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Everything is a Remix

The fourth and final part of Kirby Ferguson’s outstanding video series Everything is a Remix was posted yesterday.

Click here to watch the whole Everything is a Remix series.

Click here for Part 4 of Everything is a Remix, which focuses on the history of copyright and patents and some current issues in these areas of law.

Trust me – these videos are fascinating and are certainly much more entertaining than my descriptions make them out to be.

Kirby’s thesis is that valuable and important ideas don’t just spring full-grown from the minds of independent geniuses – rather, they are nurtured through a social process of sharing, copying, and experimentation. This creates conflicts between the communal benefits that arise from these ideas and the intellectual property rights that protect them. The law has a hard enough time determining who owns a piece of physical property – real estate, for example – so something as ephemeral as intellectual property makes that process much more challenging.

I don’t agree with every statement and conclusion in the videos, and I don’t plan to do a point-by-point review of everything Kirby says. However, I’m sympathetic to the overall point that he’s making.

I was a musician and a film student before I went to law school. I’ve always been fascinated by the process of creativity, and I’ve spent much of my life focusing on the works of various artists and tracing back their influences. When I found myself taking copyright classes, I was constantly frustrated by listening to other students who articulated opinions along the lines of: someone creates a work of art, it’s valuable, they should own it forever. Laws have to reflect reality, and that view of the creative process is limited at best. The folk tradition of taking existing songs, stories, and other works, and constantly remaking them to communicate something new, is a crucial element of human culture. On the other hand, as the Founding Fathers knew (and as Kirby rightly points out), basic economics teaches us that we have to create a system of incentives to reward artists for creating works – otherwise nobody will be able to afford to create art other than as a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with part-time artistry, but I don’t want to live in a society where nobody is given the opportunity to devote their full attention to creating works of art. There’s a delicate balance to be found here, and I don’t think our legal system is headed in the right direction.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and neither does Kirby, but I applaud him for taking the time to raise these provocative issues in such a creative fashion. Now go watch the series – it’s loads of fun, and I bet it will get you to think about some of these concepts in a way that you hadn’t before.

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