The Copyright War


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There seems to be an ongoing copyright war which has been raging since the inception of the law regulating creative property. One of the main causes of this war is that the definition of the word “copyright” is not the same amongst all people. The two sides of the coin are simple: on one side you have those who believe that if you create something of value it should be yours alone to profit from and on the other you have a constitution that can be interpreted otherwise.

First off, I think it is important that the creator of any work of art or science be compensated for their efforts in some way. Piracy in itself has been a huge burden on the music industry and the war on piracy has been fought on new grounds we like to call the internet. According to, digital music theft caused the music industry’s global market to drop 31 percent from 2004 to 2010. Digital revenues had increased by 1000 percent in the same time frame but that was not able to make up for the amount that was lost. According to, piracy even causes $12.5 billion dollars in losses to the economy as well as more than 70,000 lost jobs which amounts to a $2 billion loss in wages for the American workforce. Napster alone is responsible for dropping music sales in the United States from $14.6 billion to $7.0 billion in 2011 which is a whopping 53 percent decrease! So in a nut shell jobs are being destroyed and our economy suffers as a result of all this illegal downloading and sharing of music, movies, etc.

I think most can agree that piracy is wrong and should be illegal but what about when it comes to copyright laws? Article I, section 8, clause 8 of our Constitution states that: “Congress has the power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. It appears to me that the purpose is to progress art and science. Nowhere in that statement does it say anything about making money. Some people don’t interpret it that way; they believe it is the author who should profit from their creations more so than the American people should. I believe what the constitution is really saying is that Congress has the ability to provide, for a limited time, the authors and inventors with exclusive rights to their work in the name of art and science. Protecting the creators is simply the method in which the goal will be reached; not the purpose of the goal. It gives scientists, writers, and artists the incentive to create but not to the point where it compromises the main objective.

May we consider for a moment the man they call “Girl Talk”. If you have not already watched RiP: A Remix Manifesto this week you can find it at This is a guy who “combines” songs that are popular and creates something that sounds similar but at the same time, new. Some would consider what he does unethical but what does the law say? According to, Viacom was sued for “stealing” a video on Youtube titled “What What (In the Butt)” which was apparently very popular. Viacom had made a parody of this video in one of their South Park episodes which involved a character named Butters playing the role of the Youtube star Samwell. There is no doubt that the video in the South Park episode was clearly influenced by “What What (In The Butt)” so the judge in this case had no choice but to apply the four factor test of “fair use”.

The four factors judges consider are:

    • The purpose and character of your use
    • The nature of the copyrighted work
    • The amount and substantiality of the portion taken
    • The effect of the use upon the potential market

It should be noted that a judge has a great amount of freedom when it comes to determining how these factors apply to particular situations on a case-by-case basis. The judge in this case determined that Viacom’s actions did in fact fall under the four factors of “fair use”. The short clip that was taken was not deemed substantial and therefore would not compromise the creator’s ability to profit from the video. The fact that Butters was used in the parody version instead of Samwell was another determining factor because it accomplished transformative use. This is the same kind of transformative use that “Girl Talk” uses when he “remixes” other people’s music.

 If you think about it everything to a certain extent is a “remix”. We all are influenced by someone or something and even when we create our influences are unescapably present. The questions I want to leave you all with are as follows:


    1. Do you believe it is more important for authors to permanently “own” their work or should anything we create be for the betterment of art and learning first and foremost?


    1. How do you interpret what the constitution says about copyrighting?


    1. Is it unethical for people like “Girl Talk” to “remix”  songs made by other people? Should this be illegal?

23 thoughts on “The Copyright War

  1. I think music is one of the harder areas to police and make ethical judgments. When you ask about a artist like girltalk, who makes his music by using and mixing other artists material it is tough to defend but at the same time, I really think he is a talented artist for the unique way he mixes music and genres to create new sounds. But this happening definitely brings about the copyright dilemma. Should it be okay for people to make money using others creation? Who is to say? I can honestly say I see both sides on this case. If the artist has permission than obviously there is no issue but if they are not okay with than perhaps the artist shouldn’t be able to use music without license. It is a very good debate and one that I truly am on the fence about.

