If you come to the Net armed with the idea that the old system of copyright is going to work just fine here, this more than anything is going to get you to recognize: you need some new ideas.
–Lawrence Lessig on ThruYou
With hundreds of thousands of videos uploaded every day, YouTube represents a vast resource for mashup artists, producers, and now even consumers to sample, remix, and invent new contexts for existing visual and audio works. Sampling and remixing has been in wide practice for decades now, but new end-user mashup tools are changing both the speed and exposure of the medium, as even relative amateurs are able to produce and disseminate remixes without complex software or technical knowledge.
There are already an increasing number of artists working exclusively from user generated, or amateur, content sourced from YouTube and other media sharing websites. An often-cited example is Kutiman’s ThruYou, a site built entirely from existing YouTube clips. The site’s design even references YouTube as seen here:
There are also artists such as DJ Mike Relm who use YouTube to remix both songs and video live. Although most of the examples I found seem to rely on a lot of pre-prepared material the concept of live djing with YouTube as your infinite record crate is a promising one.
In the past year, new websites have made this kind of remixing even simpler, allowing anyone with access to a web browser to create mixes of multiple YouTube clips on the fly. I was first made aware of this phenomenon through YouTube Doubler, shown here with a mashup of Usher’s Papers with the widely trafficked Man Goat meme:
A similar site, twoyoutubevideosandamotherfuckingcrossfader.com, provides the same basic functionality but allows the user to control the mix between the two clips. As these tools become increasingly sophisticated, it will become more and more difficult to police the Internet to the standard set forth in Bridgeport v. Dimension.
I believe sites such as YouTube Doubler would not be subject to copyright law, as they are merely linking to existing content hosted on YouTube. For example, if Usher’s record label wanted to remove his song from the mashup cited above, they would likely have to make their case against YouTube. And to be clear, uploading Papers verbatim to YouTube is not, and probably should not be, considered fair use. But the mashup of this content could be considered parody and therefore should be protected by the first amendment.
The issue becomes complicated, however, by the fact that the instance parody exists only on the end-users computer, where both clips are played simultaneously. Although each clip may be subject to copyright protection, it is through the resulting combination that a new, transformative, work is generated.