Friday, November 11, 2011


I brought this up a bit in class today: "Good Copy, Bad Copy" has led me to think about creative boundaries. I gathered from the documentary that new artists like Girl Talk and Danger Mouse, when sampling different songs, consider these boundaries to be less substantial than in the past, while legal representatives would likely disagree.

I think one of the main points, if not the main point, in the debate is whether or not it is creative to use someone else's established work in a new endeavor. Girl Talk refers to himself as a DJ, not a songwriter, making the distinction that he isn't trying to claim a musician's songs as his own composition. Yet his mash-ups consist of multiple songs to make entirely new songs.

In the text realm, we know this sampling takes place every day in academic papers. Quoting other authors of all kind of writing is a fact of life. That there is little to no uproar about this may stem from the fact that academic writing is not popularly considered to be "art." Sources are clearly cited, names are given, and no one calls out an essayist on copyright infringement.

The "art" world, however, is a different story. It's rare that a bestselling fiction author doesn't at some point get slammed with a lawsuit claiming s/he plagiarized an earlier, less commercially successful book. I would venture a guess that, aside from lamenting potential money lost, these plaintiff's are offended by the possibility that someone might do better with a similar idea or piece of work that they themselves had or created, that another writer's creativity can overpower their own. Academic writing isn't threatening in this regard.

On a related note, author's tend to take up differing opinions about how "free" their work ought to be. J.K. Rowling, for example, is not offended by and in fact encourages young people to use her characters and their world to write their own stories, believing that any creation is creative. Stephen King takes the opposite view, as I've read, and denounces the recycling of his stories.

It cannot be denied that this "copying" is becoming ubiquitous. Go to any Barnes & Noble, and you'll find a plethora of titles that have turned Mr. Darcy into a vampire or Jane Eyre into a modern-day college student who falls in love with a rock star. (No, I did not make these up.)


  1. Hi Vanessa,

    I found myself thinking a lot about this as I watched Good Copy, Bad Copy as well. It seems to me that people tend to have different conceptions of "whether or not it is creative to use someone else's established work in a new endeavor." As you note, 'sampling' books in academic papers is no big deal, but sampling songs can be.

    I think that this issue goes beyond commercial intent/monetary interests, at least to some extent. It seems to me, for instance, that people sometimes feel threatened by mixtures of different art forms, probably because the breakdown of familiar forms like the narrative novel is disconcerting.

    For instance, a literature class I'm in read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close earlier this semester, and we had a heated argument about his use of pictures intermittently throughout the novel-- we argued about their usefulness, their genre implications, Foer's intent in including them, etc. But when we read Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector, that quotes other books often, no one seemed to mind. So I guess I'm adding another possible layer to your question- that perhaps novelty plays a role in our acceptance/refusal of 'copying.' Maybe text copying is acceptable because it's old hat, while music sampling is taboo in part because of it's newness.

  2. This issue you brought up of boundaries of copyrights is really interesting when comparing the the pop culture world to the academic world. I wrote a little about this in my post about how, especially in the music and art industry, there is so much grey area concerning intellectual property. All of the "sampling" that goes on is impossible to measure, as things like chord progressions and love songs have been around for centuries, making borrowing and blending almost inevitable.

    While I agree with you Blair that a lot of the uproar over music copyrights is due to its novelty, I think most of it derives from the accessibility of music. It doesn't take a college degree to listen to a song and decide if you like it, while opinions on academic work take time and a good amount of field background to have the "authority" to have an opinion. People don't argue about sampling in academic writing because most people either aren't aware of the writing going on, don't have enough background to judge, or simply don't care. So the factor of elitism I think definitely plays into this discussion. Going along with accessibility of opinion, audiences of music have the resources to put their own compilations together, and this "collage art" is still giving me some confusion as to whether it is art or not. If creative success is measured in accessibility, then it has to be considered art. If measured in ingenuity, it falls short, only created out of second-hand genius.

    To me, Good Copy Bad Copy presented an industry that really is losing control of this borrowing. In an industry that is so accessible, stealing is more ambiguous, as the companies seem to already be putting the product in your pocket; and as long as it's there, it might as well be used creatively!


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