Five Girls Pixels and Swirls

Keep Calm and Teach On

“I will not reason or compare: my business is to create.”

on November 7, 2012

After watching Brett Gaylor’s documentary “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto,” I was even more shocked by the harshness of the United States’ Copyright laws. Having known just how strict some of these laws were, it was still surprising to have seen what was considered illegal. I never thought of music by artists like Girl Talk who create mash-ups of several popular songs to be stealing. The first time that I had heard Girl Talk I thought it was some of the most creative music I had ever heard and developed an appreciation for his art and music. When the documentary further explained just how much it should cost Girl Talk to pay for the royalties to compose these songs, my mind was blown! Over four million dollars for one album? Over 200,000 dollars for one song? Pure insanity. This is a man using inspiration that he gathered from other musicians to create something completely new and extraordinary. Why should he have to pay for making something new and original?


I think that the same goes for people’s writing. Yes, there is a fine line between completely stealing one person’s work and making no alterations to it whatsoever and calling it your own versus using bits and pieces to reference other’s works to enhance your own writing. In Kevin Kelly’s article “Becoming Screen Literate,” he makes a valid point by stating:

“In fact, the habits of the mashup are borrowed from textual literacy. You cut and paste words on a page. You quote verbatim from an expert. You paraphrase a lovely expression. You add a layer of detail found elsewhere. You borrow the structure from one work to use as your own. You move frames around as if they were phrases.”

Writing is somewhat similar to creating music or creating any type of art for that matter. The process can begin by being inspired by something, whether it is a quote from a movie or favorite author or something that made a lasting impression from an article. Someone takes that inspiration and develops ideas of something to create out of it. So far it looks as though there has been no stealing whatsoever and there isn’t! I think that writers should be encouraged to reference other writers or use quotes that hold a special meaning within their own writing. How else would some of the best works of our time be created?

Shouldn’t we all be entitled to our own creativity and make or do whatever it is we want? Where is our freedom? If people actually followed these copyrighting laws, would there even be any music or books or movies or any forms of entertainment at all? As said in “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto,” “Culture always builds on the past.” If it weren’t for certain musicians who paved the way for new genres and sounds, what would we be listening to today? It really makes one wonder.


50 responses to ““I will not reason or compare: my business is to create.”

  1. ophelia says:

    one of my artsy friends always used to say, “artists are liars and thieves”, in a good way. she meant you are supposed to take something that happened to someone, twist it around a little, and change the name. that’s what makes you original.

    • whathasmylifecome2 says:

      “Artists are liars and thieves”…meant in a good way or a genuinly bad way, this is excellent perspective on artistry. It reminds me of the philosophical take on imitation, Plato I believe it was, who believed that imitation was pure evil, but was in fact human nature. Another word of advice I read once said something along the lines of…read a lot, then re-write your favorite scenes in your own words. Originality is bound to be an imitation of something, we live in a world of floating ideas. What separates it is one’s own individual perspective, emotion, and mental state; his/her individual view through the eyeglass. Well said, Ophelia =)

  2. pezcita says:

    You’re absolutely right, and this doesn’t just apply to music remixes either. I just posted a comic strip last week that could have caused copyright issues had I tried to publish it for money, but since I’m not being paid, who cares? There are some advantages to not making money doing what you love, but we don’t want to stay there forever.

  3. daveinden says:

    I have always agreed with artists having freedom to create. Putting boundaries on creativity only proves to hinder it and protects nothing.
    Plus, that documentary is awesome.

    • swalerzak says:

      I definitely agree with you! Creating laws to stop one’s creativity is just silly and pointless. My writing would be bland without sprinkling a few quotes or incorporating something else that isn’t my own. The law can try and stop us, but it’ll never creativity.

  4. trichordist says:

    You are entitled to YOUR OWN creativity, absolutely. You are not ENTITLED to mine. And yes, people can be very creative without breaking the law, I offer you over two decades of hip-hop 😉

  5. Jade Jarvis says:

    This post reminds me of a quote by Jim Jarmusch.

