A whole bunch of folks sent over Andy Baio's recent brilliant post entitled No Copyright Intended, after the exceptionally common phrase found all over YouTube, where uploaders (mostly young uploaders) declare that, or the slightly modified "no copyright infringement intended," with videos they post. These are almost always on videos of songs or remixes -- in other words, content that almost certainly does infringe on someone's copyright. But the key point is that young people today intrinsically recognize that this doesn't make sense -- and they assume that their non-commercial use and intent not to profit mean that it should be fine. Legally, it's not. But it's certainly important to recognize that very few young people seem to recognize or care about this:
How pervasive is it? There are about 489,000 YouTube videos that say "no copyright intended" or some variation, and about 664,000 videos have a "copyright disclaimer" citing the fair use provision in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
As he notes, many kids really seem to hope that just explaining their intentions will ward off a takedown, even though so many takedowns are automated these days. But the key point that Baio makes is at the end, where he notes that "no amount of lawsuits or legal threats will change the fact that this behavior is considered normal..." And from there, he suggests that as this generation ages, and begins voting, the trend of ever more draconian copyright laws is going to start to look pretty silly:
Here's a thought experiment: Everyone over age 12 when YouTube launched in 2005 is now able to vote.
What happens when — and this is inevitable — a generation completely comfortable with remix culture becomes a majority of the electorate, instead of the fringe youth? What happens when they start getting elected to office? (Maybe "I downloaded but didn't share" will be the new "I smoked, but didn't inhale.")
Remix culture is the new Prohibition, with massive media companies as the lone voices calling for temperance. You can criminalize commonplace activities from law-abiding people, but eventually, something has to give.
We've been arguing the same thing for a while. We're often told that as these kids grow up and "learn" more about copyright they'll change their minds. I just don't see it. It may happen for a small percentage, but it's tough for these kids to deny reality. Sharing content, remixing content and building on content is so natural to them. The idea that it should be illegal simply makes no sense at all. No amount of "education" (even if it involves McGruff the Crime Dog) can fool people into believing that nonsense is reasonable.
We've argued a few times that Steve Jobs' real success wasn't in inventing anything particularly new, but in taking what others had done and making it better. That's why we found his complaints about Android seem so odd. Now, as a ton of you have submitted, Malcolm Gladwell has penned a piece on Steve Jobs' "real genius," which he describes (eloquently, as always) as a "tweaker" more than inventor. Elsewhere, he's described as an "editor," rather than inventor.
Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it. After looking at the first commercials for the iPad, he tracked down the copywriter, James Vincent, and told him, “Your commercials suck.”
“Well, what do you want?” Vincent shot back. “You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.”
“I don’t know,” Jobs said. “You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.”
Vincent argued back and suddenly Jobs went ballistic. “He just started screaming at me,” Vincent recalled. Vincent could be volatile himself, and the volleys escalated.
When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.”
I’ll know it when I see it. That was Jobs’s credo, and until he saw it his perfectionism kept him on edge. He looked at the title bars—the headers that run across the top of windows and documents—that his team of software developers had designed for the original Macintosh and decided he didn’t like them. He forced the developers to do another version, and then another, about twenty iterations in all, insisting on one tiny tweak after another, and when the developers protested that they had better things to do he shouted, “Can you imagine looking at that every day? It’s not just a little thing. It’s something we have to do right.”
This is a key point that we've been arguing about for years. There's tremendous value in what Jobs did: innovating not actually by inventing, but by tweaking and "editing" the ideas and designs of others to make them "perfect." That act of taking what others have done and making it more valuable is such an underrated skill -- and yet it's really the key ingredient to innovation.
If you look back, historically, it's what Thomas Edison really did as well. He didn't actually invent very much himself. But he took others' ideas and made them better -- often recognizing how valuable the ideas were much more than those who originally came up with them. That's a form of editing and a form of remixing to make things better -- and Edison and Jobs were both amazingly skillful at it. So skillful, that many people falsely credit them with "inventing" things they really just remixed.
