This week I’ve been thinking a lot about appropriation. And then I think about the copyright laws that stifle society’s creative appropriation and therefore makes the world a less interesting place. U.S. copyright laws do allow for the ‘fair use’ clause but, in the words straight off the the copyright office site, “The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”
So let’s say that I wanted to post on YouTube a montage of Tom Cruise running away from something using clips from his movies from the ’80s to the present. More likely than not, YouTube would ask me to either take the video down immediately, or they would cut the audio (if I used original audio). Was I making money off the video? No. Did I completely reproduce an existing work? Nope. I would have simply been taking related clips from Cruise’s movies and putting them together to create a coherent, stand-alone, and if I may say so myself, amusing piece that would have been completely different in feel than the originals. But as is business, the personal success of my video would be considered as riding the coattails of fame of the copyright owners and there is no way I should benefit from their original material even though my video is very different from theirs, right? And this is how we stifle creativity my friends.
The safest way to avoid a lawsuit is to always gain permission from those whose material you’d like to use. There are always those, though, who try to get away with appropriation in the spirit of creativity. I don’t blame them. However, when you’re in the public eye, I think it’s best to stick to those rules. Most notable of those who did not get the memo, we have Robin Thicke with his song ‘Blurred Lines’. Take a listen to this clip of ‘Blurred Lines’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give it Up’
RIIIIGHT?! I mean they are two completely different songs but the similar beat has got everyone’s knickers in a twist. Normally I’d be all for it but I mean with the copyright laws that we have and the fact that Sony didn’t ask for permission to use the beat, I’m kinda iffy on this one.
Another example is of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Your Love’ and The Lover Speaks’ ‘No Nore ‘I Love You’s”, which was redone by Annie Lenox in 1995.
Annie Lenox: (I included the original video because it’s frightfully appalling)
This was legally done so no worries. And the most fabulous part about it is that it proves that appropriation does not have to be seen as stealing. Minaj’s sampling of the earlier song is rather a HOMAGE to Lennox and her work. When we hear ‘Your Love’, we can appreciate the song and also look back fondly on Annie Lennox’s work.
So that’s all for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this. Catch up with me next Thursday! I’ll leave a final example of sampling done right as a final farewell for the week.