I do feel there are a couple of points that she could have made better. Firstly, she doesn't fully acknowledge the value of transformative works, although from her slideshow of examples it is apparent that she understands that value. Secondly, when she talks about her true scarce value—being the only genuine source of her artwork, which is an important thing for artists to recognize—I wish she had also noted that, just like every other artist in history, her work also draws on what came before it. Despite these small quibbles, it is a succinct and sincere statement from a real artist about why being copied is good, and why freaking out about it means taking an incredibly pessimistic view of things.
As we recently noted in our The Sky Is Rising study, all of the evidence shows that we're living in a time of true abundance in terms of the content world. All of the data shows this. It's really incontrovertible. And yet, we keep hearing from certain folks -- often legacy entertainment industry interests -- that somehow the content creation world is at risk. That's pretty difficult to square with reality. In fact, I think it could be argued that if the industry gets its way with some of its legal proposals that would put this amazing age of creativity at much greater risk than anything the industry is complaining about.
It seems that plenty of others are recognizing this as well. Tom sent over a great blog post by Terry Border of Bent Objects, explaining why this is the most creative time in history... and why we shouldn't take that for granted. And, of course, a big reason for such an explosion of creativity is because of the internet, and the ability to not just create, promote and distribute works, but the ability to communicate.
Think about the art of writing for a minute. Think about creative, or biographical, or whatever kind of writing. Before blogging, how many people wrote any more than it took to fill the space of postcard? If it wasn't their profession, I'd say very few. Now, it seems like everyone has had a blog at one time or another. And now "micro-blogging" is in style thanks to Twitter. Not as many words you say? Right, but it's a different skill that people are learning. Very concise wording. Do people want to post boring tweets? Of course not. People spend quite a few minutes of their day trying to write interesting, humorous, or informative Tweets and Facebook updates. Small bits of creativity for sure, but add them up on a weekly basis, and it's quite a bit.
I think of all the craftspersons who have learned from each other on-line. Popular knitting blogs for instance have taken that old past-time of grandma's and made it mainstream. Before Etsy and the like, where would a person sell the scarves and hats that they made besides the occasional craft fair? I mean, a family only needs so many scarves, and then the knitting needles were put away. Communities on the web not only serve as a place to share work and ideas, but that also serve as shops to sell your product worldwide, creating a reason to make more, and to try new, crazy ideas. Kind of incredible.
That's just a small clip from his longer post, which goes into much more detail. It's worth a read, and definitely pay attention to his conclusion:
My contention is that these days we live in right now will be looked back on with longing, especially with various governments trying to push through laws to control the internet. If that happens, these will be the good old days, so don't take them for granted. Look around and enjoy. I think this is an incredible time to make things, and I hope it stays around for a while.
Couldn't have said it better myself. And this is part of the reason why so many people are so worried about things like SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and TPP. We don't want this amazing era to go away. We just want it to get better and better.
We just wrote about Nimblebit's response to Zynga upon discovering Zynga's game that looks a lot like a Nimblebit game. In that post, we noted that even Nimblebit's game was hardly the first such game out there, and now (as pointed out in our comments), someone decided to take the format of Nimblebit's letter, and redo it as a letter to Nimblebit about the other games that inspired Nimblebit's game. The tone is a little snarky -- and to be honest, I never got the feeling from the original that Nimblebit was claiming that it, too, wasn't inspired by others. Still, this really does show the nature of creativity and copying these days. All of these games can (and do) happily co-exist in the marketplace, where they can compete with each other to improve and provide a better consumer experience. And that seems like a good thing. On top of that, for those who are worried about another company copying them, it helps to remember that then you can copy their best ideas right back.... and improve on them. It's through this sort of process that innovation rates increase...
Aaron DeOliveira points us to an amusing Christmas to New Year's week diversion in the story of the song, WTF?! I Wanted An iPhone!!! (warning, potentially NSFW, if your work place doesn't like people singing curses). Beyond being entertaining and amusing, the story behind it is a cool case study in how creativity comes from all sorts of strange sources online. The story begins with comedy writer Jon Hendren, being bored on Christmas Eve & Christmas, and playing around with Twitter search, doing searches on terms seeking particularly entitled and angry tweets from kids who didn't get "what they wanted" on Christmas -- with "what they wanted" being defined as an iPhone, an iPad or a car. Hendren then started retweeting the ones he found:
That, itself, started to go viral, at which point singer Jonathan Mann, who's made quite a name for himself writing, recording and releasing a song a day ever since January 1 of 2009, picked up on the story and wrote the song linked above (his 1089th song, if you were wondering). The song basically takes some of the "best" of the entitled tweets and produces a fun little ditty (again, potentially NSFW):
Now, this whole thing is silly (or, potentially, a bit sickening when you look at how entitled some of those kids feel), but it really does demonstrate a few different concepts, all wrapped up in one nice holiday package:
Creativity comes from all sorts of strange sources
Online, collaboration can happen without people even realizing it (and that's cool)
The ability to create, promote and distribute content just keeps getting easier and easier
It's kind of amazing how frequently those who argue and advocate for more draconian copyright laws show themselves to be totally out of touch with actual culture. In fact, it frequently seems like they want these laws to prevent new forms of culture simply because they don't like (and don't understand) the culture. For example, Michael Geist notes that Leah Pinsent, a Canadian actor, appearing on behalf of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), spoke before the government, arguing against a "mashup" provision in the proposed copyright reform, which would legalize non-commercial, with attribution, mashup works. According to Pinsent, this idea is immoral:
Ms. Pinsent is fighting to prohibit so-called “mash-ups,” which allow anyone to take elements of works that Canadian artists have created and mix them with other works to create something new. She argues the practice is “morally wrong” and constitutes a form of plagiarism.
