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February 4, 2008
Political Remixing & Cultural Copyright
If you've been around politics since the last US Presidential election you might remember some of the popular parodies such as JibJab's "This Land Is My Land". I haven't seen a comparably memorable parody yet this season, but I have seen "The Yes We Can Song" (warning: page has a plug-in that auto-plays on load).
This mashup takes one of Barack Obama's New Hampshire stump speeches and remixes it with contributions from over 35 artists. The motivating forces behind this appropriation - the campaign doesn't appear to have authorized or endorsed it - include Jesse Dylan (son of Bob Dylan) and will.i.am of the group Black Eyed Peas.
I'm familiar with this kind of overlay/remix/mashup (I'm still not completely clear on the appropriateness of the terms) being used with things like popular music, but I've never seen it done before with a contemporary political speech. As in the NIN case, the "Yes We Can" remix is being used to support the original cause - I think these two projects arise from much the same sensibility though they're in different spheres.
I'm reminded of the point Cory Doctorow made in his latest piece for the UK Guardian Unlimited. In this entry in his "Digital rights, digital wrongs" series Doctorow argues for a tuning of the sensibilities of copyright law. In particular, the law doesn't distinguish between the reuse of a copyrighted work for a mass commercial project such as a blockbuster movie and the reuse of a copyrighted work for personal and noncommercial use.
Doctorow argues that "folk copyright" use existed for a long time prior to the net, but
Now you have billionaire media empires behaving as though parents should get a licence for a Prince song before they upload a YouTube video of their adorable toddler dancing to it.
The idea that individuals need lawyers to negotiate their cultural personal material space shows how broken current copyright handling is. Doctorow would "stop shoe-horning cultural use into the little carve-outs in copyright" and instead create a new copyright regime that treats small-scale copying differently.
Doctorow names (but doesn't point to) A2K, the Access To Knowledge project around reforms to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties. A2K is trying to make this new copyright regime happen, but WIPO is a huge thing, dominated by big companies... err, excuse me, countries doing the work of big companies such as the US carrying the banner for the Copyright Cartel. Any change through this method will be many years in the making.
Meanwhile we have an election coming whose outcome just might change what positions the US chooses to defend at WIPO and in related forums.
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