If you don’t know Auto-Tune the News, it’s a series of comedy remix videos by The Gregory Brothers. Most recently, they remixed this local news clip of Antoine Dodson, speaking out about his sister’s sexual assault:
into the viral hit “Bed Intruder Song”:
Now, they’re selling the song on iTunes, and it’s flying off the virtual shelves. According to Wired.com, The Gregory Brothers sold 10,571 copies of “Bed Intruder Song” on iTunes in the first two days. What’s more, the tune has made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. In a classy move, The Gregory Brothers split the profits 50/50 with Antoine Dodson:
We’re really breaking “unintentional singing” ground, so we’re trying to set precedents by making it so that Antoine, or whoever that artist might be in the future, has a stake not only as an artist but as a co-author of the song. It’s like you said: He wrote the lyrics, he’s the one who put it out there. What we’re doing on iTunes and on any other sales, we’re splitting the revenue after it gets through Apple down the middle. And that [also applies] if we ever license the song for TV or a movie. Whatever happens to the song, he has a 50 percent writing credit.
Though this is an American example, I think this story is particularly interesting to Canadians, in light of new proposed copyright legislation, which includes a “YouTube clause that allows people to mash up media under certain circumstances, as long as it’s not for commercial gain.” From Bill C-32:
It is not an infringement of copyright for an individual to use an existing work or other subject-matter … in the creation of a new work or other subject-matter in which copyright subsists … if the use of, or the authorization to disseminate, the new work or other subject-matter is done solely for non-commercial purposes
So, C-32 would make it OK for me to remix a local news report, so long as the remix was non-commercial (or covered by C-32’s parody or satire exceptions). But what does “non-commercial” even mean? At what point would a Canadian version of the The Gregory Brothers’ videos become commercial? Would it be after they get millions of views on YouTube? After they start selling the songs on iTunes? And what about the advertising that YouTube runs against “non-commercial” videos? Non-commercial means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Just read Creative Commons: Defining Noncommercial.
And when it comes to ownership, it’s incredibly muddy to me. My non-commercial remix may be a new work, and I may hold the copyright to it, but am I suddenly infringing copyright if my remix becomes a YouTube hit and the cheques start rolling in? In that situation, what becomes of the Antoine Dodsons of the world? The Gregory Brothers are splitting their piece of the pie with him, but do they have to? Should they have to?
Memetics and remix culture are the lifeblood of the web, and are constantly evolving. The first Auto-Tune the News video showed up 16 months ago. 16 months ago! Can legislation ever catch up with such a wildly moving target?
If you have opinions or (fingers crossed) pointers to some clarification around remixes and ownership under C-32, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.