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Why Sampling is Here to Stay in the Photo Remix Age

Posted By Rohn Engh On January 20, 2014 @ 11:00 am In Business of Photography,Stock Art and Photography | No Comments

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Some musicians use the Internet to creatively borrow from compositions of others and mix these elements into their own original versions. These new songs are sometimes called a mash-up or bootleg.

Mash-ups are songs that combine parts of different hit songs without adding any original music. This might represent the first significant new musical genre to be lifted out of the underground, developed, and then spread, mostly via the Internet. (Remember sampling in the 90′s — Oribital’s “Halcyon & On & On”?) The songs typically match the rhythm, melody and underlying spirit of the instrumentals of one song, with the a cappella vocals of another.

This type of sharing is also happening, though rarely, to stock photographers. Some photographers have discovered that portions of their photos have turned up as part of a montage created by someone else.

The Lines Between Sampling and Infringement are Blurry

Classical music lovers know that sampling is not new. Mozart, Bach, and Handel all utilized fragments of music from their contemporaries. It wasn’t considered infringing, but fits more closely to what might be interpreted today in the Copyright Law as an authorship issue.

Technological forces today have encouraged this kind of borrowing. Cheap computer software, for example, made it possible for a teenager with no musical knowledge to create professional-sounding productions at home using Internet peer-to-peer services such as the former filesharing sites Napster and KaZaa. Lawsuits and other deterrents soon shut these websites down.

Naturally, the music industry was concerned about filesharing, because in most cases the sound tracks were being used without permission. Does filesharing pose a threat to income? Some studies have shown that it does not. Curiously, if sampling were entirely illegal, musicians such as Puff Daddy, Missy Elliot, Steps, and other former top 40 artists would not have been nearly as successful. In the world of art, postmodernist Andy Warhol would have found his hands tied in legal battles, thanks to his Campbell Soup depiction, among other paintings.

Even Shakespeare was known to borrow from other artists to expand or improve a work. A modern example is the Carol Burnett Show on TV (on air from 1967 to 1978) which regularly borrowed lines and ideas from other popular media.

Filesharing is not necessarily illegal, even if the works being shared are covered by copyright. For example, some artists might choose to support freeware, shareware, open source, or anti-copyright and advocate the use of filesharing as a free promotional tool. Nearly all freeware and open source software can be shared under the rules specified in the license for that specific piece of software. Content in the public domain can also be freely shared.

How Can Your Protect Your Photos?

How does this apply to your stock photos on the Internet? Should you remove them immediately to prevent someone from using part of one of your pictures as a sample and protect them under Copyright Law? That’s up to you, but sampling isn’t going to go away.

As a stock photographer, prepare to see some of your Internet images become a part of Pop Culture in much the same way. While the process gets no endorsement from us here at PhotoSource, it looks like an inevitable part of the package to put up with in exchange for all the benefits of having your images available online.

One solution would be for filesharing and other pay-per-use royalty systems to reward the original copyright holder for partial use of one of your images. Who knows, you might one day use parts of other images to create a new image for the general public’s pleasure and enlightenment.

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