Copyright or not? It’s up to you

Henry Ford once said, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed.” Beside from the meaning of ideas influencing each other which I discussed in the previous post, it also means in every idea or remix or mashup of ideas we make, we need to show legal and personal respect to those who came up with their works first. Without them we would probably not have the knowledge to improve or produce something new and better. In this post I discuss the impact of user-generated content (UGC) issue has on the social evolution.

We are struggling with application of others’ creativity to see if it is legal and also suitable. We share and take online content to copy, transform and combine to do what we call remixing, or plagiarizing for some others may call. In his fourth video of Everything Is a Remix series, Kirby Ferguson stated, “When we copy, we justify. When others copy, we vilify.” One of the most typical examples that he brought up was that Steve Jobs – the CEO of one of the biggest companies Apple – used to say how shameless he felt for stealing other ideas as Apple’s computer Macintosh was actually taken from , and that ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’ Yet in 2010, he declared to sue Android at his best. He said, “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

Steve Jobs was proud of stealing others' ideas...

Steve Jobs was proud of stealing others’ ideas…

...yet got angry when others copied his!

…yet got angry when others copied his!

Consequently, there are laws and regulations to protect intellectual property and organizations like Creative Commons to provide licenses and encourage creativity. However, online sharing is still happening every minute and hour, so to fully prevent this is a mission impossible. Of course there have been lawsuits of those who got angry of their work being copied and shared without permission, and yes many of them won the credits. For instance, in 1981 George Harrison had to pay 1.5 million dollar for ‘accidentally’ copying the hit “He’s So Fine” in his song “My Sweet Lord”.

But according to Lawrence Lessig, this will just discourage the ability of being creative. In his speech on TED, Laws that choke creativity, our generation considers copyright laws nothing but nonsense and useless. We influence and are influenced by each other’s ideas, behaviors and skills and that is why remixes and mashups are two popular terms nowadays. Many of us create memes, music, arts… and are willing to share it, not for the credit but for the passion of creating and/or remixing something and sharing it with the cyber world. It’s what UGC is all about. Shepard Fairey, a person who made the Obama “Hope” poster for the 2008 presidential campaign (below), once said, “Every spoof gives more power to the original.”

Obama "Hope" poster by Shepard Fairey

Obama “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey

So basically there are two sides of the story. One is about those whose feel fine with copying, as long as they are the ones doing it. The other is about those who feel fine with copying by both themselves and others. This is still a hard situation; it makes us wonder what the right ethics for copying, transforming and combining others’ ideas would be. Perhaps it is up to us to decide – the new generation who is active and familiar with uprising digital technologies. We can use the devices fluently and decide whether to show respect directly or indirectly to the previous authors. Some may include it in the introduction, or in the pictures, videos or other ways within their products. Just that we all need to remember that our ideas are not truly original and we all had knowledge and lessons from those who come first.


References:

Ferguson, K 2012, ‘Everything Is a Remix – Part 4: System Failure’, video, 16 February, Vimeo, viewed 23 April 2015, <https://vimeo.com/36881035>

Jacobs, L 2012, ‘14 brilliant quotes on remixing’, 10 August, TED, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://blog.ted.com/14-brilliant-quotes-on-remixing/>

Lessig, L 2007, ‘Lawrence Lessig: Laws that choke creativity’, video, March, TED, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity>

Parr, B 2011, ‘Grand Theft Apple: Steve Jobs Declared War on Android’, 24 October, Mashable, viewed 24 April 2015, <http://mashable.com/2011/10/24/grand-theft-apple/>

Popken, B 2009, ‘Shepard Fairey: Being An Art Capitalist Is Hard’, 27 February, Consumerist, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://consumerist.com/2009/02/27/shepard-fairey-being-an-art-capitalist-is-hard/>

Original ideas: Extinct or never existed?

In the previous blog post, I mentioned some organizations that help protect authorship on cyber world such as Creative Commons (CC) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). These organizations usually analyze people’s acclaimed creative works to see if they were copied from someone else’s ideas or made original and then provide them the copyright license and tools to make sure of their own credits. But how can they know if it’s truly an original idea or just adapted from others’? How much certain are they about it?

