Everything is a Remix Part 4 Transcript

by Kirby in

The genes in our bodies can be traced back over three-and-a-half billion years to a single organism, Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor. As Luca reproduced, its genes copied and copied and copied and copied, sometimes with mistakes — they transformed. Over time this produced every one of the billions of species of life on earth. Some of these adopted sexual reproduction, combining the genes of individuals, and altogether, the best-adapted life forms prospered. This is evolution. Copy, transform and combine.

And culture evolves in a similar way, but the elements aren’t genes, they’re memes — ideas, behaviors, skills. Memes are copied, transformed, and combined. And the dominant ideas of our time are the memes that spread the most.

This is social evolution.

Copy, transform and combine. It's who we are, it’s how we live, and of course, it's how we create. Our new ideas evolve from the old ones.

But our system of law doesn't acknowledge the derivative nature of creativity. Instead, ideas are regarded as property, as unique and original lots with distinct boundaries.

But ideas aren't so tidy. They're layered, they’re interwoven, they're tangled. And when the system conflicts with the reality... the system starts to fail.


For almost our entire history ideas were free. The works of Shakespeare, Gutenberg, and Rembrandt could be openly copied and built upon. But the growing dominance of the market economy, where the products of our intellectual labors are bought and sold, produced an unfortunate side-effect.

Let’s say a guy invents a better light bulb. His price needs to cover not just the manufacturing cost, but also the cost of inventing the thing in the first place.

Now let's say a competitor starts manufacturing a copy of the invention. The competitor doesn't need to cover those development costs so his version can be cheaper.

The bottom line: original creations can’t compete with the price of copies.

In the United States the introduction of copyrights and patents was intended to address this imbalance. Copyrights covered media; patents covered inventions. Both aimed to encourage the creation and proliferation of new ideas by providing a brief and limited period of exclusivity, a period where no one else could copy your work. This gave creators a window in which to cover their investment and earn a profit. After that their work entered the public domain, where it could spread far and wide and be freely built upon.

And it was this that was the goal: a robust public domain, an affordable body of ideas, products, arts and entertainment available to all. The core belief was in the common good, what would benefit everyone.

But over time, the power of the market transformed this principle beyond recognition. Influential thinkers proposed that ideas are a form of property, and this conviction would eventually yield a new term… intellectual property.

This was a meme that would multiply wildly, thanks in part to a quirk of human psychology known as Loss Aversion.

Simply put, we hate losing what we've got. People tend to place a much higher value on losses than on gains. So the gains we get from copying the work of others don’t make a big impression, but when it’s our ideas being copied, we perceive this as a loss and we get territorial.

For instance, Disney made extensive use of the public domain. Stories like Snow White, Pinnochio and Alice in Wonderland were all taken from the public domain. But when it came time for the copyright of Disney’s early films to expire, they lobbied to have the term of copyright extended.

Artist Shepard Fairey has frequently used existing art in his work. This practice came to head when he was sued by the Associated Press for basing his famous Obama Hope poster on their photo. Nonetheless, when it was his imagery used in a piece by Baxter Orr, Fairey threatened to sue.

And lastly, Steve Jobs was sometimes boastful about Apple's history of copying.

But he harbored deep grudges against those who dared to copy Apple.

I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this.

When we copy we justify it. When others copy we vilify it. Most of us have no problem with copying... as long as we're the ones doing it.

So with a blind eye toward our own mimicry, and propelled by faith in markets and ownership, intellectual property swelled beyond its original scope with broader interpretations of existing laws, new legislation, new realms of coverage and alluring rewards.

In 1981 George Harrison lost a 1.5 million dollar case for “subconsciously” copying the doo-wop hit “He’s So Fine” in his ballad “My Sweet Lord.”

Prior to this plenty of songs sounded much more like other songs without ending up in court. Ray Charles created the prototype for soul music when he based "I Got a Woman" on the gospel song "It Must be Jesus."

Starting in the late nineties, a series of new copyright laws and regulations began to be introduced...

