Remixes free, originals not
by Sebastian Benthall
I’m interested in whether others have experienced this phenomenon: a new pop (or indy pop? I can’t tell the difference any more) song gets some recognition. While it is difficult to find the original song for free on the internet, music blogs post remixes of the song for free downloading.
I’m pretty sure that this is illegal. Whatever. The question is why is this is a recurring phenomenon. First thoughts:
- For the original song, there is incentive for the recording studio to crack down on distribution, and it seems that for the most part, they do.
- For remixes, there is less incentive. Why is that? Here’s some possibilities:
- They aren’t going to make any money off the remix anyway, so why bother enforcing access to it?
- The remix is going to drive up sales of the original song by increasing people’s exposure to it, so the recording studio has reason to let the remix run free.
Any other ideas?
According to copyright law, the original copyright holder has rights to derivative works. I’m assuming that most of these remixes are made and distributed without the original copyright holder’s permission, though maybe that’s wrong. Maybe I’m just a sap, believing the myth of the underground digital remix artist, when in fact there’s based economic motives in play. There could easily be pseudonymous remix artists who ply their trade in coordination with music studios, making dance remixes of songs more or less to generate an “underground” following.
That wouldn’t be a bad thing, though as a pattern it would have the risk of crowding out original music from the music “market” through free remixes. Obviously, that’s not sustainable, which I suppose is why music blogs seem to have a time limit on how long they keep content up. Suppose: after an incubation period, the underground effect ceases to increase sales because the song has already gone “mainstream.”
If this is how things work, there’s something elegant but also diabolical about this pattern. As a mechanized process, the underground becomes nothing more than a channel through which things emerge. Cool can be a state of being on a gray market fringe, but that fringe is just a flower crafted by a larger organism to attract pollinating bees. Aficionados become part of the ecosystem, rather than advancers of it. Does the system continue to evolve?
Actually a pretty simple explanation for this. A great deal of remixes are done without the original artist’s involvement. These are protected under the fair use concept in copyright law, as long as they aren’t commercial in nature (i.e. cost money).
While they can’t make money directly off of these works, a lot of artists gain notoriety from them. Danger Mouse got famous for his “Grey Album” mashup of JayZ and the Beatles, and leveraged that fame into commercial success with Gnarls Barkley. A lot of rappers in particular will rap over beats from other songs to try and get famous, mostly motivated by the fact that good beats cost a ton of money yet make rappers sound better.
There are also mainstream artists who release mixtapes in between albums, and I think this is mostly used to keep up hype. Often very successful songs from mixtapes will end up on the next album, but for the most part the quality bar is a lot lower for mixtapes so artists are better off giving them away.
I didn’t realize that fair use covered remixes. I thought that that was a point of legal controversy. Has it held up in court? If so, that certainly invalidates this post.