Fragmentr is a collaborative image remixing tool. Users can upload images to the active fragmentation which displays the most recent 5 images. The images are masked into 30 different fragments and shuffled at random. At regular intervals the site generates an archive of the fragmentations that form a visual blog.
Fragmentr beta is open to the public, and welcomes interesting images from your collections.
As a music enthusiast who has been listening hip-hop, pop, techno and R&B for years, I have realized that I love songs with samples. Whether I recognize the sample or not, there is something special about songs that contain older recordings. Vocal samples are typically very catchy and add soul to a record. Instrumental samples stand out as riffs in new records.
As a music producer though, I avoid sampling at all cost. I do not want to risk having injunctions filed against any project I work on or receive emails requesting royalties from a song I produce. Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films set the stage for the feeling. The Court of the Appeals for the 6th Circuit was direct when it said, “Get a license or do not sample.” Even using a few notes of a song without a license could make me liable for copyright infringement.
But just for this class and this blog post, I’ll step outside my comfort box. Here is our case study:
One of the top songs from 2008, was Usher’s “Love in this Club.” The song was very success due in part to its smooth synth backdrop and euro-inspired melody. According to the song’s entry on Wikipedia, the song’s producer, Polow da Don, was inspired to create a beat during his weekend stay in Las Vegas for the MTV Video Music Awards. He said of the song, “If you listen to the beat, the synths and everything has a [Las] Vegas feel to it. Making love in the club, people in [Las] Vegas are kinda wild” (Wikipedia). The song toped the billboard charts and has sold over 2.4 million units according to Nielsen Soundscan.
Take a listen. Play close attention to the instrumental.
Ok, now remember I do not sample from other records. Last night I went into the recording studio and made this:
I think this raises some interesting questions. It turns out that “Love in this Club” is based on pre-made loops found in Apple’s music Jampack software that can be accessed through Logic or Garageband. Would I be liable for copyright infringement to the copyright owner of “Love in this Club” because I took “riffs” of the song? It is likely my version would pass the “de minimis” standard the District Circuit applied and my usage would likely to “rise to the level of a legally cognizable appropriation.”
Yet, I probably would argue that Apple created these loops “royalty-free.” Users do not have to acquire an additional license or pay royalties to Apple when they use the loops. Additionally, users should not be able to win a lawsuit against other users for merely using the same loop since they are not user’s “original” creations. I may be liable for copyright infringement though if my arrangement exactly mimics the arrangement in “Love in this Club.” It would be interesting to see the reaction from the owners of “Love in this Club” if a major artist uses these loops and produces a hit record.
Here is some proof you can find these loops in Garageband. A few other recognizable sounds from pop music, like the drums from Rihanna’s “Umbrella” seem to be part of the same software bundle.
I track all of my time on my computer with a utility called RescueTime. Here’s a breakdown of how I interact with the copyrighted online world.
The big idea: I’m spending 628% more time on copyrighted content that is being given away than content I’m paying for. Much of it is ad-supported, but much of that ad money never ends up in the pocket of the artist: most content creators on youtube, reddit, 9gag, devour, or blogs never profit off of their creations.
Free needs different protections
Copyright is a way for people to monetize and control their creations. Yet in its current form, copyright law only protects the already wealthy and powerful: corporate intellectual property. Free artists can’t control their creations with copyright. The artists don’t have the resources to monitor and sue those who take copyrighted material. Nor can free artists create protection mechanisms. DRM is only viable as a large corporation with an R&D budget, and even then, DRM is a miserable failure. Right now, free internet artists generally cede all control of their art from the moment they upload it. (In fact, some of the websites they upload to explicitly seize the rights.) These free copyrighted works cost almost nothing to reproduce, and were never intended to be monetized.
Because nothing is being bought or sold, free artists would generally like you to spread their work. The more eyeballs see it, the greater success— a fabulous piece of free art that is never viewed or linked to is pointless and disheartening to the artist. However, existing copyright makes users hesitant to spread or repost potentially copyrighted material for fear of infringement.
Among ad-supported artists like sponsored youtube channels or blip.tv personalities like Day9, it’s not clear small-scale copyright infringement harms them. Downloading Avatar might mean you won’t buy a ticket to see it in the theater, but downloading Day9 might make you a loyal follower and in fact increase the value of his brand. Indeed, Day9 acknowledges and throws shout-outs to those who remix his own copyrighted material.
Why Creative Commons isn’t an easy fix
Creative Commons was supposed to patch existing copyright law and help out free artists interested in permitting others to redistribute their works. It recognizes that many artists that produce freely available works still would like attribution or recognition— indeed, that is the only payoff! But Creative Commons is tricky for small-time creators, and increases the barriers to entry. Big idea: using Creative Commons is a barrier which chills creation.
Edit: there are lots of reasons why Creative Commons is a barrier or less effective than a legal change in defaults. To name just a few, Creative Commons introduces complications in web design (do you have to attach those symbols every time you place an image anywhere in a website? How do users with direct URLs to an image find out if it’s licensed under Creative Commons?), Creative Commons is hard to understand for most people (copyright law is confusing business), and Creative Commons is particularly tricky with especially important free media, like Wikipedia. (Wikipedia actually requires ceding a lot of author rights to upload)
These problems would be resolved if content defaulted into being available for non-commerical reproduction/use with attribution. In many file types, attribution is not only possible but often automatic via metadata. Producers would no longer need to understand complicated terms of an extra body like Creative Commons. And people that really didn’t care wouldn’t have to lift a finger in order to permit others to edit, remix, and repost their content.
Solution: If the default for internet-published material was attribution and non-commercial use, and corporate creators would have to opt in to greater protections, we’d have a better system for copyright. And we’d have more lolcats. Are you really going to be against this?
PS: this is the most permissible Creative Commons license (Attribution) but in reality, you’re free to not attribute me. I don’t care. And I don’t want other people to have to add these kinds of disclaimers to works they don’t care about. We should force those that want to enforce their copyright fully to opt-in.