  2. Originality in films does exist, it’s just not as obvious as some other things may be. You actually have to look for it, and find it. For example, take the movie the Hunger Games. Sure, there was a book written about it, but movies only get the plot line from the books. They change up so much more because the book is much longer than the movie. This movie is original because it leaves us anticipating for more. I don’t think sequels are copies. I think they are just adding onto something that was already so great. Same goes for remixes they are taking a song and giving it some of their own originality. Anything you do needs to have the basic elements. Creativity is something some people lack and it’s because they don’t imagine.

  3. Disregard my last comment, it was meant for the other post.

    I think authors have the right to own anything they create. But I also think that it should be open to the public for learning and bettering themselves. Just because someone makes something does not mean other people should not have access to it. I interpret the Constitution rules on copyright to be that people who create or write something, have the power to own it. It is their work and it can not be taken away from them. Finally, it is not unethical for people such as Girl Talk to make remixes of songs. Plenty of artists do this and I think sometimes it adds a little spin to the original song. Everyone likes a change and I think remixes give that to us.

  4. I think it really depends, it is important for authors to own their work but I do also think that it’s important for us to learn from their writing. When it comes to copyrighting the Constitution says that authors and artists have the right to make copies and sell their work as well as a few other things such as the right to display their work publicly. These rights usually expire seventy years after the author dies.

    No, I don’t think that it is unethical for people like “Girl Talk” to remix songs made by other people. I don’t see anything wrong with it because they are changing the music up in some way. Nowadays on Youtube you see people do cover songs on pretty much everything. If someone can sing the exact song of an artist without changing it and it’s okay then making a “remix” of a song should be okay too.

  5. I do think that since the author created the work, they should be able to do anything they want with it. However, I think authors should be strongly encouraged to open up their work to the public and allow them to benefit from their work as well. That is, the public should be allowed to change or work on the original piece of work, as long as they give credit to the original author. With the right to experiment on someone else’s work, more people will be encouraged to make something amazing happens. I know I’ve discovered remixes to songs that I liked better than the original piece, and I think the greater chance for something like this to happen, the better.

  6. I do wish everything was just made for just for the sake of art, but then people wouldn’t be getting the money they want or deserve. The copyright laws or patents are supposed to protect an individuals’ work. The constitution protects an individual’s rights. I think remixing songs are not unethical. It is often just for fun. But if it is serious a person should get permission. I mean if it is something little on YouTube I really don’t see how that is an issue.

  7. I believe that it is really up to the author to decide of they want their work to the public or not since they are the ones who originally made it. If they do make their work public, then that’s where copyrights come in, therefore, if someone uses your work others will know who originally made it. According to the Constitution, Congress doesn’t have the power to give rights to creative property but does promote progress. Thus, I think that it would be fair for a person, if they want to use another person work, to ask permission first to create a work of their own. As for Girl Talk, it is nothing out of the norm. Plenty of artists currently remix songs from artist from modern day to the past. Though, I think it would be unethical if an artist did not give permission for him to remix a song.

  8. This idea about what’s more important either an author’s ownership and hence compensation or creation solely for the betterment of the public is a slippery slope. How much motivation would an author have to share their work if there was no protection against theft, if it could be copied without any type of regulation and laws? Without protection authors would be reluctant to produce or share any of their creations with the public and that’s a lose/lose situation. On the flip side, if it’s believed that it’s all about the author’s ownership where the public is tightly limited in its use to re-interpret, remix or adapt existing works creativity would be stifled. It is a double edge sword.

  9. I personally like the fact that people can actually own their ideas and work, but i dont feel like i should all be off limits forever. We should be able to use their ideas or such to help ourselves. The idea of the fines and jail time are just ridiculous. I don’t think we should be able to benefit like making money, but improving our knowledge shouldn’t be a big deal. As for the remixing of songs, i don’t see a problem with that because generally there is approval given.

  10. I think that what the constitution says about copyrighting is to benefit both the creator/owner and the art or science being progresses by the creator’s work. I think it provides the originator a chance to profit off of his own work. If there was no way to gain profit through creativity, think of all the brilliant minds that would’ve pursued something more profitable. Rewarding progress is the only way to get progress, and I think that is the constitution’s purpose in the clause you mentioned above.

    I believe that authors should be able to own their work, but not permanently. Copyright laws used to be limited to thirty years. While I’m not saying that amount of time was the best choice, I think having it limited does wonders for new creations and progress.

