What food mash up is surprisingly good

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The culture becomes liquid

Collage, recycling, sample, remix or mashup are many names for making something new out of existing material. If you follow the copyright law, this is only allowed within a very narrow framework - at least if you want to publish the result.

Mashups, Remixes, Samples License: cc by-nc-nd / 2.0 / de (dieSach laborer.de)

Mashups and remixes are part of the internet, but the idea behind them isn't all that new. Generation after generation have passed on fairy tales, legends or folk songs and changed them at the same time. Law professor Lawrence Lessig sees the remix as a return to an old form of creativity, in which it is a matter of course that people take up existing works and at the same time change them when they are told or edited.

But the technical means are new. Until the 19th century, a story was spread orally and changed again and again by the various narrators. It was not until the 19th century that writers and folklore researchers like the Brothers Grimm began to write down these stories and thereby give them a fixed form. Writing and printing supported this consolidation of culture, so that since then artistic works have only really been of value when they have been written down.

Today, however, anyone can edit music, film, text or even computer games with commercially available devices and publish the results on the Internet. Users become creative and deal with the media world around them. The solid form of music, films or texts liquefies when everyone can write on them and make their own version. [1] From a legal point of view, this is often a single chain of copyright infringements. This is a problem for Lawrence Lessig. “What does it mean for a society when an entire generation is raised as criminals?” He asks in his book Remix [2].

Mashup, Remix, Sampling & Co.

The terms “mashup” or “remix” come from music, but are now also used for other types of work. They are not clearly defined: As a rule, one speaks of a remix when a piece of music is remixed, soundtracks are removed and new ones are added. Sound effects can be superimposed, the speed changed or the piece completely dismembered and reassembled - there are no limits to the creativity of the remixer. The result sometimes bears only a distant resemblance to the original piece.

In mashups, on the other hand, two or more pieces are mixed together so that they remain recognizable, but surprising effects arise in relation to each other - the equivalent of collage in the visual arts. When sampling, musicians build excerpts of different lengths from pieces of music into their own piece - thereby quoting the original piece and paying tribute to the original author.

Corresponding processes also exist in other genres: filmmakers cite material from other films or even assemble their film exclusively from foreign film excerpts - so-called found footage films. Collages have been known in the visual arts since the beginning of the 20th century and authors also incorporate foreign texts into their works. Alfred Döblin, for example, took over advertising and news from the newspaper in “Berlin Alexanderplatz”. William S. Burroughs experimented with cut-ups by cutting his own texts and those of others with scissors into individual pieces and putting them back together. He thereby influenced many writers after him.

With digital technology, these artistic processes are easier to accomplish, because digitally you can easily bring works of different epochs, genres or formats together. There are two reasons for this: firstly, thanks to digitization and the Internet, many more works are available; secondly, it is much easier to edit digital material with practically no loss of quality than in the analog world.

Digitization is also blurring the boundaries between professional artists and amateurs. Anyone can sample pieces of music on their laptop and combine them into something new or cut a new music video from film snippets. You don't even need an artistic claim for this: It can only be a birthday video in which the film characters appear to congratulate the birthday child. This user creativity is even promoted by some artists and their publishers, because it creates a strong bond between fans and the product - which in turn is reflected in sales.

Yes, but do not publish

In terms of copyright law, such cases are problematic in large parts of Europe and in similar legal systems. According to the German copyright law, remixes and mashups that contain copyrighted material are not allowed to be published without the permission of the copyright holder. Even if you only put a top 10 hit on a cat video and upload it to YouTube, you are committing a copyright infringement.

This can result in injunctive relief and claims for damages, the user can even make himself liable to prosecution. The risk of being warned is low because the video will probably simply be blocked. Nevertheless, the question arises whether the legal situation still makes sense if there are everyday actions on the Internet that do not harm anyone, but remain prohibited. There has been a lot of controversy about this in recent years.

Exception right to quote

There are only very limited exceptions in Germany under which one may use third-party copyrighted works without permission. One of them is the quote. The quote allows you to use other works if you deal with them in terms of content. In addition, you have to cite the source and only cite to the extent necessary for your own work.