Titles: NET Act, 1997 DMCA, 1998 PRO-IP, 2008 The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Act of 2008

...and many more are in the works.

Titles: Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) "Six Strikes Plan"

The most ambitious in scope are trade agreements. Because these are treaties, not laws, they can be negotiated in secret, with no public input and no congressional approval. In 2011 ACTA was signed by President Obama, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, currently being written in secret, aims to spread even stronger US-style protections around the world.

Titles: ACTA Signed by Canada, Australia, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. the EU.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement To be signed by: Australia, New Zealand, and the rest of North America, Russia and Asia

Of course, when the United States itself was a developing economy, it refused to sign treaties and had no protection for foreign authors. Charles Dickens famously complained about America's bustling book piracy market, calling it "a horrible thing that scoundrel-booksellers should grow rich."

Patent coverage made the leap from physical inventions to virtual ones, most notably, software.

But this is not a natural transition. A patent is a blueprint for how to make an invention. Software patents are more like a loose description of what something would be like if it was actually invented.

And software patents are written in the broadest possible language to get the broadest possible protection. The vagueness of these terms sometimes can reach absurd levels. For example, "information manufacturing machine," which covers anything computer-like, or "material object," which covers pretty much anything.

The fuzziness of software patents' boundaries has turned the smartphone industry into one giant turf war.

62 percent of all patent lawsuits are now over software. The estimated wealth lost is half a trillion dollars.

The expanding reach of intellectual property has introduced more and more possibilities for opportunistic litigation -- suing to make a buck. Two new corporate species evolved whose entire business model is lawsuits: sample trolls and patent trolls.

These are corporations that don't actually produce anything. They acquire a library of intellectual property rights, then litigate to earn profits. And because legal defense is hundreds of thousands of dollars in copyright cases and millions in patents, their targets are usually highly motivated to settle out of court.

The most famous sample troll is Bridgeport Music, which has filed hundreds of suits. In 2005 they scored an influential court decision over this two-second sample.

Funkadelic "Get Off Your Ass and Jam"

That's it. And not only was the sample short, it was virtually unrecognizable.

NWA's "A 100 Miles and Runnin'"

This verdict essentially rendered any kind of sampling, no matter how small, infringing. The sample-heavy musical collages of hip-hop's golden age are now impossibly expensive to create.

Now patent trolls are most common back in that troubled realm of software.

And perhaps the most inexplicable case is that of Paul Allen. He's one of the founders of Microsoft, he's a billionaire, he's an esteemed philanthropist who's pledged to give away much of his fortune. And he claims basic web page features like related links, alerts and recommendations were invented by his long-defunct company. So the self-proclaimed "idea man" sued pretty much all of Silicon Valley in 2010. And he did this despite no lack of fame or fortune.

So to recap, the full picture looks like this.

We believe that ideas are property and we're excessively territorial when we feel that property belongs to us. Our laws then indulge this bias with ever-broadening protections and massive rewards. Meanwhile huge legal fees encourge defendants to pay-up and settle out of court.

It's a discouraging scenario, and it begs the question: what now?

The belief in intellectual property has grown so dominant it's pushed the original intent of copyrights and patents out of the public consciousness. But that original purpose is still right there in plain sight. The copyright act of 1790 is entitled "an Act for the encouragement of learning". The Patent Act is "to promote the progress of useful Arts."

The exclusive rights these acts introduced were a compromise for a greater purpose. The intent was to better the lives of everyone by incentivizing creativity and producing a rich public domain, a shared pool of knowledge, open to all.

But exclusive rights themselves came to be considered the point, so they were strengthened and expanded. And the result hasn't been more progress or more learning, it's been more squabbling and more abuse.

We live in an age with daunting problems. We need the best ideas possible, we need them now, we need them to spread fast. The common good is a meme that was overwhelmed by intellectual property. It needs to spread again. If the meme prospers, our laws, our norms, our society, they all transform.