Of course, plagiarism is when you take someone else's work without attribution (and is separate from copyright law). Under the proposed law, attribution is required, so it's not clear what Pinsent is so upset about, other than that she just doesn't like mashups. But, as we've seen over and over again, this just appears to be cultural snobbery by someone who doesn't know much about mashup culture, no different than past generations who looked down on jazz, rock, rap or any other "new" music that they just didn't get. Nothing in a mashup takes away from an older work. There's this weird belief that someone doing something with your work somehow "damages" the original, but nothing is further from the truth. Mashups quite frequently introduce new audiences to old works and create new appreciations for old works. I know that's absolutely true with me. When I listen to various mashups, I'm always much more interested in hearing the originals. So I'm at a loss as to how it could be immoral or bad.
Of course, Pinsent isn't completely alone in this view. After all, much of the world has "moral rights" built into copyright law, which allow creators to block others from modifying their works on "moral" grounds. In fact, moral rights are required under the Berne Convention (something the US has skirted by granting them in an incredibly limited fashion such that they really don't exist). But I've never understood how there's any actual moral claim behind moral rights. How is it "moral" to block others from creating something entirely new? It seems, once again, to be based on the idea that the new somehow "harms" the old, but I've yet to see an argument for how that makes any sense at all.
Do you have a video camera and untapped creative juices? There are more and more outlets for uploading your videos, and there are even people willing to pay you for your contributions. Here are just a few open video contests out there.
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?
In our recent discussion on the ruling against Richard Prince, saying that his appropriation art is infringing and should be destroyed, I'm seeing a somewhat disturbing response from people who disagree with Prince: they seem to have some mythological idea that for any artwork to matter, it must somehow be "new." I have trouble with this standard for a few separate reasons:
What determines what is really new?
If you look at the history of music, for example, things like the invention of soul music really involved a very close copy of works that had come before. There was very little new. Ditto with all kinds of rock music. Led Zeppelin is famous for nearly every famous song they had being a near direct copy from someone else. The changes made were minor, but created massive successes -- showing that people seemed to really like these "copies," even if there was very little new in them. It seems, to me, that clearly something important was "new" in that people liked the copies much more than the originals.
One of the complaints in the discussion on Prince's work is that he "didn't spend much time" in creating his artwork, since he basically started with Cariou's work, tinted it, and added a few minor adjustments. Perhaps that's true, but it seems likely that he spent more time than Cariou did in taking the photograph in the first place. I'm not -- as some accused -- arguing that Cariou's work isn't art. Quite the opposite. I'm saying that the time involved is not a statement of what is and what is not artwork either. After all, Carious quite literally "copied" the scene that he photographed. He gets a copyright on it because of a few creative choices, but these are minor: where to position himself, how to frame the photograph etc. But are those really all that different from Prince's decisions of "how to tint, what to change, what to add?" I can't see how one is art and the other is a copy. It seems like both are art to me, even if I'm not personally impressed by Prince's work.
Does it really matter if the copy isn't really new?
And here's the bigger point. If people really enjoy those works, why are we so upset that they're copies with minor changes? Ray Charles had success with "I've Got a Woman," despite it really being the same basic song as the Harold Bailey Gospel Singers, called "I've Got a Savior," with just moderately changed lyrics, and a little more pizazz in the music. Led Zeppelin's most classic hit, "Stairway to Heaven," is a pretty close copy the song "Taurus," by Spirit. And Richard Prince's paintings involve just moderate changes to Patrick Cariou's photographs. And, yet, in all three cases, the markets seemed to value the latter versions more. Doesn't that suggest that, even if these newer works are "mostly" copies, that they provide significant value in the marketplace?
Why does it matter that they're not "new" by some subjective standard?
If the world really felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with these copies with minor changes, then wouldn't they have rejected the market for them? Would the world have been a better place if we didn't have "I've Got a Woman," but were just left with "I've Got a Savior," a song so hard to find these days that James Boyle could only find a single copy in existence when he wrote his book which told the story of the song?
Isn't the world actually better off that we have these "copies with marginal changes"? Why do people feel the need to complain about them?
A few weeks ago, we mentioned an experiment that we were doing, to try to create more useful and engaging ad products, specifically with a "conversational" ad unit on the front page of the site. The initial ad centered on a discussion of ways in which kids could use tablet computers (the ad and post were sponsored by ASUS and Microsoft). We're running another experiment now. On the article page for this post, or on the front page of Techdirt right after the first post (if you don't run an ad blocker), we have an ad unit that asks for your input on the question of what kinds of computing activities might best develop kids creativity. It shows my answer and asks you to "vote" for one of four activities and then allows to type in a more complete answer -- all from within the unit (so it's not taking you to some other page). This is very much an experiment, and we already learned some things from the first pass at this (some stuff worked, some didn't), and we'll be doing some more as well. In order to keep the feedback in that ad unit, I've disabled comments on this post.
This post should also be considered sponsored by ASUS Windows Slate, in partnership with Microsoft and SAYMedia.
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.