One thing we hear all the time from folks who dislike remixes or mashups aren't "real" music is that a computer isn't a real "instrument." However, when I see and hear artists like Girl Talk, Kutiman and Pogo, I can't see how anyone with any ounce of intellectual honesty can claim that these are not true musicians in every sense of the word. And yet, people still argue that they're not, saying that sitting at a computer cutting up sounds isn't the same thing as playing a real "instrument." But... I point out that if someone is sitting at an electronic keyboard and pressing the keys, all they're really doing is playing a sound created by someone else. Is that really all that different than mashing up sounds played by someone else? What if you take things a step further and program clips of other songs into a keyboard and have someone play it?
Step on up, Madeon. While it's not a keyboard directly but (perhaps more impressively) a Novation Launchpad, this 17-year-old recently released this incredible video of him mashing up 39 of his favorite songs into one song... live. I defy anyone to claim that what he's doing here is anything less than a musician playing a keyboard or guitar:
Just like a musician, he's using an instrument and the sounds that it makes to create something new and wonderful.
We've written about Kirby Ferguson's excellent Everything Is A Remix project, and the folks over at On The Media have a nice interview with Ferguson. The whole thing is worth a read (it's pretty short, actually), but there were two great quotes that I thought were worth highlighting. He's asked if he's "sympathetic" to copyright holders, and responds:
I'm sympathetic to most of them. It's natural in our culture to want to protect what you feel you worked hard for or invested in. Unfortunately, I don't think it's as natural to be aware of the innumerable ways we take from our culture in order to create these things. We need to let go of the idea that our creations are utterly ours. Creating something new entitles us to some rights, but not to perpetual monopoly, which is the direction we're headed in.
That bolded part is the key. People have a natural inclination to give themselves more credit for their own work, and diminish the contributions of everyone who came before them whose work was instrumental to their own. I definitely recognize the natural instincts there as well, but I agree with Ferguson that it's important, culturally, to get past that.
He's also asked where he'd like to see things go "culturally in terms of copyright and patent laws" and he answers:
I think we have to stop conceiving of remixing as a kind of theft. It's not theft, it's not piracy, it's a legitimate effort to make something new. That effort deserves some respect, if not for the results, then for the intent. So I think step one is to stop treating remixing as theft and bring the penalties for unauthorized remixing back down to earth.
This can't be said enough, even though it's rarely said at all. I've explained in the past how insulting it is for people to make criticisms like "create your own!" when they see amazing creative new works built by remixing the works of those who came before. If you can't respect amazing creations built off of others' work as being something amazing and new, then you lead a culturally deficient life.
We've discussed in the past Kirby Ferguson's excellent project Everything is a Remix, which tries to highlight how creativity is almost always derived from elsewhere. We wrote about the first two videos, which covered copyright issues, starting with music and then movies. His latest may be the best yet, as it focuses on inventions, in large part by retelling the Apple story, concerning how it built off the work at Xerox PARC (which in turn built off work at SRC and other places). We actually just talked about this story a few weeks ago, and this video definitely adds to that conversation:
The key point, which critics will undoubtedly skip or gloss over, is that he's not just saying that copying is good. He's saying that copying is one part of the very important process of innovation. Copying is a component, but the important part is then taking that copy and doing more with it.
At issue is that some people believe that it's better to do everything from scratch. But that's incredibly wasteful, inefficient and too often, limiting. Being able to build on the works of others, to transform them and combine them with other good ideas, that's where innovation comes from. We've pointed this out many times before. The iPhone was a wonderful innovation, but almost all of its technologies could be found elsewhere. It's just that Apple put them together in a brilliant and user-friendly package. The video shows that the same thing was true of the original Macintosh, which took ideas from elsewhere and put them together in a useful manner. And, as you look back through history you find that it's true of all sorts of revolutionary and transformative advances in progress, such as the Gutenberg printing press or Henry Ford's Model-T mass production setup:
Innovation is almost always about remixing. It's about taking ideas that are already out there, and transforming them and adding to them. And yet, our social and legal policies seem to deny this. They seem to be focused on the myth of "flash of genius," -- of an invention that is brand new and unique. And so we create a system like the patent system, which doesn't recognize the importance and value of building on the ideas of others in order to continue that process of innovation. And that's a shame, because it's holding back progress in dangerous ways. It's certainly not stopping progress, but what we lose from progress not going as fast as it could is tremendous.