That's social evolution and it's not up to governments or corporations or lawyers… it's up to us.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 Transcript

by Kirby in

Click here to watch Everything is a Remix Part 3. The act of creation is surrounded by a fog of myths. Myths that creativity comes via inspiration. That original creations break the mold, that they’re the products of geniuses, and appear as quickly as electricity can heat a filament. But creativity isn’t magic: it happens by applying ordinary tools of thought to existing materials.

And the soil from which we grow our creations is something we scorn and misunderstand, even though it gives us so much… and that's copying. Put simply, copying is how we learn. We can’t introduce anything new until we’re fluent in the language of our domain, and we do that through emulation.

For instance, all artists spend their formative years producing derivative work.

Bob Dylan’s first album contained eleven cover songs.

Richard Pryor began his stand-up career doing a not-very-good imitation of Bill Cosby.

And Hunter S. Thompson re-typed The Great Gatsby just to get the feel of writing a great novel.

Nobody starts out original. We need copying to build a foundation of knowledge and understanding. And after that... things can get interesting.

After we’ve grounded ourselves in the fundamentals through copying, it’s then possible to create something new through transformation. Taking an idea and creating variations. This is time-consuming tinkering but it can eventually produce a breakthrough.

James Watt created a major improvement to the steam engine because he was assigned to repair a Thomas Newcomen steam engine. He then spent twelve years developing his version.

Christopher Latham Sholes’ modeled his typewriter keyboard on a piano. This design slowly evolved over five years into the QWERTY layout we still use today.

And Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb — his first patent was “Improvement in Electric Lamps“ — but he did produce the first commercially viable bulb... after trying 6,000 different materials for the filament.

These are all major advances, but they’re not original ideas so much as tipping points in a continuous line of invention by many different people.

But the most dramatic results can happen when ideas are combined. By connecting ideas together creative leaps can be made, producing some of history's biggest breakthroughs.

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press was  invented around 1440, but almost all its components had been around for centuries.

Henry Ford and The Ford Motor Company didn’t invent the assembly line, interchangeable parts or even the automobile itself. But they combined all these elements in 1908 to produce the the first mass market car, the Model T.

And the Internet slowly grew over several decades as networks and protocols merged. It finally hit critical mass in 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee added the World Wide Web.

These are the basic elements of creativity: copy, transform, and combine. And the perfect illustration of all these at work is the story of the devices we’re using right now. So let’s travel back to the dawn of the personal computer revolution and look at the company that started it all… Xerox.

Xerox invented the modern personal computer in the early seventies. The Alto was a mouse-driven system with a graphical user interface. Bear in mind that a popular personal computer of this era was operated with switches, and if you flipped them in the right order, you got to see blinking lights. The Alto was way ahead of its time. Eventually Apple got a load of the Alto, and later released not one but two computers with graphical interfaces, the Lisa and its more successful follow-up, The Macintosh.

The Alto was never a commercial product, but Xerox did release a system based on it in 1981, the Star 8010, two years before The Lisa, three years before the Mac. It was the Star and the Alto that served as the foundation for the Macintosh.

The Xerox Star used a desktop metaphor with icons for documents and folders. It had a pointer, scroll bars, and pop-up menus. These were huge innovations and the Mac copied every one of them. But it was the first combination it incorporated that set the Mac on a path towards long-term success.

Apple aimed to merge the computer with the household appliance. The Mac was to be a simple device like a TV or a stereo. This was unlike the Star, which was intended for professional use, and vastly different from the cumbersome command-based systems that dominated the era. The Mac was for the home and this produced a cascade of transformations.

Firstly, Apple removed one of the buttons on the mouse to make its novel pointing device less confusing. Then they added the double-click for opening files. The Star used a separate key to open files. The Mac also let you drag icons around and move and resize windows. The Star didn’t have drag-and-drop — you moved and copied files by selecting an icon, pressing a key, then clicking a location. And you resized windows with a menu. The Star and the Alto both featured pop-up menus, but because the location of these would move around the screen, the user had to continually re-orient. The Mac introduced the menu bar, which stayed in the same place no matter what you were doing. And the Mac added the trash can to make deleting files more intuitive and less nerve-wracking.

