Two items in today's Times provide not just food for thought but a whole buffet table. The first is the next chapter in the ugly, protracted and deeply problematic copyright custody battle that Jack Kirby's heirs are waging over his creations for Marvel Comics. [*]
Item the second is Michiko Kakutani's "Text Without Context", about a slew of new books that explore the way the very act of consuming or producing media today has become remixing without ever knowing the original.[*]
On the one hand, you have a practical insurrection, so to speak: Generation YouTube, as someone rather scornfully called it, which sees everything on tape, in print, or on disc as raw material to be ripped and re-used. (Something I myself have not been immune to, as my own first records were pretty much sampled wholesale from whatever was lying around.) I remember a flyer for one of the first Psychic TV albums that described the music as "raw material to be used and manipulated by the listener" — not entertainment, not communication, but data.
And on the other hand, you have Jack Kirby, and dozens of others like him, getting stiffed on a colossal scale.
I put the two side by side because I think there's a lot more overlap here than people want to believe — that anyone who creates something these days runs the risk of becoming another Jack Kirby, with society at large being Marvel. It's not that it's easy to do this, but that it's almost expected of us — that people who don't make the new explicitly out of the old are seen more and more as throwbacks, party-poopers.
I don't like to think of myself as some Old Media Blowhard, where the only good books are dead (tree) ones. I wouldn't be writing this blog, or planning a future storytelling project that is entirely blog-based, if I thought that way. But I don't like the idea that we should simply settle for a culture of remixing as a moral imperative — that if it's out there, it's going to get ripped off, by creators and opportunists and people looking for nothing more than a free ride. Not every test of copyright infringement is going to be Jay-Z's Gray Album.
On a practical level, yes, those things happen. The remix is here to stay. That doesn't mean we should cover our eyes and pretend nobody's getting robbed.