We've written a few times in the past about the brilliant musician, Kutiman, who creates astounding musical works through what might be called musical collage -- taking bits and pieces he finds on YouTube and mixing them into something amazing and wonderful. From a copyright standpoint, what he's doing is almost certainly infringement, in some sense, under today's laws, though thankfully no one is challenging him on that (and Israel, where he's from, has decent fair use protections). He's now released his latest work, and while it's also a musical collage, it's quite different in nature. Rather than just pull clips from YouTube, he spent a couple months going around Jerusalem, interviewing various local musicians and asking them all to just improvise some music (all around the key of D), and then mixed it together into this amazing sounding song (and wonderful video), called Thru Jerusalem:
I think we can safely say that this (as with his previous works) is really quite an incredible piece of musicianship -- but his works are created in a world that copyright law can't even comprehend, let alone predict. Can you even imagine trying to untangle the "copyright" question on such a song? Thankfully, it seems unlikely that such a question will directly come up with Kutiman's work, but it very well might come up with other musicians who do something similar or something else new and creative. And do we really want that? Do we want musicians having to worry about "the copyright question" as they create beautiful works such as this?
"[T]he story mercifully leaves out some very strange aspects of the original Brothers Grimm, including the wildly implausible idea that a husband would give up child-rearing rights to his wife's child in exchange for free access to the neighbor's lettuce patch."
(It's amazing how a little hindsight makes free access to a lettuce patch seem less valuable than a human child.)
Of course, Disney (a.k.a. Kaptain Kopyright) has often raided the Brothers Grimm for inspiration, thanks to their stories being in the public domain, something Disney's own work will likely never be subject to. And while there's a lot to be said in regards to Disney's hypocritical plundering of the past, Tucker points out just exactly how much copyright stifles creativity:
"Sometimes 2.0 is just much better than 1.0, and here we see the big problem with intellectual-property protection. It freezes the first release as the only release for up to several generations. Improving and adapting are made against the law. This is not a problem if you use a story that is old enough. But why should society have to wait 100 years to get a better version of the original? Why should we have laws that artificially slow the pace of progress?"
That question is directed at you, copyright maximalists. Why should we have to wait more than a lifetime to improve or adapt an idea? It can't just be the money, because most ideas don't generate a lifetime of income. Is it the fear that someone might improve on your idea? Is that the main concern? That the world will move on, forgetting the originator and embracing the "remixer"? Or is it simply a short-sighted and mercenary view that has self-perpetuated into the endless copyright extensions of today?
It's often argued that extensive copyright protection "fosters creativity," but this "creativity" is often narrowly defined and bound to one person (and their heirs) for 100+ years. Tying down an idea for more than a century fosters nothing more than resentment on both sides of the issue. The creators tend to feel that there is something sacred about an original idea, despite the fact there is no such thing as "original". Those on the outside who wish to build on existing ideas are locked out and no matter how brilliant their take is, it will never see the light of day.
It's as if certain artists feel that their ideas should exist on an unwavering straight line that runs parallel to their lifetime. While copyright protection theoretically "incentivizes" creativity, in practice it has become nothing more than a legislatively-backed, wholly undeserved pension plan that does nothing more than lock everyone else out of the creative process.
(Quick hat tip to JPM, who shot this post in my direction via evil social behemoth, Facebook.)
Tons of artists now release stems of their music for fans to remix. It's pretty common to see "remix" contests as well. Still, it's pretty interesting to see how some bands are taking it even further. Eliot Van Buskirk alerts us to the news that Damon Albarn's "virtual band" project, The Gorillaz, have teamed up with Korg to offer a special KORG iElectribe Gorillaz Edition for the iPad. The regular iElectribe is just an iPad synthesizer, which people seem to like. But the Gorillaz edition has a different (more fun, more Gorillaz-style) user interface design (making it look like it's been around the block and run over by a truck or two along the way), along with a ton of presets using music from The Gorillaz' latest album. So, instead of just giving people stems and telling them to remix, this is almost like an album bundled with its own synth tool in one package. I expect we'll start seeing things a lot more advanced than this. Why release just a plain old album when you can start to enable your fans to do much more with your music?
