Mashups – a musical, wonderful, legal mess.

Music – I love music. Every bit of it. The rise, the fall, the good, the bad, the hard, the soft, the classics, the futuristic groundbreaking sounds that “those darn kids listen to.” I just can’t get enough. If only there was a way to listen to music, while I listen to music.

But wait! What’s that?! There is?! Of course. Let me introduce you into the wonderful world of mashups, where you take some of genre x, toss in y, add in a vocal track from d, and voila! A masterpiece! From heavy metal, to easy listening, to dance tracks, there is a mashup of every genre. Some awful, some beautiful, and many suprising, like this one from gangster rapper Notorious B.I.G and blind Italian tenor Andre Bocelli. 

who would have pictured those two together? In real life, these two (if Biggie was still with us) would never have met, let alone colaborate on a piece of music. But that is what mashups have granted us, a new world where literally everything is possible. I have even made my own mashup of sorts – an instrumental track by Awolnation synced with one of the most inspirational speeches ever, by Charlie Chaplin 

Mashups have opened the world to infinite possibilities of new songs from old songs, and music will never be the same. But with that, it has also brought about some problems.

A musicians song is his art. A DJ’s track is his painting. A mashup artists collaboration is his masterpiece. As a student, my work, be it in essays, assignments, online discussions or blogs such as this one, is my art. Being a student in a university, my art is subject to rules on plagiarism. When I submit this blog to turnitin.com, there will be a certain percentage of my work that may seem to be plagiarized. If it is 100%, or even 50%, i’m sure that the repercussions would not be very favorable. My work is my work, and if I use someone else’s I’ve cheated the system, someone else, and myself. But what of mashup artists? There work is someone else, but together in a certain arrangement. All sounds in their piece have been taken from another artist, manipulated and produced under another name. Mashup artists like The White Panda, Super Mash Bros and Mashup Germany are all well known and sample from many different artists to create their excellent tracks. Listen to this track by Girl Talk called “What It’s All About,”

 and at the same time, look at this inforgraphic breaking down the 35 samples in 255 seconds on this track http://www.wired.com/images/article/magazine/1609/pl_music_f.jpg

Is this cheating? A form of piracy? What are the repercussions if any? What has been done and is being done to stop these practice, or to seek compensation for the artists whose work is being used to make someone else famous? That is a topic that I would like to explore and discuss.

What mashup artists are doing is a form of music piracy. That is, they are copying and distributing pieces of music that the recording artist or record company did not give consent too. This is not only copyright infringement, but also a civil offense. Upon some research, I could not find a single clear legal guideline on mashups, but I did find some interesting opinions and on ideas why this might be so.

Mashups are seen as a form of “fair use,” where there is a limitation and exception to copyright rules. This may be better understood if compared to the 1st amendment, free speech. A mashup is just a creative expression, a voice of an artist. Many artists also embrace mashups – sometimes, the remixes become much more popular than the original version, and give the artist some free publicity and interest into their work.

Another interesting take on this, is that record companies are wary of going after any mashup-artists, because they would be an instant hero for all copy right reformists, other mashup artists and fans. Many lawers would be lining up at their door to defend him for the publicity of such a high profile event. Mashups are an internet creation, and most of those in the web would give much support and interest into the case.

One legal option that has been created is a company called Legitmix. What it does is offers a way for you to pay for the work in a mashup, which is weighted to the amount of play time. If, for example you were to buy Girl Talk’s ‘What it’s All About,’ you would purchase all 35 tracks for roughly the price of it off of itunes. Here is a video given a short yet substantial explanation.

Websites like whosampled.com break down the tracks in mashups, so listeners can find who’s piece plays at what time.

Mashups have been around for a while now, but the popularity and avaialabilty of them are at an all time high. The legality of them is still evolving and trying to catch up, with record companies being careful not to step on their own feet, and turn their own artists into public enemies for going after those who sample their songs. It may seem like some artists, like David Bowie have adopted an “if you can’t beat them, join them.” In a contest for his fans, he was looking for the best mashup of two of his songs. The winner got an Audi, and Bowie got the rights to the song. This is an ongoing process, and one that may never be fully solved.

Mashups – a musical, wonderful, legal mess.

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