Swiftly going West: Digital parody comes of age


I know my readership is “old” but most of you are not as old as I am. So that means you’re more than likely to have heard about the Kanye West/Taylor Swift incident a few days ago. I heard about it, found it at least mildly distasteful, despite Kanye’s apology; I was therefore glad to hear about Beyonce’s touch of class later.

But that’s not the point of this post. Why would I write about two people I don’t listen to, on a programme I don’t watch, and whose lives I have no interest in? Simple. I write because of this video:


Chris Messina tweeted and alerted me to this, a mash-up between Kanye West and Taylor Swift.

Stop there, just for a second. Shut your eyes and imagine. Imagine what will happen if the video goes viral. So-called rights holders crawling out of their shells and demanding recompense, when none is called for in a sensible copyright regime. Am I being sensationalist? I don’t think so. Just take a look at this article, brought to my attention by friend and colleague Kevin Marks.

Experiencing things by watching and hearing and reading. Learning from those experiences. Borrowing from the experiences you have. Letting your imagination run rampant and riotous. Using that imagination to praise, to teach, to lampoon, to savour alone, to share with all.

We have to allow the Matt Kammerers of this world to do their thing. Sampling from here and there in order to make a new thing. A new thing. Copyright law used to be reasonable for centuries, despite attempts to mutate it at critical stages: the inventions of the press, the radio, the copier, the tape, even the CD. Since the dawn of the digital age, attempts to enshrine stupidity in law have increased. Much of what passed for creativity and comment and parody and satire may not be possible in the future if the law is allowed to become more of an ass.

The current battles are really not about downloading or filesharing or mashing up. There is far too much evidence that the downloaders, filesharers and mashup makers are themselves the ones behind the massive growth in digital sales.

The battles have been about control. Control that allows owners of obsolete marketing and distribution systems to exert power on a new generation, because they can. Because we let them exert that power throughly poorly thought out law.

The battles are about control. Control that is alien to the very basis of the internet. Centralised and monolithic, able to criminalise a cohort in the twinkling of a cataracted eye.

The battles will be about control. Control of an entire generation and their right to their culture.

Guess what? Not much stands in the way. Except you and me.

4 thoughts on “Swiftly going West: Digital parody comes of age”

  1. In US copyright law there is a “fair use” clause that allows the use of portions of copyright material for the purpose of criticism, news reporting, education and parody. Unfortunately I don’t believe that there is such a clause under UK law.

    Eric Faden cleverly and humourously explains copyright using clips from Disney in his “Fair(y) use tale”:

  2. It’s intriguing. My namesake, John Oswald, over in Canada has been doing ‘plunderphonics’ music for years, basically mashing up tunes and doing strange things to them. He’s released albums etc and sails very close to the law: “If creativity is a field, copyright is the fence” , according to him… http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html: “Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative”…
    What we’re talking about here is a video version of something that’s been around a while…

  3. There will be a battle. There may wins and losses. Some battles may even show us the way of the future. Most will be pointless. People will get hurt and grudges will live on beyond our memory of why we started fight in the first place.

    The lawyer, Zetrain is it, speaking at TED, captured the essential point. The technology undermines the compulsion to control. The defenses can be overrun – will be overrun.

    What matters is a positive goal. I found (and loss) a reporter’s summary of the battle between old and new media. He used words like armistice. Yes, when the battle is lost, rather work on terms of the peace. Or lose more.

    But should we expect ‘turkeys’ to join the armistice. No, we shouldn’t. That would be naive. But they can if they want to.

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