BIAB: Down the rabbit hole

It’s disturbing how many posts I start to work on and find out they’re a lot more complicated than I originally thought – and in this case, underpinned with ethical considerations.

Let’s start with copyright. Original creations in the US, and many other countries, have a degree of protection under copyright laws, which roughly mean that they can only be used under the permission of the creator. For photography, this had a reasonable amount of control until the intertubes came onto the scene and anyone could, with little effort, snag an image and republish it elsewhere – and a really disturbing number of people believe this to mean that if they can, then it’s perfectly legal to do so. Simple (really, only) answer: no. If you didn’t take it, then you need the photographer’s permission to use it. For anything. Memes and Pissinterest and backgrounds to shitty ‘inspirational’ poems included.

[Small, semi-related side note: Jim Kramer, whose name you might recognize, once found that an image of his was being used without attribution or permission on some sappy religious site; Jim is as ardent an atheist as I am. Moreover, they were hotlinking it, meaning that not only were they using it, their site was ‘calling’ it from Jim’s own, so his own site bandwidth was being used to display it instead of the thief’s site. Jim simply replaced the image with a scathing rebuke of unethical practices and, if I remember right, a dig at religion at the same time – the image was named the same, of course, so the thief was now displaying this instead. It remained up for a couple of days before it was discovered and the link removed. I like Jim’s approach to such things.]

Now, music is a curious aspect of this. Ostensibly protected under the same laws, music is publicly ‘displayed’ all over the place – that’s kind of the point; it’s by far the primary way that musicians actually get successful. Imagine if the only exposure to someone’s music was through their live concerts. But there’s this weird, poorly-defined demarcation of what’s permissible (for instance, radio play,) and what’s not (distribution of a digital music file without paying the recording companies.) It’s very convoluted, and the artists and their ‘representative’ sponsors often disagree wildly on this aspect.

And then there’s derivative works. Essentially, any creation that uses a recognizable portion of someone else’s work in their own is not ‘original,’ and copyright still lies with the originator – if I take someone else’s photo and edit it into a collage or creative composite or whatever, they still retain the rights to it regardless of the work that I’ve done.

Which brings us to this. Remixes of well-known songs have their own little niche, and for a particular reason: it takes something that we like, but perhaps have been hearing too often, and gives it a fresh spin, an extra bit of character or even a different tempo and feel. For instance, I had some misgivings a bit earlier when I featured a remix of an album track that was probably unknown to most people, because I suspect the strongest impact of the remix came from knowing the original very well (I’d had it on the album for decades.) This might mean someone hears the newer version first and likes it, then finds the original very flat – I felt that way with The Beatles’ ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ having become familiar with Elton John’s version first; I later found The Beatles’ original to be flat, nasally, and uninspired.

But I believe we’ve effectively thwarted that possibility here, because the song I’m about to feature is Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes,’ and if you don’t know this song by now submit yourself for scientific study. Gabriel himself did umpteen versions of it since its original release on the 1985 album So and within the soundtrack of the film Say Anything. Even the 45 RPM vinyl release had two versions – both of which differed from the album release (you may be familiar with the truncated lyrics of the single.)

According to what I just discovered, someone named Bobby Clark, who also went by the moniker “808,” melded these two vinyl versions together to produce “808’s Extended Mix.” This was apparently featured on his own blog until the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) requested that he take it down. Which is where things get interesting in this whole copyright business.

All of the music was Peter Gabriel’s, and released through his recording company in two separate tracks. I don’t want to assume too much without knowing the actual facts in the case, but if a) attribution was provided, and b) the song was publicly ‘played’ on a site without requiring any payment or fees or whatever, this is exactly the same as radio play, except to a significantly smaller audience – the only difference is, you can’t purchase this version from the artist or the recording/distributing company. Or anyone else, so there’s no actual loss of potential sales revenue. The same recording company didn’t pay anything or push to have it played on the site, which is what they routinely do for radio stations – insofar as it prompted anyone to develop any interest at all in Peter Gabriel’s music to the point where they purchased something, it actually saved the companies a little money. This is largely why artists are at odds with the draconian practices of their recording companies, because the artists know that exposure results in increased sales. Recording companies often feel that any usage should be a sale, while artists often recognize that any sale is better than none.

[It’s a little different for photographers, because virtually no one ever sees an interesting image and says, “Wow, I like that! I should buy some of their photos!” Most people don’t even look down at the watermark or attribution to note who took it. Which means ‘exposure’ is entirely different between music and photography, even though there are some parallels between freely downloading music files and right-clicking on a photo to republish in a Twit. “Who performs this song?” is asked a billion times more than, “Who took this picture?” I’ll let you ponder the reasoning behind this…]

Anyway, as I dance along the borders of hypocrisy and selective ethics, I present to you Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ as remixed by 808/Bobby Clark from the two single versions. Right at the beginning, you can hear the telltale hiss from the vinyl sources.

In Your Eyes (808’s Extended Remix) – Peter Gabriel

There are several reasons why I particularly like this version. I’d known about the additional lyrics included in some versions for a while. Curiously, the 45 RPM single seemed to have truncated some of the lines from the chorus, but then added a stanza at the end before the fade out (“Accepting all I’ve done and said…”) – which seemed to thwart the typical reason for clipping lyrics, which is an ‘acceptable’ length for air time. This added section was some of Gabriel’s better vocalizations as far as I was concerned. The extended B-side included these lyrics, with subtle changes, at both beginning and end – but then didn’t really have the primary lyrics of the original(s) within, which is what 808/Clark remixed to include. The B-side also featured the addition of a lot of background vocalists, among them Youssou N’Dour I believe, as well as someone really kicking the bass vocals. It builds up a lot better, more dynamic than the typical Top 40 offerings then or now, with instruments taking turns in appearing within the track.

If you’re only familiar with the popular versions, this one might be slightly disconcerting since the lyrics don’t drop in right where you might expect them, but it didn’t take me long to get used to this. Notable, too, is the extended bass (guitar) and drum work – the original, still audible among the familiar lyrics, is a bit simpler. ‘In Your Eyes’ is a great track in any version; I just found this one to be even richer. Illegal though it is.