    I also do not think it is unethical to remix music as long as it really is a “new” creation. Adding a few things to a song and trying to resell it is unethical. However the idea of taking what is out there and adding your own thought to it (even if your own thought is combining other people’s songs) does not seem unethical.

  11. I feel that it is very important for an artist or creator to own his or her work. I do feel though that the control that they have over the content should eventually fade. The idea of the public domain is great, after a period of time your copyrighted work becomes public domain and is free for anyone to use. The biggest attacker of that model is Disney, recently when Mickey Mouse would have fallen into public domain Disney went on a huge legal rampage to make sure that they kept full control over the mouse. That is when this whole issue flared up and has become the topic that it is today.
    I feel that a person that is making a remix or some kind of original content using copyright materials is well within their rights as long as they put enough new content into it. The original intention was to stop direct and blatant copies of a person’s ideas. Not to make sure that you control the everything to do with the likeness of the object. Currently the big companies that hold these copy rights are stretching what it means for it to be copyright. Making a copy right more and more powerful with every new lawsuit and it needs to be stopped.

  12. I do think people should create things for the sake of art. And It is important for an artist to have some sort of ownership when it comes to their work. But I only think this should be when someone directly steals it and uses it as the same piece, but doesnt give the originator credit , and perhaps tries to profit from it. Art piggybacks from other pieces of art and I think to stop this process would make it hard for anyone to try and create anything new.

    I think the constitution is just simply trying to protect those who make new discoveries. I think this is fair but consideration must be kept to new creativity that can be found from these discoveries.

    I do not find it unethical for Girl Talk to remix songs. This would limit his creativity and the ability to make something that is completely new, even if he is using the work from someone else previously.

  13. I think this is a tricky situation. I don’t think someone should be able to make money off another’s wok as if it was their own. If it benefits society, and doesn’t harm much besides the wallet of the creator, then I think it’s for the common good. I think the interpretation that the patent offices and copyright organizations have today is pretty good. Personally I think that online piracy is so prevalent because it’s easy and if you don’t pirate, you lose a lot of money. I believe people download so many songs because they feel like they are getting a deal. I don’t think all the illegally downloaded songs would ever be bought if the prices were more reasonable. I don’t think it should be illegal. It’s a fun thing which benefits society. I think the government should probably worry about the national debt, ongoing wars, terrorism, and environmental protection before they further ruffle feathers in the online world.

  14. I do believe that people have the right to their work. Every industry in US has their ownage of their product or service for the duration of their patent. Copyright in a sense is the same thing. Once it is over, anyone can jump on it and make it their own without penalty. As for the guy on YouTube, if he posted a public video on a public social site I don’t think he had any right to say that his work was stolen because he had no way of making it a copyrighted work. But in terms of music and piracy there is no difference between stealing a song online or walking into target and stealing the CD. It’s a gray area but with the lobbying efforts of Hollywood and the music industry it seems like things will eventually return to a more stable state then they were when the internet was unregulated.

  15. I think ownership of ones intellectual property is an important right for all artists. Most artists (real artists not superstars like Tyler Swifft or Jim Jardashian) willingly choose to sacrifice a steady income found in more conventional vocations, for their work. Therefore, they are entitled compensation when they are lucky enough to ‘sell their wares.’ Real musicians (not superstars like Riahnna or Carol Channing) often struggle to make ends meet even with a ‘day job.’ Also, I think mashups are indefensible as art. If the medium one works in is made primarily by someone else, then I think the original authors deserve some kind of say before one butchers their work for the cause of lame party music.

  16. Copyright is always a tricky subject for people. I can say as a Screen Studies major that it is annoying when you have to go through all the protocols to receive rights to a certain song or something like that, but I understand them. It isn’t fair for one person to work hard and create something and then for thousands of people to sit there and use it for their own work absolutely free. It’s like when you’re in a bad group for a project and you end up doing all the work, you get the A on the project, but so does everyone else and they didn’t do anything to deserve it. That isn’t fair.
    If people work hard to invent or create things for the public, then they should have some say in what happens with it. I think this is where sites like Creative Commons comes in. You can set certain copyright protocols on your work, all while sharing it with other people and spreading the news.
    It’s sad that people won’t just pay for a song they want or go buy a CD (for those of us who actually still do that). People think “oh so and so has enough money already, one illegal download by me won’t hurt them.” Sure, it may not hurt the celebrity, but it hurts the other people who work on it like editors, mixers, sound people and everyone else involved. Unfortunately our government doesn’t have the time or manpower to crack down on these individuals who pirate music, movies, etc…

  17. This is such a tough issue to pick a side on, and there’s a lot of gray areas. I do think if someone chooses to remix or put their own twist on another’s work, then they need to give credit where credit is due.

