“It’s Not Copying If…”

On Wednesday night I read a great article about copyright and the way that we understand sharing.  The author takes a deep look at the Grey Album, by Danger Mouse, released in 2004.  

For those that are unfamiliar with the Grey Album, basically it’s a mashup album.  Danger Mouse mashes together The White Album by The Beatles and Jay-Z’s Black Album.  I remember loving it when it came out for two reasons.  1) It was an homage to two pieces of art that I really love.  2) It sounds tight.  Every piece of instrumentation is deliberate and expertly crafted.

As I read the article there was so much food for thought, but there was one piece that really stuck out.

Jay-Z wanted his work to be shared and re-imagined.

So much of the press surrounding the Grey Album revolved around the fact that it was (initially) a very underground project.  When it surfaced online, EMI tried to police it and remove it from the internet.  Their fight/resistance to the project dominated the press surrounding the album.  They owned the rights to the Beatles music, and they hated that someone was cashing in on what was theirs.

No one really talks about the fact that Jay-Z released all of the vocal tracks from The Black Album in the hopes that someone WOULD mash it up.  Nearly ten years later, I think THAT’s the interesting piece of information.  

In my class, the best work is often the result of multiple levels of collaboration.  Students sharing with each other.  Students sharing with me.  Students sharing with their Reading Buddies.  Students sharing with other teachers. One of the greatest quotes of the year came from a little boy that used to be fixated on “copying”.  Recently he said “I don’t think it’s copying if you’re making someone’s work better.”  This was such a deep thing for a seven year-old to say.  Lets hope he hangs on to that.  Maybe one day he’ll take a page from the book of Danger Mouse or Jay-Z (one of the nicer pages… not the violent, drug dealer pages). 

Better still, maybe he’ll take a page from a more modern equivalent:

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