I have never heard anything by Girl Talk.
I’ve heard of Girl Talk, I’ve just never heard any of his music (perhaps making me not “tragically” unhip, but just minimally unhip). For those who, like me, are whatever variety of unhip in these matters, Girl Talk is a mash-up artist (real name Gregg Gillis). He remixes dozens of songs together at once on each track he makes, and his 2006 album, Night Ripper, is adored by just about anybody who is hipper than you and I. Including Congressman Mike Doyle. Rep. Doyle (D-Pittsburgh) told Congress about Girl Talk in March, at a House Telecom and Internet sub-committee hearing (via The 463):
Congressman Doyle: Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh. At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin Magazine amongst others. His shtick as the Chicago Tribune wrote about him is “based on the notion that some sampling of copyrighted material, especially when manipulated and recontextualized into a new art form is legit and deserves to be heard.” In one example, Mr. Chairman, he blended Elton John, Notorious B-I-G, and Destiny’s Child all in the span of 30 seconds. And, while the legal indie-music download site eMusic.com took his stuff down due to possible copyright violation, he’s now flying all over the world to open concerts and remix for artists like Beck.
The same cannot be said for Atlanta-based, hop-hop, mix-tape king DJ Drama. Mix-tapes, actually made on CDs, are sold at Best Buys and local record shops across the country and they are seen as crucial in making or breaking new acts in hip-hop. But even though artists on major labels are paying DJ Drama to get their next mixed-tape, the major record labels are leading raids and sending people like him to jail.
I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mash-ups and mixtapes are really different or if it’s the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he nicked the Chuck Berry bass-riff and used it on the Beatle’s hit “I Saw Her Standing There.” Maybe it is. And, maybe Drama violated some clear bright lines. Or, maybe mixtapes are a powerful tool. And, maybe mash-ups are transformative new art that expands the consumers experience and doesn’t compete with what an artist has made available on iTunes or at the CD store.
Last week, Steven Levy at Newsweek brought Doyle and Girl Talk together to brainstorm about what sort of legislation would be needed to remedy the kinds of copyright conundrums mash-ups and the like introduce.
At our lunch, Doyle, 54 (whose own iPod is filled with the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Steely Dan), had a lot of questions for Gillis, 25. How many artists were sampled on his recent album “Night Ripper”? (Gillis: more than 167.) If he had to pay rights to every person he sampled, how costly would it be? (Gillis: who knows? But at the least, “we’d have to sell the album off the shelf for $100 a copy.”) Gillis said that he’d try to find a middle ground where some samples were OK because of fair-use provisions in the law and others paid for by a reasonable fee.
Most of my knowledge the fair use doctrine concerns video content; I have no actual idea how it has been practically applied to sampling and stuff like that. But I don’t understand why the kinds of things Girl Talk and DJ Drama do wouldn’t fall under fair use in the first place? It’s transformative content; using the material in a significantly different way than that in which it was originally used. It’s not decreasing the commercial viability of the original songs – in fact, both artists have noted that record labels and artists request their songs to be sampled. Solveig Singleton at Tech Liberation Policy brings a fair amount of snark to the whole thing:
Fair use? Transformative use? Why bother with the technicalities? Levy and a legislator like the fellow, so they weigh in on the side of legislating (yet another) exception. Maybe jam transformative and fair uses together into a whole new category, “rave” use, with a safe harbor for “hipster” use and for the older set “cool” uses?
But isn’t transformative use already an integral part of “fair use?” Why the separating them as if they’re two separate things here? And it doesn’t seem that any new sort of legislative exception would have to be made, because existing fair use protocols should apply, right? Am I completely off the mark?
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