawing inspiration from something is vastly different from copying it. Imitation is flattery, theft is illegal. - your's truely.

     

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  18.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:34pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Because Mozart would never steal.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im_tJLeo2qU

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:40pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Tell us how difficult is to push a button to take a photograph?

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Can Ford choose too?
    I mean they should be taking royalties for their work and dictate how it is being used right?
    So every taxi driver should be paying Ford, every farmer should pay Ford, the police, firefighters they all should be paying Ford for their property right?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Ownership of work is not fundamental it is a hindrance to prosperity.

    Life + 95 years of a monopoly is just stupid.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:43pm

    Re:

    how many beats until it stops being imitation and starts being theft? Can I use the same 4 cord sequence, 5 chords? One line of lyrics, 2, 8, 12? 2 stanzas?

     

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  23.  
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    Donny (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    "Ownership of your work"

    I'm sorry, maybe I'm stupid. But what's that phrase mean? How can you cash it out?

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    Re:

    That totally irrelevant. This post is about art only.

     

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  25.  
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    Kaden (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:57pm

    It's hard to imagine how barren the musical landscape would be today if the first schmuck who tripped over a I-IV-V chord progression had been ceded total control over it's subsequent usage.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:59pm

    At least we know why he sucks now.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:02pm

    The Axis of Awesome: 4 Chords (2011) Official Music Video

    SONGS in 4 CHORDS (the same 4 chords)
    Journey -- "Don't Stop Believing"
    James Blunt -- "You're Beautiful"
    Black Eyed Peas -- "Where Is the Love"
    Alphaville -- "Forever Young"
    Jason Mraz -- "I'm Yours"
    Train -- "Hey Soul Sister"
    The Calling -- "Wherever You Will Go"
    Elton John -- "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" (from The Lion King)
    Akon -- "Don't Matter"
    John Denver -- "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
    Lady Gaga -- "Paparazzi"
    U2 -- "With Or Without You"
    The Last Goodnight -- "Pictures of You"
    Maroon Five -- "She Will Be Loved"
    The Beatles -- "Let It Be"
    Bob Marley -- "No Woman No Cry"
    Marcy Playground -- "Sex and Candy"
    Men At Work -- "Land Down Under"
    Theme from America's Funniest Home Videos
    Jack Johnson -- "Taylor"
    Spice Girls -- "Two Become One"
    A Ha -- "Take On Me"
    Green Day -- "When I Come Around"
    Eagle Eye Cherry -- "Save Tonight"
    Toto -- "Africa"
    Beyonce -- "If I Were A Boy"
    Kelly Clarkson -- "Behind These Hazel Eyes"
    Jason DeRulo -- "In My Head"
    The Smashing Pumpkins -- "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"
    Joan Osborne -- "One Of Us"
    Avril Lavigne -- "Complicated"
    The Offspring -- "Self Esteem"
    The Offspring -- "You're Gonna Go Far Kid"
    Akon -- "Beautiful"
    Timberland featuring OneRepublic -- "Apologize"
    Eminem featuring Rihanna -- "Love the Way You Lie"
    Bon Jovi -- "It's My Life"
    Lady Gaga -- "Pokerface"
    Aqua -- "Barbie Girl"
    Red Hot Chili Peppers -- "Otherside"
    The Gregory Brothers -- "Double Rainbow"
    MGMT -- "Kids"
    Andrea Bocelli -- "Time To Say Goodbye"
    Robert Burns -- "Auld Lang Syne"
    Five for fighting -- "Superman"
    The Axis of Awesome -- "Birdplane"
    Missy Higgins -- "Scar"

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Big Al, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:06pm

    Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Tell us how difficult it is to push a key to get a sound...

    (Disclaimer: I am both an amateur photographer and an ex semi-pro musician)

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:12pm

    Re: Re:

    According to US courts 3 chords is enough even if they sound nothing like the original, is just stupid but that is how American courts rule.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgeport_Music_Inc._v._Dimension_Films

    The basics under current doctrine is that it doesn't matter how many notes, the judge must opine on how similar the works are if he finds it is similar even if it is one note he can find it copyright infringement.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re:

    Why because art is different from everything else and should have special treatment that is above and beyond anything else in the world?

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Easy, very easy, now explain how is that hard work :)
    Want hard?
    Try going to Afghanistan and shooting someone.
    I don't see soldiers getting royalties for the country they protect do you?

    Will any soldier get royalties from all the ships they are protecting out of the coast of Somalia?

    They should get paid for their hard work and that is hard now, is nothing like pushing a fraking button to make music or take a photograph now is it?

     

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  32.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    Marcus, what happened is that people got greedy, took too much, pushed the envelope and... as it always does, the pendulum swung the other way.