And lastly, through compromise and clever engineering Apple managed to pare down the Mac’s price to $2,500. Still pretty expensive but much cheaper than the $10,000 Lisa or the $17,000 Star.

But what started it all was the graphical interface merged with the idea of the computer as household appliance. The Mac is a demonstration of the explosive potential of combinations. The Star and the Alto, on the other hand, are the products of years of elite research and development. They’re a testament to the slow power of transformation. But of course they too contain the work of others. The Alto and the Star are evolutionary branches that lead back to the NLS System, which introduced windows and the mouse, to Sketchpad, the first interactive drawing application, and even back to the Memex, a concept resembling the modern PC decades before it was possible.

The interdependence of our creativity has been obscured by powerful cultural ideas, but technology is now exposing this connectedness. We’re struggling legally, ethically and artistically to deal with these implications — and that’s our final episode, Part 4.

What if Xerox never decided to pursue the graphical interface? Or Thomas Edison found a different trade? What if Tim Berners-Lee never got the funding to develop the World Wide Web? Would our world be different? Would we be further behind?

History seems to tell us things wouldn’t be so different. Whenever there’s a major breakthrough, there’s usually others on the same path. Maybe a bit behind, maybe not behind at all.

Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both invented calculus around 1684.

The theory of evolution was proposed by Darwin, of course, but Alfred Russel Wallace had pretty much the same idea at pretty much the same time. And Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed patents for the telephone on the same day.

We call this multiple discovery — the same innovation emerging from different places. Science and invention is riddled with it, but it can also happen in the arts.

In film, for instance, we had three Coco Chanel movies released within nine months of each other.

Around 1999 we had a quartet of sci-fi movies about artificial reality.

Even Charlie Kaufman’s unusually original, Synecdoche, New York, bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom McCarthy’s novel, Remainder. They’re both the stories of men who suddenly become wealthy and start recreating moments of their lives, even going so far as to recreate the recreations.

And actually, this — the video you’re watching — was written just before the New Yorker published a Malcolm Gladwell story about Apple, Xerox and the nature of innovation.

We’re all building with the same materials. And sometimes by coincidence we get similar results, but sometimes innovations just seem inevitable.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 Transcript

by Kirby in

This is a transcript for the video Everything is a Remix Part 2. Perhaps it's because movies are so massively expensive to make. Perhaps it's because graphic novels, TV shows, video games, books and the like are such rich sources of material. Or perhaps it's because audiences prefer the familiar. Whatever the reason, most box office hits rely heavily on existing material.

Of the ten highest grossing films per year from the last ten years, 74 out of 100 are either sequels or remakes of earlier films or adaptations of comic books, video games, books, and so on. Transforming the old into the new... is Hollywood's greatest talent.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 Remix Inc.

At this point we've got three sequels to a film adapted from a theme park attraction.

We've got a movie musical based on a musical which was based on a movie.

We've got two sequels to a film that was adapted from an animated TV show based on a line of toys.

We've got a movie based on two books, one of which was based on a blog which was inspired by the other book that was adapted into the film. Got it?

We've got 11 Star Trek films, 12 Friday the 13ths, and 23 James Bonds.

We've got stories that have been told, retold, transformed, referenced, and subverted since the dawn of cinema. We've seen vampires morph from hideous monsters to caped bedroom invaders to campy jokes to sexy hunks to sexier hunks.

Of the few box office hits that aren't remakes, adaptations or sequels, the word "original" wouldn't spring to mind to describe 'em. These are genre movies, and they stick to pretty standard templates. Genres then break-up into sub-genres with their own even more specific conventions. So within the category of horror films we have sub-genres like slasher, zombie, creature feature, and of course, torture porn. All have standard elements that are appropriated, transformed and subverted.

Let's use the biggest film of the decade as an example. Now it's not a sequel, remix or adaptation, but it is a genre film -- sci-fi -- and most tellingly, it's a member of a tiny sub-genre where sympathetic white people feel bad about all the murder, pillaging, and annihilation being done on their behalf.

