[click image to play video in Windows Media Player; 19 meg, 0:06:46]
Copyright and Fair Use considerations complicate the art of remixing. Consider the use of Louis B. Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” in the movie Good Morning Vietnam! One can safely assume that the movie’s producers, creating a work to be distributed for profit, formally purchased and obtained copyright permissions for it, since their for-profit use would not fall under any Fair Use protection. However, upon being juxtaposed with the war images from the movie, the song becomes part of a bigger—and different—whole, of something else, and in this context creates a different aura and tone for the images viewers see.
But what would have happened if, for example, instead of Armstrong, producers juxtaposed the images with Metallica’s “Seek And Destroy?” One could daresay, in the face of death and destruction, that we would experience an adrenaline rush with a much more aggressive genre of music that would raise viewers’ energy and aggression. With Armstrong, one could make a reasonable case for the scene invoking sadness, hope, or any combination of the two. With the latter example, the same could be said for excitement and anger. This is just one example of the effects of interpretation through remixing, a practice that copyright law currently restricts to those who can afford it—film companies, record companies, major news outlets. The juxtaposition of these media pieces compels the audience to interpret the scenes and the song as one (though Armstrong may or may not have intended his song to be interpreted differently). If one tries to interpret either of the two separate streams, visual or audio, in a simple verbal or written format, would the effect on the audience be as powerful or convincing?
My work, a remix version of the song “So Long” by Everlast, falls under Fair Use—for educational non-profit purposes, not directly affecting the market value for any of the works used, and providing credit for all material included. This use is, however, not as relevant as what it signals, along with other pieces included in the piece. What my remix signals is a larger message about Fair Use and the future of all forms of art as we exit the infancy of the digital age. Fair Use is what allows this piece to reflect its theme—that violence is a recurring cycle, spanning various times and human contexts—in a much more powerful manner than simply reading the dashed clause in the middle of this sentence. Short of saying that this type of remixing should be acceptable simply because a group or individual has easy access to the facilitating technology, it allows us to think critically about various forms of art, and how they reflect real-life themes.
I daresay, though I appreciate both, I am more ecstatic at the individual who sees this piece and comes to disagree with it than one who half-heartedly agrees simply because it’s been presented. The former more strongly indicates that this piece, my digitally constructed remix, has spurred this individual to a moment of critical thinking. Letters to the editor, opinion articles, and even digital discussion forums—which also allow easy avenues for copyright infringement—can certainly spur insightful critical thinking, but not in the way a digital remix can. Critical thinking is obviously one major skill that education professionals strive to instill among students, and any technology that can help generate this in any individual can be extremely helpful in prolonging and improving its presence among not just students in the classroom, but everyday students and everyday citizens. Of course, remix can also be detrimental if used for unethical or illegal reasons; it is Fair Use that helps us draw the line.
Fair Use helps allow any viewer of this piece to think critically about real life. Cultural value in art not withstanding, the ability to tug any individual into deep, compelling thought about important issues is invaluable, and Fair Use should both allow and protect this connection-building and meaning-making.
* Please note that within the opening credits, the last names of the songwriters should read Danny Lohner and Erik Schrody.