    Haha... that's one of the most amusing things I've ever heard you say.

    Yes - that is absolutely what happened. Over the course of decades of constant copyright expansion.

    To claim that hip-hop producers are the ones who "took too much" is beyond idiotic.

     

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  33.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:38pm

    Re:

    Your creation is yours until you release it to the world, then it belongs to the world. That's the natural law.

    Yes yes yes! This.

    Now obviously society, almost by definition, is based on the creation of laws that go beyond the "natural law" - natural law is a lot bloodier than we'd like, for one thing. And by extension there is a reasonable argument to be made that some amount of copyright protection is a good societal decision - but any reasonable debate on the details of that protection must come from a baseline of what you said here.

    So when a copyright maximalist's only argument is "because you own it" or "because you have the rights to say what happens to your work", they actually have no argument at all, because what they are saying is plainly false. You only own copiable art inasmuch as society agrees to let you own it. Society did agree, with many limitations, but those have been slowly eroded for generations. The spread of "piracy" is really just society revoking a right that they granted, and that a bunch of corporations abused.

     

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  34.  
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    Big Al, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    My point precisely.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 4:52pm

    Re: Refreshing

    This track was my introduction to Evil Nine and Aesop Rock. Both are now favorites.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 5:16pm

    Re: But he didn't say "share",did he?

    awwwww bob are you still sad cause you are a failure?

     

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  37.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 5:30pm

    Re: Re: Refreshing

    This track was my introduction to Evil Nine and Aesop Rock.

    You have a long and exciting journey ahead of you, my friend...

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 6:21pm

    Nothing special

    Lots of music writers have to "sample the sound they like" in order to write new pieces of musics.

    Some of them hear people talk in the park, while some of them randomly play keys on piano. Listen to other's music is just one form of it.

     

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  39.  
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    pastanoodle, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 6:52pm

    All art is derivative

    I'd like to see a real artist come here and deny all art is derivative.

    Here is Jim Jarmusch golden rule no. 5

    "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don't bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It's not where you take things from—it's where you take them to."

    And btw, Picasso might actually have said "good artists copy, geniuses steal" (that's how they say in Spain) and T S Eliot simply wrote about it. They had common friends who discussed these matters. Maybe they even met. I'm not sure. My point is it's very hard to find the truth. Yes, there's a writing by Eliot, but of course Picasso was not writing his thoughts. Eliot was. I've heard a Spanish friend say how typical for Americans to claim such a brilliant comment was made by one of their own. Eliot stole that view from Picasso... then pause and say, but of course Eliot was a genius and isn't that what geniuses do?

    Whether Picasso said it or not, he did "copy" others.

    Just compare Picasso's accordionist
    http://i.imgur.com/0T0ZX.jpg

    with Braque's portuguese
    http://i.imgur.com/4OWWM.jpg

    And look at the copies Van Gogh made from other paintings. He probably did it because artists used to copy to study and master the technique or to give their own personal view of the work. I have the feeling since he was not an important painter while he was alive; he was probably having fun copying. He copied Rembrandt, who always had a high reputation as a painter, so maybe he was trying to emulate the masters too. Whatever the case, he was free to copy, emulate and create a new vision. He didn't have to worry about the shackles of copyright. And he is among the greatest of all time.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 8:14pm

    Re: Re: Refreshing

    This can't be true nothing good comes from you listening to music for free.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 9:11pm

    Re:

    Too bad they aren't releasing it to the world, just releasing limited rights.

    They don't give it away, they give you the right to enjoy it, nothing more.

    Thanks for playing "feed Marcus a line", you can collect your prize on the way out.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 9:13pm

    ...famed hip hop artist Aesop Rock (who, I never realized until now, attended high school at the same time I did, just one town over).

    OMG, you're practically 'homies'!!!

     

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  43.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Nov 9th, 2011 @ 6:34am

    Re: Re:

    Too bad they aren't releasing it to the world, just releasing limited rights.

    They don't give it away, they give you the right to enjoy it, nothing more.


    Can you possibly be that stupid?

    The commenter was talking about what is NATURAL law. And by the natural rules of the natural world, the moment you release a song or a piece of art in any way (to even a single person) there is no way to ever wholly reclaim it. You can't pull things back out of people's heads.

    The "limited rights" you speak of are not natural - they are an artificial construct. In some ways they might be a GOOD artificial construct - and you should make that argument if that's what you believe. But attempting to claim it's in any way natural is utterly ridiculous.

    Please, explain to me how an artist could naturally release something in a "limited" sense, without relying on society's agreement to a set of rules.

     

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  44.  
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    PaulT (profile), Nov 9th, 2011 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re:

    "They don't give it away, they give you the right to enjoy it, nothing more"

    I bet you believe this, too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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