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I have always been interested in definition of a thing turning to something else and the point in which this happens. In what point does a piece of land or a population turn into a nation state? Life ain’t all binary and a lot of the grey stuff is where the interesting things happen. Today I won’t go to politics though, but will make some notions on music.

There are rules on copying someone else’s ideas in most of areas in life and it is called copyright. When you make a great song, you want your name cling on it and get a dime every time it gets played. But is the song really, originally yours? Are you so sure?

In my world of academics, one should not cite a writer word by word without references without fear of accusation of plagiarism. On the other hand, you cannot write anything detached of the community and the ones who have thought things through before you. In academic writing the rules are clear; if you cite without references, you plagiarize and that is a bad thing in a science community. In the music industry, the rules can be a bit more blurry.

Basically the writer and the composer owns rights to his creation until his death and a set number of years after that. I think in Finland the year limit has been set to 70. Do not get me wrong, it is totally fine to take the good stuff of someone’s song and put it in yours, but usually you either check first that the guy has been dead for quite a while, or you at least ask permission, put their name in the credits and pay them accordingly. If you couldn’t, there would be no hip hop or rap around. And when it comes to any pop or rock songs, do you think that the melodies that you hear now in top 10 haven’t been heard before?

But even when some of songs on the grey area (like the one by Coldplay above), the difficulty of drawing a clear line on what is legitimate and illegitimate use of previous works of art. There are thousands of good examples of lazy people using a classic song, singing it again badly and adding a techno beat on top, but I won’t go into those at all. After all, there are good copycats and bad ones as well in any industry. But I want to introduce you to one of my favourite artist, who in some people’s minds is a music liberator, and others judge him to be biggest musical criminal alive. His name is Girl Talk.

Girl Talk (or Gregg Gillis)  uses vocals and samples quite freely, and he might “steal” a beat or two from a song and put it into his compilation. Or at least a compilation would be a term used by the record labels or copyright officials who try to protect and uphold copyrighted material and the conventions of their use. He has actually admitted on using from 150 to 300 samples in each of his albums and that he hasn’t asked for permission since it would take too much time and the costs would be too overwhelming. Now you might think that there is no question that this guy is knee deep in law suits or probably locked down and sanctioned not to use his laptop ever again to create this illegal art. Well, actually he is doing just fine. It seems that in spite of apparently breaking just about every rule in the book, the artists and the record labels leave him be. The rap artists (which he mainly uses as vocals in his mash ups) have originally put a cappella versions of their songs out in hopes of dee jays and fans using them on top of other songs to make variations or mixes. I mentioned earlier the lazy techno revamps of old classics. You can check here how “easy” it is to produce Girl Talk mash ups.

I spotted this artist a couple of years ago in a documentary called “RIP: A Remix Manifesto!” which I invent you all to watch. It gives a refreshing view of modern society at it’s best and at it’s worst one might argue, at least in the realm of copyright. Can you spot out the villain?

ps.  a German author Moritz Heimann has wisely said that the most opinions form when one forgets where he has heard or read them. In retrospect, most of the things I am trying to convey here are actually touched upon in the documentary above.

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I have been a regular viewer of TED Talks for about two or three years now. I can’t really remember how it all began but I suspect I followed a video link either from Facebook or some news page. I got hooked right away and since then I have seen hundreds of short speeches from varying topics. I usually watch them from my phone on my way to the office or back home.

TED is a conference in held in California each winter and in Oxford each summer which last for about a week each. Among the guest speakers in there are some paying attendees in the audience as well. Conference has a theme or themes around which the speeches revolve around. The idea is for speakers to give a speech on a topic of their interest which should last about 16 minutes. And o boy, what you can fit into 16 minutes! I have learnt, or should I say become of aware of hundreds of different projects, products or ideas that are making this world a better place to live in. There are architects, heart surgeons, lawyers, statisticians, musicians, physicists, engineers, entrepreneur, people of various backgrounds sharing  ideas of making a difference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, but it covers quite many different things beyond these three words. Conferences allow people to mingle and ideas to collide and TED is not exception. But there are differences to “regular” conferences, as you will soon notice.

Unlike most conferences where talks can take 30, 60 or 90 minutes and usually go to the speakers bread and butter topic, maybe something they are making a dissertation or a book about, they can easily be quite boring. And I don’t mean the message as such, it’s just that those people are usually experts in their field, but not at making speeches that have an impact to a wider audience. Usually it is enough to give hard data to colleagues or co-researchers who can appreciate all the subtleties of one’s latest scientific findings. In TED, the speakers speak of things that pour out of their heart and not necessarily what’s on their work desk. And they are coached in their speech in order to make it as appealing as possible in the time frame that has been given. And usually this means less statistics or numbers and more feeling. You literally lean forward when an architect speaks about renovating houses to become greener or a designer who explains how to design a handheld device for emergency care nurses while making sure that the humane connection between the nurse and patient is considered as well.

I kid you not when I say that looking at these talks is like going to the movies. But they are not like movies but more like a mix of the intensivity of Actors Studio and information of any documentary squeezed into 16 minute long, often emotional infomercial.

Here are some of my favourite speeches to be digested at your own discretion. First of them is about a project in India where the slum kids are given internet accessed computer and they start to learn by themselves. Second one is encouraging modern kids to get active with their surroundings and to explore. Third and last one explores the variety of things that one pig helps to produce. Prepare to be amazed. And be advised, you might get addicted!

 

 

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