Mashups, which have been repeatedly attacked by the entertainment industry, are by no means a new art form; they’ve been central to creativity for years (related examples are embedded below). Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” incorporate a number of popular songs of the era, including the always popular “Cabbages and Beets drove me away from you,” in its entirety, along with “Get closer to me, baby” (that’s what the German really means, except the “baby” part). So did Beethoven’s sonatas, particularly the second movement of the magnificent Opus 110 piano sonata (“Our cat had kittens” and ” I’m a slob, you’re a slob”). I could list examples for pages; musicologists spend entire careers searching for this stuff. The complexity with which these songs are woven into a much greater piece is amazing, but they’re there, they’ve obviously there once you know what to look for, and they go way beyond what would survive “fair use” and the DMCA, let alone SOPA and PIPA.
Even more fundamentally, there is no such thing as creativity that doesn’t rely on the past. Sometimes the links are very subtle and hidden; sometimes they’re out in the open, and we don’t notice them only because we’ve declared Bach and Beethoven “great composers” and forgotten the popular music of their day. Our peculiar post-Romantic notion that all real artists somehow create their works out of nothing is partly to blame. Nothing could be further from the truth. And it’s not just art. In a very rare moment of humility, Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
So the notion that creativity can be owned, and that any use of someone else’s ideas requires compensation, is nothing but an attempt to steal all of creativity. Whoever can pay their lawyers the most wins. Anyone smell pirates in the room? I am not willing to sacrifice this generation’s great artists on the altar of Hollywood. I’m not willing to have the next Bach, Beethoven, or Shakespeare post their work online, only to have it taken down because they haven’t paid off a bunch of executives who think they own creativity.