Before getting right to the topic, let me tell you an ancient story. Three and a half billion years ago, before all of creatures were born, there was this singular cell called LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). One day, when the surrounding environment was suitable enough, it reproduced itself in two cells alike, then each cell copied and divided into two continuously. During this process, some of the cells might have made ‘mistakes’ that transformed into a different form from the other cells. And when these cells combined, they made up a new body, which led to many different types of creatures which enriched the biodiversity on earth today.

Figure 1: LUCA cell

Figure 1: LUCA cell

Now, the laws of copyrights and authorship that we know always try to claim the clear boundary between each of ideas and inventions so that people can get a crystal mindset of to what extent the word “copy” means and how original ideas are distinctive to each other. However, in his video Everything Is A Remix – Part 3: The Elements of Creativity, Kirby Ferguson said ‘Nobody starts original, we all need copying until the foundation of knowledge and understanding.’ He also demonstrated the elements that build creativity which are Copy, Transform and Combine. Like what the title says, there are rarely any truly original ideas nowadays, and that makes everything a remix.

Figure 2: Elements of Creativity

Figure 2: Elements of Creativity

For instance, Hollywood has always been known for its unique and extraordinary movies and TV shows. However, according to Ferguson, a research shows that of 100 Hollywood movie hits in the last 10 years there are 74 movies which were remade, inspired, adapted or taken from comics, cartoons, video games, novels and other sources. Typical examples might include Avengers, Harry Potter, Lords of the Ring, etc. Even the most recent Fifty shades of Grey was based on the novel with same title, which started out as a fan fiction of Twilight series but with such excessively erotic and sexual content, the name was changed into Fifty Shades of Grey. So you can see that ideas inspire and get inspired by each other, and it’s the way we transform and combine that makes it creative.

Nonetheless, some may argue that this causes the authors who had the idea before that or those who discover the ‘truth’ angry. Take Hollywood as an example again, but this time more specific. In an article, Evry listed 10 Hollywood movies that may have been inspired by 10 Anime – Japanese animation. Most of them proved to have very much the same concept, just different names, perceptions and situations. For example, Disney’s The Lion King (1994) very much assembles Mushi Production’s Kimba the White Lion (1965 – 1967). They’re both about a young lion who lost his way and left his family, only came back when he was grown up and ready for his challenge. Beside from the fact that Simba and Kimba sound very much alike, the scenes like Mufasa and his son on Pride Rock, the ghost of Mufasa that appeared on the night sky, etc. were also exactly like in Japanese version. Mushi didn’t sue Disney as they considered Disney too competitive, and until now Disney still refuses to admit their inspiration from Kimba. This enrages a lot of anime fans around the world yet still no certain act has been taken.

To sum up, it is usually subjective when someone considers an idea original or copy. And as Ferguson proves, anyone’s ideas are always copied, transformed and combined to produce something new which is better and still acceptable. Just that we still need to respect the authors in return for their work, and that will be discussed in the next blog post.


References:

Bertrand, N 2015, ‘ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ started out as ‘Twilight’ fan fiction before becoming an international phenomenon’, 17 February, Business Insider, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://www.businessinsider.com/fifty-shades-of-grey-started-out-as-twilight-fan-fiction-2015-2>

Evry, M 2014, ‘10 Hollywood Movies That May Have Been Inspired by Anime’, 26 June, mental_floss, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://mentalfloss.com/article/57322/10-hollywood-movies-may-have-been-inspired-anime>

Ferguson, K 2011, ‘Everything Is a Remix – Part 3: Elements of Creativity’, video, 20 June, Vimeo, viewed 10 April 2015, <https://vimeo.com/25380454>

Poole, A n.d., ‘What is the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)?’, action bioscience, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/poolearticle.html>

Copyrights issues in Vietnam: How online user-generated content may affect creativity

In this thriving digital age, you can almost get anything you want online for free like music, pictures and videos and make use of them to enhance the creativity like doing remixes, mashups and so on. These were definitely made by others who don’t always get the credits which may seem unfair. Therefore, the needs for clear copyright and authorship laws are increasing as every artist, popular or amateur, should be respected and paid for their own creative works. In this blog post I will discuss the user-generated content and copyright issues within Vietnam as an Asian country in comparison to the Western.