    “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

    • swalerzak says:

      I love this quote! Thanks for sharing it!

      • inukshuk says:

        That’s a great quote indeed ! As well as a very nice post. 🙂

        It’s an interesting perspective, this comparison to literature, and I couldn’t agree more: some artists who are well-respected have not an ounce of originality – they just keep rehashing the same formula for making a hit song, as defined by the fat cats of the music industry. It may be legal, but it certainly isn’t original.

        Compare that to artists who sample or mix existing music to transform it into something entirely different, and you’ve got something else entirely.

        Although I don’t know much about the subject of art in the field of painting for example, I think you could use that field for comparison: just like in literature, the great artists of any generation have always influenced each other in many ways, borrowed techniques and ideas from each other. That is how art grows. Prevent that type of emulation, and you end up with something formatted and thoroughly unoriginal. Which is a shame.

        I hope you don’t mind my posting a link here, but you’ve voiced the idea behind a post I wrote earlier this week:

    • whathasmylifecome2 says:

      In Dewey’s “Art as Experience” he articulates that fine art, which is stuffed behind museum walls and secluded from every day society, is absent from the very atmosphere in which we interact with on a daily basis, and the very place from which we gain our inspiration (or, in this case, lack thereof gaining). This, he argues, is tragic in that the works which are meant to mirror life are utterly lacking, encouraging the daily grind. His musings resonate with your post in that artists (or anyone wishing to produce something of value to others or themselves) often base their productions off of experience. Molding that experience (for me, the insistent drone of a copy machine and monotonous administrative work that threatens to melt my creative drive) into something steal-worthy and that speaks to you is very authentic, as you say. And if you can’t seem to steal from the experiences that surround you, feed off of the experiences of others.

    • marcys says:

      Ooh, I love that Goddard quote!

  6. thepoliblog says:

    Much of the great music of the 18th and 19th century was written as variations on the music of other composers. It was seen as a tribute to the earlier composer, not as stealing. The same thing occurred in literature. Our present-day practice is to use copyrights and patents to stifle innovation and competition, rather than to foster innovation by providing something that others can build upon.
    By the way, science, mathematics and engineering became so advanced only because people could build upon the earlier work.

    • swalerzak says:

      Exactly! I find it appalling that so many people view someone drawing on inspiration from other sources as stealing. I have always seen it as being flattering. I’d be flattered if someone took something I created and developed something further with it. I think it’s important to build upon the old or the already created and established. It’s what makes things more interesting and entertaining.

  7. Grumpa Joe says:

    Maybe copyrights should be time limited like patents.

  8. Wonderful post! I really enjoyed it. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  9. Nice post!

    Have you seen the series called ‘Everything Is A Remix’? It’s really good.

  10. […] “I will not reason or compare: my business is to create.”. […]

  11. elizabethweaver says:

    Beautifully put! The lawsuit against Shepard Fairey for his Obama painting stands out as another example of how crazy our copyright laws are. Copyright, as practiced in modern U.S. law, too often undermines rather than protects intellectual property and creativity. Rip! sounds great. Thank you for the recommendation and the excellent title and post.

  12. elizabethweaver says:

    I also love your Inspiration sign!

  13. Indeed. Great post. Laws are ridiculous, generally. And people with genuine creative talent are sometimes marginalised because of them. All the while, no talent bums who use generic tunes to sound the background to their decisively commercialised voices are revered and not questioned. That sounded mean and malicious. Woops. Just trying to throw in my two cents; carelessly, as it may be. Again, well said.

    • swalerzak says:

      Thank you! I do agree with you, so that must make both of us mean. It’s amazing how artists just like Girl Talk or artists who are completely different and create something we’ve never heard before are put down so much. Why is that? Is it because we still cannot accept things that are different from the typical boring norms that are expected in our society? I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m tired of hearing the same junk on the radio day after day, year after year. As a future educator, I will encourage my students to reference their favorite quotes, songs, and anything else they have been inspired by and have them incorporate it into their writing or other activities. I will never stop them from creating, exploring, and being different. End rant.

