“I Put Words in People’s Mouths”: The Remix Culture and Copyright Claims

If your 2012 revolved around trying to get Call Me Maybe out of your head, you’re about to be reminded of how catchy this song was. Being good or bad isn’t even relevant at this point, the song was everywhere and so were an endless stream of parodies.

What allowed these parodies to survive is the “fair use” argument against the artist/label’s copyrights, they were commentaries on the song and in my opinion did more promotion than the label could have ever done on its own.

Parodies aside, one YouTube channel did a remix of the song with Obama’s real speeches. Real as in his voice is actually his voice, even though he may have not said “ripped jeans skin was showing”. Let’s watch:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX1YVzdnpEc]

Baracksdubs is a YouTube channel that is dedicated to creating remixes of presidential speeches to voice and mouth lyrics of pop songs, sometimes you’d find Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton featured in a couple of videos but they’re primarily Obama. The creator of this channel, Fadi Saleh, goes through what must be hundreds of these speeches looking for words, parts of words and sometimes potential parts of words to create his collages. What he creates is this whole new production that doesn’t really relate to neither the song nor to Obama.

Wouldn’t there be at least 4 big-picture copyright, at least brow-furrowing cases here?

The answer is: No.

Baracksdubs started around three years ago, and giving that it still exists and creates new content gives more weight to what Lessig is calling for in the book Remix; a breathing room in copyright regulations sets our culture for more creativity.

For the example above, Carly Rae Jepsen herself faced copyright infringement claims herself so it might even be difficult to pinpoint what an “original content” is here. As for the Obama side, Baracksdubs actually celebrated with a Facebook post sharing an article in which Obama was asked about the Call Me Maybe clip, to which he replied:

“I have to admit, I’ve never actually heard the original version of the song. I saw this version where they spliced up me from a whole bunch of different speeches that I made. They kind of mashed together an Obama version of it.”

“An Obama version”!

it went on to create a brand for itself, media kept up with new releases like original music. In a way, he created a stand-alone brand from mashing two things up in a creative and intriguingly accurate way that will probably open doors to even more versions of content.

Here’s a couple more for fun:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6PEboTpcfI]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw0v-7CfLvc]

“Inspired”…Sure

There comes a time in every creative person’s life when they start making professional work, and usually right before that is when they get an important sentence repeatedly knocked into them by their bosses, contracts or lawyers: Don’t Steal Other People’s Work.

Don’t copy and paste, don’t rephrase or reshape, don’t even think about any other type of similar work while you’re working. It doesn’t matter if you mean to or not, your life as a creator will be over if you even come close to it.

But the question is: is this possible?

Scenario A: A designer is quickly approaching a deadline to hand in a banner and inspiration just doesn’t want to make an appearance. Our designer goes online, searched for similar banners to what he’s doing and tweak somethings and goes to sleep happy.

Someone finds out or recognize the original work and bam; our designer is in deep trouble.

Scenario B: A designer is working on a banner design. He has an idea, tries it and is instantly happy with his work, he knows it’s going to be a hit. It just feels right.

Someone recognizes that his work is a copy of a 1980 ad and bam; our designer is in deep trouble.

Are they both plagiarists?

The argument is a tough one, designer B is being a human being with a memory that works, that’s all he did wrong. Isn’t that what brains supposed to do? absorb information and recall them when needed? He stored something he glanced at years ago and recalled it when he was looking for idea, same goes for music, books, stories,,,etc

But then again, a work that isn’t originally the artist’s is a work stolen. You wouldn’t want to see another version of something you created attributed to someone else. And there’s no way of knowing if the person actually intended to copy or not.

In that way Michael Bierut makes sense of calling himself a plagiarist, and consequently we all are. We are plagiarists for dressing the way we dress and for writing the things we write and for saying “this sick beat” (It’s copyrighted by Taylor Swift. True story).

As someone who writes for a living, this thought scares me. And now I’m looking for software to validate that any words I type (or ideas?) is a brand new invention that no one in the entire world, since the beginning of time has reached before me. Because I can’t afford being sued!

An Open Letter to Lanier

Dear Mr. Lanier,

I have recently been reading your book You Are Not A Gadget for class, and while it’s not a book that I would usually read in 4 days, I did read your run-on rant on how everything has gone so, so wrong and how “new media” if we dare call it that has ruined every possible hope of a new civilization.

It should have been obvious, Mr. Lanier that since you start your book by criticizing your book that this was going to be…peculiar.

“It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons…”

also, ouch!

“—automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals. The world will be minced into atomized search-engine keywords within industrial cloud computing facilities located in a remote, often secret locations around the world.”

You are right, Jaron. But see, even though I am the human rarity reading this book, I did use search-engine keywords and cloud computing services to read your book, and so did you probably throughout writing and publishing this book.

I agree with you that the world is becoming more technology-oriented, but that doesn’t mean we will turn into gadgets, much like the silver space suit still hasn’t made its debut in everyday culture as expected.

We are increasingly depending on technology, and it is taking a toll on us, but it has its upside. It has a huge upside that I‘m worrying you’re missing out on. Open culture didn’t drive creativity out the window, it’s just that we are still living in the capitalist world we’ve always been living in. Profit will always be the winner. Expecting that to change just because we are introducing a new medium and new platforms and new ways of publishing and connecting isn’t good for you. Because some things will simply not change in life.

The internet isn’t all low-quality content looking for money, the internet is not a big “slum”, it’s where you look that matters. Who says that only signed artists should make music, what deems them good anyway but the audience, the people?

Concerns over who is “running the internet” is a valid argument, I’ll give you that. But the “lords of the cloud” are systems and companies, and they are run by people. It always comes back to people and it always did.

Living in an open, digital culture is not a threat to my humanity, value and contribution. I am not a gadget, no one is a gadget and no one is turning into a gadget.