People who want you to forfeit your intellectual property rights like to point out the enormous creativity of those who would use your work without compensating you.
They’re not stealing your work. They’re “remixing” it. “Transforming” it. “Mashing” it up.
Look, I can appreciate the talent that goes into a remix or mashup. The Slap-Chop remix  was awesome, for example. But it was also an infringement.
You place your bets, you take your chances. DJ Steve Porter took a risk and it paid off for him.
But that doesn’t mean Porter’s remixes should have the legal status of a new creation or original work. That’s ridiculous.
View from the Ivory Tower
Unfortunately, that’s the point of view of some influential people, like Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig.
From high atop his ivory tower, Lessig declares that the mashup artist should be able to remix scenes from a Disney movie, for example, and claim ownership of the finished product.
But how can you separate this derivative work from the original work and the tens of billions of dollars of marketing that has made Disney a household name for most of a century? You can’t.
If he’s allowed to succeed, Lessig’s mashup of intellectual property law will create a legal mess for all of us.
The Behemoths Weigh In
Fortunately, Disney, Sony Music, the news wire services and others aren’t buying Lessig’s argument — and as photographers, we’re lucky to have these corporate behemoths on our side.
Don’t get me wrong. I greatly dislike what the record labels have done to independent musicians. And in our profession, the contracts the wire services dictate to freelance photographers today are shameless. In particular, they have been reprehensible in their demands to own the intellectual property that we as photographers create.
But there’s an old saying that applies in this case: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
The large corporations, with their deep pockets and strong desire to control intellectual property rights, will be the defenders of IP for all creators of original work in the legal battles ahead. And that means they’re on the same side as us — the independent photographers.
Lessons of Napster
We need only look a few years back, when the hooligans who ran Napster were, quite literally, running amok with the creative talents of musicians everywhere.
More than one professional photographer I know had streams of Napster-sourced music running in their studios and seemed to see nothing wrong with it — until I pointed out the hypocrisy.
Call me a killjoy, but stealing music is stealing from artists. Period.
Fortunately, iTunes created a system that encouraged music downloads while compensating artists, and Napster was lobotomized into a lifeless parody of itself.
Fast forward to 2011, when we have people being encouraged to steal photographs and video, and visual artists being encouraged to throw away their IP or to allow unauthorized and objectionable uses of their creations.
We’re told that anyone should be able to go to our website, take photographs, use them, “remix” them, and do so without our knowledge or permission.
I Stand Against IP Thieves
Lessig would have you believe that enforcing copyright law has become like the War on Drugs — unwinnable, and overshadowed by the collateral damage it has caused. In this case, the collateral damage is in the form of underground DJs and other criminalized remixers.
I have little pity for these mashup artists, at a time when the artists of original work have such a difficult time protecting it, receiving fair compensation and feeding their families.
And so I will gladly stand alongside the wire services, music and movie industries as they leverage their might to defeat those who would steal our work.