In many genres of works, quotes are legally something completely different from what is colloquially understood by them: music samples, for example - which one could definitely see as a musical quote - usually lack an intellectual examination of the template. They are used more as musical decoration or because of their recognizability. Even with the indication of the source, it's a thing with samples. Ultimately, they are not quotations in the legal sense and are only permitted if neither the melody is recognizable nor individual tone sequences are otherwise protected. As a result, even the shortest samples of a specific recording cannot be used without further ado, as the judgment of the Federal Court of Justice in the “metal on metal” dispute between the band Kraftwerk and the producer Moses Pelham has shown. In practice, this makes it almost impossible to use samples without a prior license. Because recognizability is exactly what you want when sampling. The quotation works best for text and here especially for scientific works. But even literature, where references disrupt the flow of reading and perhaps not even wanted for artistic reasons, encounters problems with this.

One example of this is the play “Germania 3 - Ghosts on the Dead Man” by Heiner Müller. It was objected to posthumously by Bertolt Brecht's heirs because they saw some takeovers from Brecht's plays not covered by the freedom to quote. Ultimately, Heiner Müller's literary method was confirmed by the courts, but only after lengthy proceedings that went as far as the Federal Constitutional Court. Hardly any artist can or wants to take this risk.

Free use, parody and satire

With the so-called free use, the original work may no longer be recognizable in the new work, but may at most serve as a source of inspiration. The creative work of the new author must clearly outweigh this. It is difficult to distinguish it from “editing” under copyright law, which in turn can only be published with the permission of the original author.

The situation is different with parodies and similar forms such as satire, caricature or parody. The original work must remain recognizable here, otherwise the parody will not work. The most important criterion for legally permitted parodies is that the author of the parody has an “inner distance” to the original work, i.e. criticizes it or deals with it in some other way.

Right to remix

In the USA there is a "fair use" rule that allows remixes and mashups under certain circumstances. The creative work of fans is therefore legally more stable than in this country. An example of this is fan fiction: fans continue to write books, films or TV series using the characters, the setting and the plot of the original story. Some fanfiction stories are very far removed from the original source, others stay close. The writer Jonathan Lethem regards the remix as a fundamental way of working for artists. He questions the demands on originality that are made of art. Every text is woven into quotations and references, many different cultural languages ​​find an echo in it. For him, takeovers are part of the nature of creative work: "The authors and their heirs should regard the subsequent parodies, quotations, corruptions or revisions as an honor - or at least as the price of a singular success." [3]

In Germany, the “Right to Remix” initiative advocates the right to “transformative uses”, as remixes and mashups are called in legal German. Such uses should be allowed by introducing an additional barrier in copyright law, the initiative demands. The right to remix is ​​"a fundamental prerequisite for freedom of art and freedom of expression in a society". [4] Depending on whether further commercial exploitation of the remix is ​​desired, there should be different remuneration and license models.

Other artists, however, oppose such a right to remix. If someone wants to work with the works of others, then only with permission, so the opposing position. This is not only about financial interests: works or parts of works can, for example, appear in the wrong - or at least undesirable - context. Text parts by author A can, for example, be incorporated by author B into a work with which author A does not agree on an ideological level. “The moral right guarantees the work's identity and integrity. It must not be questioned ”, says, for example, in a position paper by the Copyright Initiative, an association of copyright associations that expressly rejects the right to remix. [5] In its role as author representation, VG Wort also believes: “There is no reason for a legal restriction of copyright in favor of“ mashups ”or“ remixes ”.” [6] The disputes over a right to remix show that digitization is copyright law concerns to its core. According to European understanding, one of the basic ideas of copyright law is an indissoluble bond between the creator and his work. With a right to remix, authors would have to give up part of the power of disposal derived from it. For some, this loss of power is not a problem, since for them takeovers are one of the central processes of art and creativity. The others do not see any reason to change anything, since an author should decide for himself whether his work may be remixed or not. The argument about the right rules for remixes, mashups and other creative forms will not abate anytime soon.