In his speech on TED, Clay Shirky claims that we used to use media products created only by professionals. However, with the emergence and development of Web 2.0 which enabled interactive exchange of information and knowledge between every Internet user, from media consumers we have now become “prosumers” or “produsers”, which means we no longer only consume the media but also produce it through media vehicles such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. Shirky also says that we are now closely connected with each other; each of us can contribute to others’ works through comments, reviews, blog posts and more. That is the definition of user-generated content (UGC).

Since nowadays the public, especially in Vietnam, can get free access to any media product usually through UGC, share and download it for free, the boundary between copyrighted and credited works is still very blurred. Although there are organizations like Creative Commons (CC) that work to help enhance creativity and allow legal use of reproducing, remixing, and adapting others’ creative works for free; many Vietnamese websites like Zing, HDViet, Nhaccuatui and so on still spread out books, music, movies and videos for free even when no confirm of permission from the author is found. Consequently, many take it for granted and use them to create new pieces of arts by doing remixes, mashups and ideas adaptations.

For example, in 2013, a very popular vlogger in Vietnam called JVevermind  or JV released his 47th video titled Nhung Dieu Con Gai Muon. It caught a lot of attention from young Vietnamese subscribers as usual, discussing on what girls really want. Then a person found out that a year before that, another vlogger whose YouTube account named ThisIsACommentary also posted a video called Five Things Women Like that seems to have the same ideas and content with JV’s. Obviously, this made the Internet crowd go nuts, considering JV had stolen the ideas that were already made by others. In his defense, some fans proved that JV did contribute to the credit by saying in his video’s description: “This video is based on…” attached with the URL to ThisIsACommentary’s, but many still argued that JV just put it in after the discovery. JV didn’t speak directly about this but it seems that he also had concerns on the topic as well. In his next video about Tabloids and Related Issues, he mentioned how many journalists nowadays just write about annoying rubbish stuff that affects people’s perception on the world.

JV's credit to the author

JV’s credit to the author

JV is just one of the examples which show that we should be more aware of copyrights and respect artists’ creative works by saying no to online piracy; paying for your favorite albums or arts on iTunes, Amazon and more. But that is just about saying as there is a downside of this issue. Not all people can afford for those things. Jay Z, a famous American rapper, teaming up with many other popular artists like Beyoncé, Madonna, Chris Martin, Kanye West…, just launched an online music service called TIDAL this year which offers lossless quality of music and videos. Jay Z hopes that this will encourage the creativity and guarantee artists’ rights for their contribution.

However, this website has been predicted by plenty to be ended soon as you have to pay for everything you do. If you want to just listen to some music, you have to subscribe and pay $9.99 per month to get access to 320kbps. For lossless and high fidelity ones, you have to pay $19.99 per month. Now that’s way too much to spend in comparison to other services. Like on iTunes, you can still listen half of the single or album for free then decide whether to buy it or not. Yet with such huge support from many artists, TIDAL raises a question whether in the near future will we have to pay for the albums without having a sampling to listen.

Jay Z's TIDAL website

Jay Z’s TIDAL website

To sum up, copyrights and online UGC in Vietnam are one of major cyber issues. That how to make sure of artists get what they deserve for their creative works is still under the question.


References:

Bruns, A 2007 ‘The Future Is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage’, Paper presented at PerthDAC 2007 conference, Perth, 16 October.

Creative Commons n.d., ‘Creative Commons – About’, viewed 9 April 2015, <http://creativecommons.org/about>

Jamie 2013, ‘Nghi án Vlog mới của JVevermind “đạo” 90% ý tưởng từ Vlog nước ngoài’, 9 September, Kenh14.vn, viewed 9 April 2015, <http://kenh14.vn/doi-song/nghi-an-jvevermind-dao-90-y-tuong-tu-vlog-nuoc-ngoai-20130909012332612.chn>

MTV Vietnam, ‘Jay-Z mở dịch vụ âm nhạc: Lấy của người nghèo chia cho người giàu’, MTV, viewed 9 April 2015, <http://www.mtvvietnam.com.vn/news/news.php?newsid=1563>

Shirky, C 2009, ‘How social media can change history’, video, June, TED.com, viewed 9 April 2015, http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history