One of the common refrains in the comments from some of Techdirt's biggest critics is that I'm a "piracy supporter." I'm not sure what to make of such claims, because I don't actually support or endorse copyright infringement. I don't partake of it (willingly). I don't use any file sharing programs for downloading or sharing content. I don't download unauthorized music or movies. My position is solely from the point of view of the content creator and how they might be able to better engage their audiences and put in place smarter business models. Yet, for some reason, people keep trying to paint me, falsely, as a supporter of "piracy."
Of course, what I do support is the creation of new and engaging content. What troubles me, is when people try to imply wonderful creative works are somehow not creative because they build on the works of people before them. Of course, that's silly. All kinds of wonderful creative works you enjoy almost certainly come from near direct copies of things that came before. A lovely demonstration of this is seen in this short clip from the documentary RIP: A Remix Manifesto:
But I still feel that one of the best examples of creative works building on the works of others comes from Kutiman, the Israeli artist who burst on the scene two years ago with his absolutely amazing album Thru You, in which he assembled random clips from around YouTube -- without permission -- into an entire album that sounds absolutely nothing like its component pieces. Kutiman is the modern conductor, putting together an amazing, involuntary orchestra of players who don't even know what's happening. While he's been somewhat quiet (though, apparently touring the world), Kutiman has just released a brand new track, once again combining various YouTube videos into quite the jazz song, entitled My Favorite Color:
Seeing people's reactions when they first see the videos really is priceless. They're amazed as they realize what's happening. The one that seems to get the most attention (for plenty of good reasons) is the first track off the Thru You album, The Mother of All Funk Chords.
However, when trying to show the power of remixing and building on creativity, I actually think the second song from Thru You can be more instructive. That's because if you break down a number of the component parts, you realize that some of them just aren't all that impressive by themselves. Take, for example, trombone part that's used in the song. When viewed by itself... it's really nothing special:
Now, put it into the middle of a larger song, with the very accurate (for this discussion) title of This Is What It Became, and you get an incredibly powerful, haunting and moving trombone solo, which comes in at about 43 seconds:
And yet, to hear some people talk about these things, none of this is "creative." It's all just "copying." In some cases it's outright "piracy." After all, Kutiman is using the works of others, and doing so entirely without permission. And yet, I have trouble seeing how anyone can legitimately claim that these songs are "piracy" in any real sense of the word. Kutiman is clearly a musician. That he uses a note played by someone else on a YouTube video, and then "plays" it himself, strikes me as no different than playing a keyboard that plays a recorded sounded, or even strumming a guitar. A musician is putting different sounds together to create music. Does it really make a huge difference if that music involves someone making a note from an instrument directly themselves... or by taking the note originally played by someone else and doing something creative and amazing with it?
Is this really the kind of thing that our politicians and copyright defenders mean to outlaw?
I'm not a supporter of copyright infringement or "piracy." But if this is piracy, then I am a supporter of it. Because this is truly creative works, whether or not it's built on the works of others.
A few months back, Kirby Ferguson started a fascinating project called Everything is a Remix, highlighting how the concept of "remixing" what came before, and adding additional new elements to it is much, much more common than you would think. The project kicked off late last summer with a video highlighting remix within music, focusing mainly on Led Zeppelin and how many, many of their songs are clearly "remixes" of existing songs:
While it's taken a while, the second video of the series has now come out, and focuses on remixes in the movie industry, with a key focus on Star Wars:
It's long been known that George Lucas relied heavily on Joseph Campbell's works on myths in creating Star Wars, but you might not have known how many specific scenes, characters and elements he appears to have "remixed" from other movies. I've cut out a few quick screenshots below, but there are many more in the video:
Some of these are even more clearly take-offs on the originals when you see the video version. For those who think copying is somehow "wrong," do you now think any less of Star Wars? Or will you come up with some sort of rationalization why this kind of copying and remixing is okay. The point, of course, which will unfortunately be missed by many, is that this is how culture and creativity evolve. Everyone builds off the works of those who came before them. This is a good thing, rather than something to be punished.