Friday, October 21, 2005

Why be Original?

The Boyfriend has just written a very long post about copyright. Now, I'm kind of broadly in favour of some kind of copyright protection, because the spirit of copyright is to protect the little guy - to give the creator of a work the legal footing to stop someone ripping-off their hard work, and profiting from that.

It's particularly useful in cases where, say, a newspaper reprints content from a website with no payment or attribution. This kind of thing happens, and copyright gives the original author recourse under law to get recompense from the naughty thieving newspaper.

I'm less mad on the excesses of copyright (the Sonny Bono extensions, the insane over-controlling despotism of the RIAA etc) which I feel - although I couldn't argue cogently, that's what The Boyfriend is for - contain some erosion of the rights of the little guy. They seem to be there to protect huge corporate interests, who are already making more than enough money, thankyouverymuch.

There is a flip side to the anticopyright argument though: to the Creative Commons / CopyLeft approach, and its espousal of remix culture. well, yes, let's free up all that stuff for us to play with.

As remix, remake, remodel becomes shorthand for creativity, what happens to originality? To the completely new, to the fresh, to the 'my god that's so different and strange that I'm not sure if I like it' feeling you get from something completely without precedent? By opening up all of the output of human ingenuity to free reuse, do we risk overloading our young creative minds with choice, and freezing our culture in a permanent postmodern phase of bricolage?

My creative outlet has always been the visual arts, and I'll hold up my hands and say that yes, it's easier to remix than work from fresh. It's much easier to make a satisfying and rich collage than a completely original work. Borrowing someone else's beautifully nuanced image will make your work better... but does it thus loose some you-ness?

Good artists borrow, great artists steal. Does a genius remix? Is a cut and paste job enough to make us change our way of thinking about the world? Is the nostalgic tickle of a sweet juxtaposition enough, or are we making ourselves poorer in the face of cultural overload?

I don't have answers to this. But I'd be interested to know what other people think. Are we destoying our culture by plundering it? Are we tearing down the cathedrals to build new walls? And are utility and neccessity driving us to do it, or merely ennui? Tags:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Your link to my post is borked :)

Personally, I like originality more than remixing - although it depends on what level the remixing is done. You can take someones idea, combine it with your own, and make something new and fresh. But often, you'll just make something that sounds like someone else - you don't have your own voice.

More worrying is how remixing retards the development of your skills. Traditionally in most arts - including writing - you learn first by copying someone else, both literally (playing other people's songs, for example) and conceptually ("in the style of..."). Then, gradually, your own voice - your own originality - emerges. Being able to simply take two things and mash them together means you don't develop your own creative skills.