I call this sub-genre "Sorry about Colonialism!" I'm talking about movies like Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, The Last of the Mohicans, Dune, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man Called Horse, and even Fern Gully and Pocahontas.

Films are built on other films, as well as on books, TV shows, actual events, plays, whatever. This applies to everything from the lowliest genre film, right on up to revered indie art fare.

And it even applies to massively influential blockbusters, the kinds of films that reshape pop culture.

Which brings us to...

Even now, Star Wars endures as a work of remarkable imagination, but many of its individual components are as recognizable as the samples in a remix.

The foundation for Stars Wars comes from Joseph Campbell. He popularized the structures of myth in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Star Wars follows the outline of the monomyth, which consists of stages like...

The Call to Adventure

Supernatural Aid

The Belly of the Whale

The Road of Trials

The Meeting with the Goddess

and a bunch more.

Also huge influences were the Flash Gordon serials from the thirties and Japanese director Akira Kurasowa.

Star Wars plays much like an updated version of Flash Gordon, right down to the soft wipes and the opening titles design.

From Kurasowa we get masters of spiritual martial arts, a low-ranking bickering duo, a beneath-the-floorboards hideaway, more soft wipes, and a boastful baddy getting his arm chopped off.

War films and westerns are Star Wars other major influences. The climactic air missions of films like The Dambusters, 633 Squadron and The Bridges at Toko-Ri bore a huge influence on the run on the Death Star. And in many cases, existing shots were even used as templates for Star Wars' special effects.

The scene where Luke discovers his slaughtered family resembles this scene from The Searchers. And the scene where Han Solo shoots Greedo resembles this scene from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

There's also many other elements clearly derived from other films. We have tin man like the tin woman in Metropolis, a couple shots inspired by 2001, a grab-the-girl-and-swing moment like this one in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, a holographic projection kinda like this one in Forbidden Planet, a rally resembling this one in Triumph of the Will, and cute little robots much like those in Silent Running.

George Lucas collected materials, he combined them, he transformed them. Without the films that preceded it, there could be no Star Wars. Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others.

As Isaac Newton once said, we stand on the shoulders of giants -- which is what he was doing when he adapted that saying from Bernard de Chartres.

In Part Three we'll explore this idea further and chart the blurry boundary between originality and unoriginality.


George Lucas was the most movie saturated filmmaker of his era, but that baton has since been passed to... Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin Tarantino's remix master thesis is Kill Bill, which is probably the closest thing Hollywood has to a mash-up. Packed with elements pulled from countless films, Kill Bill raises filmic sampling to new heights of sophistication.

The killer nurse scene in particular is almost entirely a recombination of elements from existing films. The basic action is the same as this scene from Black Sunday, where a woman disguised as a nurse attempts to murder a patient with a syringe of red fluid. Darryl Hannah's eye patch is a nod to the lead character in They Call Her One Eye, and the tune she's whistling is taken from the 1968 thriller, Twisted Nerve. Capping it off, the split screen effect is modeled on techniques used by Brian De Palma in an assortment of films, including Carrie.

For an extended look at Kill Bill's references, check this out.

Everything is a Remix Part 1 Transcript

by Kirby in

This is a transcript of the video "Everything is a Remix" Part 1.

Remix. To combine or edit existing materials to produce something new

The term remix originally applied to music. It rose to prominence late last century during the heyday of hip-hop, the first musical form to incorporate sampling from existing recordings.

Early example: the Sugarhill Gang samples the bass riff from Chic’s “Good Times” in the 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight”.

Rapper’s Delight, The Sugarhill Gang

Good Times, Chic

Since then that same bassline has been sampled dozens of times.

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash Grandmaster Flash

Everything’s Gonna be Alright Father MC

It’s All Good Will Smith

2345Meia78 Gabriel O Pensador

Around the World Daft Punk

Skip ahead to the present and anybody can remix anything — music, video, photos, whatever — and distribute it globally pretty much instantly.