      • Meh, sometimes the truth hurts, I s’pose. Relative truths, at least. And if I ever have kids, I hope that someone like you teaches them. And yes, tired indeed. This is why I don’t listen to the radio/watch the television/perceive of the news in any form. Brain washes us to believe in rubbish. Am I a conspiracy theorist? No. A little loony. But whatever. Norms bother me. Not really. Bah.

  14. maxcollinge says:

    I feel like this relates to the idea that everything you can think has already been thought. Because of this, the creativity comes in the pairing of old ideas to new effect. Thank you ! ❤

  15. Kerry Dwyer says:

    I think I will go copywrite all the details of my life so that no one can use any part of it in a story. No one will be able to talk about Walking in Italy or Ireland, giving birth or having teeth removed. They are mine all mine!!! Oh eating lasagne is also mine.

  16. Who Am I? says:

    Loved this post!

    No man-made thing is this world is original. It’s all rediscovery or innovation. Only the Mother Nature is creative, only God is the original creative being.

  17. Anita Mac says:

    As long as you give credit to the original writer, isn’t sharing the quote or referencing back to the article a form of flattery – it is saying “I dig what you wrote/said and want others to know about it too!” I thought it was stealing to take and submit as your own! Of course quotes get referenced and shared all the time – how else do people know about them! I was there when pretty much any famous quote was uttered for the first time – it was only through sharing that I first heard about it!
    Great post – glad to see you are freshly pressed – hope you generate loads of discussion!

    • fireandair says:

      “As long as you give credit to the original writer … ”

      This to me is the whole kernel. GIVE CREDIT. Link back. Say, “Hey, did you like this cool thing I did? Here’s where I got my inspiration — go check them out!”

      • lsurrett2 says:

        I completely agree. Having taught English and all the mind-numbing rules for citations, I’ve hated having to repeat over and over again to students whys and whats about plagiarism and intellectual ownership. The whole point of using other people’s ideas is to morph them into something new and interesting.

  18. amadorandrea says:

    Innovation is always rooted in the past models. I agree that it can’t be stealing unless you actually made something better 🙂 great post!

  19. marcys says:

    It’s a very complicated issue. As a writer, I want to be paid for my work. I also don’t want other people to use my work without giving me credit. OTOH, I want to share my work widely. So I see it as a case-by-case issue.

    As a music lover who frequently uses, or wants to use, lyrics in my writing, I resent the laws surrounding this usage. The cost for just two lines is astronomical for a writer. I think the music industry went overboard in the past 50 years, after so many rock ‘n’ roll musicians ended up poverty-strticken. Jackie Wilson, for instance, died in poverty and illness. Yoko Ono has started an organization that helps “starving artists,” musicians who were cheated out of their fair share of the huge amounts of money that were amassed off their talent.

    As I said, it’s a complex issue, and I’ve recently noticed a movement rising up against copyright. I just hope it’s not seen in black-and-white, and that we writers, musicians and other creative workers don’t get screwed again.

  20. Great post and relevant to all aspects of art. This happens in the dance world as well but nothing compares to the power of copyright laws and steep fines.

  21. Awesome. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. Really, really great post!

  22. emekatalks says:

    lovely post! thanks for sharing 🙂

  23. I really like your blog and would love you to feature on mine, All you have to do is write five suggestions along with a link back to your site. Please check out the blog and see the sort of things people have written about.