    I recently saw an argument on Tumblr where was a band photographer chewed someone out for editing their photo, and posting it as their own without credit. I agree with the photographer on this one. I think it’s rude and disrespectful to the artist to edit their work, turning it into something that it wasn’t intended to be. The artist should have a say in how their work is used and in what way.

    Anyone would hate if something that they spent hours working on got completely butchered and ruined. It’s like a slap in the face, more than anything. I think it’s important to ask the artist before using their work.

  18. I believe that in todays society with most things that are created, especially in the arts can be acceased for free, because the artist wants the public to experience their craft. But by doing this they put themselves at risk of having their art copied, whether in a remix or parody. Alphacat is a youtube phenom who not only remixes songs by several artist but does it as President Obama He uses their beats, President Obama’s voice and his own words to entertain and spread a message. While some might feel this unethical its just enertainment and its the risk people take when they produce things in today’s society. The Constitution grants the authors and inventors for ‘ limited times’ the exclusive rights to their works, so to me that means after that time its up for grabs

  19. I believe the betterment of art and learning should be first and foremost, but I can’t say I’d be to thrilled with that if I were the artist. Honestly, I don’t give much thought to copywriting when it comes to things like music. And maybe music really should be free. It’s not like these billionaire musicians would be that hurt by it, concert tickets and merchandising is what’s making the money. I don’t think it’s unethical for people like Girl Talk to remix other peoples music, I feel like that is just another art form.

  20. In intention, copyright is similar to a patent (see example, if I publish, design, record, etc, I own the patent and therefore, I own that right. If another person wants to use my system, either that person has to pay me an amount of money for the use of my system or that person has to ask my permission to use that system. If my system is being used without my permission, I have the legal right to take the individual or individuals to court. You mention an interesting comment in your blog about how piracy has increased significantly in recent years, and had caused significant damage to entertainment media. People who to make their living by copying and selling CDS, DVS, etc….without the owner’s permission (piracy) should pay the consequences of the law. However, what about if a person bought a new expensive video game and that person made a copy for a family member and that family member made a copy for a friend, and so an; is that considered piracy?
    Every author that created something should have the right of ownership and choose whether or not to “donate” their creation for the good of society.

    Responding to your third question….Yes, it is unethical for a person to use materials (and collect a profit) without the permission of the owner.

  21. While I can agree with you on copyright laws and the morals behind them in terms of not taking a persons work without giving them credit, when it comes to movies and music I cannot and will not ever come to an agreement it should be illegal. I can’t accept having to pay $10 to watch a movie or having to pay $14 for a cd. I get that the people behind this put in hard work and blah blah blah but there is no way you can convince me that hard work is worth something like $600 million for example in the new Fast and Furious 6. Even after it has been split among all the people involved and the movie creators and directors along with the actors. That’s a lot of money they made already so it won’t be a drop in their bucket or they wont miss my $10 that I won’t spend on the movie and instead download it from a pirate site online.

  22. It’s hard to say what’s what, especially in this digital age. It’s hard to say people are really losing money too, because the original creators of media are usually fairly wealthy. It’s difficult to try and stick it to the kid making remixes in his basement because in essence he stole nothing, he’s just using what he has.

  23. I do believe its extremely important for artists to permanently own the rights to their work if they so chose. The constitution has a good base of copyright laws that do protect artists but I do think they need to slightly evolve to accommodate new platforms. Ultimately, original work should not be taken and reproduced for profit without the permission of the original creator.

    As for “Girl Talk” I don’t necessarily have an issue with it unless he is making money of the mashups. To say that DJ’s should be prohibited from creating mashups and remixes for online release would be wrong. I think the “youtube culture” is somewhat reliant on remixes and mashups and banning that would hinder the experience of sharing and experiencing music, tv, and films. However, there should be a line drawn when profit becomes involved

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