You don’t need expensive tools, you don’t need a distributor, you don’t even need skills. Remixing is a folk art — anybody can do it. Yet these techniques — collecting material, combining it, transforming it — are the same ones used at any level of creation. You could even say that everything is a remix.

To explain, let’s start in England in 1968.

Part One: The Song Remains the Same

Jimmy Page recruits John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, and John Bonham to form Zed Zeppelin. They play extremely loud blues music that soon will be known as—

Wait, let’s start in Paris in 1961.

William Burroughs coins the term “heavy metal” in the novel “The Soft Machine,” a book composed using the cut-up technique, taking existing writing and literally chopping it up and rearranging it. So in 1961 William Burroughs not only invents the term “heavy metal,” the brand of music Zeppelin and a few other groups would pioneer, he also produces an early remix.

Back to Zeppelin.

By the mid-1970s Led Zeppelin are the biggest touring rock band in America, yet many critics and peers label them as… rip-offs. The case goes like this.

The opening and closing sections of “Bring it on Home” are lifted from a tune by Willie Dixon entitled — not coincidentally — “Bring it on Home.”

Bring it on Home (Page, Plant)

Bring it on Home (Dixon) Performed by Sonny Boy Williamson

“The Lemon Song” lifts numerous lyrics from Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.”

The Lemon Song (Page, Plant)

Killing Floor (Burnett)

“Black Mountain Side” lifts its melody from “Blackwaterside,” a traditional arranged by Bert Jansch.

Black Mountain Side (Page)

Blackwaterside (Traditional, Arranged Jansch)

“Dazed and Confused” features different lyrics but is clearly an uncredited cover of the same-titled song by Jake Holmes. Oddly enough, Holmes files suit over forty years later in 2010.

Dazed and Confused (Page)

Dazed and Confused (Holmes)

And the big one, “Stairway to Heaven” pulls its opening from Spirit’s “Taurus.” Zeppelin toured with Spirit in 1968, three years before “Stairway” was released.

Stairway to Heaven (Page, Plant)

Taurus (California)

Zeppelin clearly copied a lot of amount of other people’s material, but that alone, isn’t unusual. Only two things distinguished Zeppelin from their peers.

Firstly, when Zeppelin used someone else’s material, they didn’t attribute songwriting to the original artist. Most British blues groups were recording lots of covers, but unlike Zeppelin, they didn’t claim to have written them.

Secondly, Led Zeppelin didn’t modify their versions enough to claim they were original. Many bands knock-off acts that came before them, but they tend to emulate the general sound rather than specific lyrics or melodies. Zeppelin copied without making fundamental changes.

So, these two things

Covers: performances of other people’s material

And knock-offs: copies that stay within legal boundaries

These are long-standing examples of legal remixing. This stuff accounts for almost everything the entertainment industry produces, and that’s where we’re headedin part two.

Written and Mixed by Kirby Ferguson

Follow this project on Twitter Twitter.com/RemixEverything

Full sources, references, and purchase links at EverythingisaRemix.info


Wait, one last thing. In the wake of their enormous success, Led Zeppelin went from the copier to the copied. First in the 70s with groups like Aerosmith, Heart and Boston, then during the eighties heavy metal craze, and on into the era of sampling. Here’s the beats from “When the Levee Breaks” getting sampled and remixed.

When the Levee Breaks Led Zeppelin

Rhymin’ and Stealin’ Beastie Boys

Return to Innocence Enigma

Lyrical Gangbang Dr. Dre

Kim Emininem

In Zeppelin’s defense, they never sued anybody.

Hi, I’m Kirby, I made the video you just watched, Everything is a Remix. If you enjoyed the video please head over to EverythingisaRemix.info and donate some money. Anything you can muster would be greatly appreciated and will help me dedicate time to completing the remaining three episodes – it’s going to be a four part series. The site has plenty of complimentary information that I think you might find interesting as well. You can also find links to songs and videos and stuff from the video. If you happen to like them you can go there and purchase them. It’s also a good way to keep up with the latest with what’s going on with the series. I think that’s it. Okay, thank you for watching and I’ll see you next time.