The copyright and Intellectual property vs. Free Content is a debate that has been going on for centuries. We are confronted with these issues daily: how is the information licensed, is there a patent on this object, is it a trademark for an organization. If I purchased the music/DVD/Book doesn’t that entitle me to make x number of copies to give to friends or download a pirated copy onto a mobile device? Read the “Rights, Remixing, and Mashups” case study on pages 148 – 140 in your textbook and answer the two questions at the end. Support your answers with information from the textbook or the Internet. Cite your sources.
Readers’ Rights, Remixing, and Mashups A number of prominent legal scholars have recently expressed support for a copyright system in the United States that gives rights not just to authors and creators of content but also to those who read, view, and listen to that content. These limited user rights would go well beyond fair use and typically encompass broad access and distribution rights, including the right to share digital content with others. The idea of a “law of user’s rights” is not new, although there has always been a measure of resistance. Yet this idea has gained considerable traction among intellectual property scholars, especially within the last decade.
They see copyright as far too heavily tilted toward enriching owners of content; hence the law must be reconfigured to offer more concrete benefits and opportunities to the consumers of content. Jessica Litman, for example, ardently insists that we must take readers’ interests more seriously and “reclaim copyright for readers.”85 What specific rights should readers have? While some argue for a modest set of user rights, others propose a thick set of rights including the right to share works with others along with the right to recode or transform a work to give it a different meaning, even if the new product is highly derivative of the original work. Among the readers’ rights proposed is the prerogative to engage in remixing or creating mashups without getting permission from the original copyright holders. Specifically, users would be allowed to remix digital content by recombining pieces from different preexisting cultural works such as music, photos, books, and
movies, even if those objects have a copyright. Under this system, filmmakers would be allowed to construct new movies out of substantial clips compiled from digital movies located on computer systems around the word. Such a creative mashup, of course, is currently illegal, unless it falls within the restrictive parameters of fair use. But Larry Lessig and others maintain that the law must be changed, so that ordinary people become “producers” of culture, not just “consumers” of culture. In this way we can return to an “amateur” creative culture that supports the participation of the multitude instead of just an elite few.86 Where might the public stand on this issue? Litman claims that we are on “the verge of reaching a social consensus that mashing up is an important copyright liberty,” that even copyright owners should not want to prevent.87 She goes on to stipulate that the law should allow for the creation and sharing of mashups as long as this is done noncommercially.
Without a change in the law and some recognition of users’ remixing rights, creative remixers like DJ Danger Mouse will continue to be thwarted by the structure of the current copyright system. This particular remixer is known for the Grey Album, a coalescing of the Beatle’s White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album. Copyright owners, however, fought vigorously to prevent online distribution of the Grey Album. Many cite this as an example of an oppressive copyright system interfering with the potential of a robust, creative remix culture. Some mashup artists, like the creator of “Girl Talk,” Gregg Gillis (he recombines music snippets from Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, and Miley Cyrus), take small samples that appear to be covered by fair use provisions of the copyright law. However, it’s not completely clear that Girl Talk is on the right side of the law, and a case can certainly be made that Gillis’s work is inhibited by the long shadows of copyright law. Changes in that law rebalancing
the equation between the rights of creators and consumers will promote greater cultural participation and thereby serve a definite social purpose. Some legal scholars such as Robert Merges do not believe that the impetus to promote this remix culture should lead to structural changes in copyright law. They argue that it would be unfair to the original creators of mass market content for remixers to “redistribute” their works and thereby interfere with their ability to appropriate the value of their creations. We cannot neglect the efforts of musicians, songwriters, novelists, and filmmakers who make this content. They have a right to control distribution, and, within limits, a right to control the fundamental meaning of those works. According to Merges, “The story of the original content creator should affect how we think about remixing.”88 The solution is to structure the law so that both content creators and users are treated fairly and justly, but this does not mean diluting the rights original content creators deserve over their creative works.