  24. Dawn Akemi says:

    There is a book called, Freedom of Expression (R): Overzealous Copyright Bozos and Other Enemies of Creativity, by Kembrew McLeod, where he hilariously copyrights the term, “freedom of expression,” and which addresses this issue in depth. It’s a fun and informative read. What begins as seemingly innocuous, like the ownership of “Happy Birthday,” journeys into a miasma of corporate greed and the patenting of life, as in Monsanto and genetic engineering. The rabbit hole goes deep. Here’s the Amazon link:

    Enjoy! 🙂

  25. chriswhittenmusic says:

    I’ve been a creative artist for 30 years. In all that time, me and most of my friends have always focussed on innovation, making something new. We never wanted to sound like anyone else, or copy someone else’s work.
    The ultimate creativity is making something new from a blank canvas, without copying someone else, and that’s what copyright encourages.
    It’s kind of strange to me that this generation of artists (at least some of them) complain about having their freedom of expression infringed because they can’t infringe (copy) other artists.
    I don’t get it.

  26. cartoonmick says:

    Hmmm, , , , Not sure I totally agree about using parts of other peoples creations, it can be a grey area.

    In some situations, it could be hard to define when, or if, the line has been crossed.

    Agree, that $4M is a bit over the top, just being greedy and milking an opportunity.

    But, a good post to get people thinking.



  27. Great post. The same laws that protect you, as a creative person, also bind you — once upon a time, you could make unsolicited submissions just about anywhere in the hopes of being discovered. Content providers were usually willing to give most anyone at least a couple minutes of consideration if it meant finding something new they could capitalize from.

    Now, many places won’t touch them because of fear that if they consider that material, but ultimately pass on it yet end up using something in a similar vein, it’ll trigger a lawsuit. Even if the lawsuit is groundless and made by a crackpot looking for an easy payout, it still generates negative publicity for the outlet, so the simple solution for those on the editorial end is just to not open those envelopes or e-mails that might have the Next Big Thing.

    You’ve got all kinds of resources to protect you once you’ve gotten something out there, but it also makes it that more difficult to get something on the field in the first place.

  28. 1stpeaksteve says:

    With anything, there has to be a balance between outright ripping someone off and taking some tiny snippet of someone else’s work to create something new. For example, if you wrote a novel and ten other people publish your exact novel with their name on it afterwards, I am sure one would be a tad bit pissed.

    Tossing in some sampling or other homages is a form of flattery. It is like building on a code to create a better or different product. If the artist says he is good with it, then a balanced fee is not a bad thing to do to compensate the artist. I say balanced because how much does an artist receive from an entire song being played on a radio station? Not much at all. I read once that an artist has to have their song played 3 times to make one cent on Spotify.

  29. Plot Jotter says:

    What is interesting about this is that what you say is true! And Biblically, there is nothing new under the sun and i totally agree that writers & artists including those who are learning their crafts should reference their masters…it is with great respect for anyone’s attempt to expose the heritage which such things originate. And wasn’t it Tolstoy who have up his right to copyright? He too, didn’t believe it was right and would not accept royalty for his works.
    Great read! I truly enjoyed this and wish the world as whole would come to the realization that money may make yourself wealthy, but sharing is caring!

    • chriswhittenmusic says:

      Generally money earned from selling art goes straight back into the next artwork.
      Money is a means to survive and continue to work for the vast majority of creative people.
      That line about ‘sharing is caring’ is a funny one. When someone copies my work what are they sharing with me? Copying is basically a one way street. Sharing is better when it’s done freely, with two consenting parties. Real sharing is definitely a give and take relationship. In current culture sharing of artworks is mostly about taking (unfortunately).

      • Plot Jotter says:

        I agree with your view about sharing, however, when copying, for instance, someone else’s quotes and leaving no reference of the original author is yes, a one way street. But, when respects are given to the creators or original authors of work in that alone is the essence of ” word of mouth”, therefore a form of sharing and caring. Not every form of return will be monetary, perhaps some free advertising. 🙂

  30. Plot Jotter says:

    Reblogged this on Charity Swag and commented:
    From an interesting mind!

  31. lovethyself686 says:

    Reblogged this on lovethyself686's Blog and commented:
    I agree with the article. I personally use music to inspire me as i write. At times i may even quote a verse into my poem. Those who truly know how to feel what im saying and/or know who i am quoting will appreciate my work.

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