Beyoncé Vs. Belgium: On Theft vs. Creativity

March 17, 2012 1:26 pm

Over 35 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. More than 13 million hours of video were uploaded during 2010 alone.

A natural byproduct of having so much content digitally available is the proliferation of mashups, homages, references, re-mixes etc. etc.

Beyoncé Vs Belgium

Just watch this video comparing Beyoncé’s dance moves with a ballet from Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeke.

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Beyoncé acknowledged the debt (how could she not?) saying the original piece was “one of the inspirations to bring the song to life”.

“Clearly the ballet Rosas Danst Rosas was one of many references for the video. It was one of the inspirations to bring the song to life.”

“I was also paying tribute to the film Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn.”

Legally, it’s a problem. What is a reference, and what is a rip-off? And dance, as demonstrated by the Martha Graham case, is particularly difficult to copyright.

Pop Will Eat Itself: How Digital Accelerates “Borrowing”

Existing works have always served as the inspiration for new work. But digital drives “borrowing” now in two important ways:

  1. Almost any artistic work you want to reference, in any genre, is instantly available.
  2. Desktop tools make it simple to copy, paste, rewind, fast-forward and alter that work at the speed of ideas.

Every Artist Is A Cannibal, Every Poet Is A Thief

What is inspiration, and what is theft? Is there really a difference between the two?

Artistically and creatively, all new works have roots in something old. “Star Wars” borrows heavily from past sci-fi movies, from the design of C-3PO (“Metropolis”) to the hologram of Princess Leia (“Forbidden Planet”). Classic Disney movies were taken from fairy tales passed down over centuries.

Without creative “borrowing”, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White wouldn’t exist. (The “Mickey Mouse Protection Act“, which extended U.S. copyright protection for 20 years, is perhaps the world’s finest achievement in legislative irony.)

But when borrowing is done artfully, it allows culture to build on itself. Even pure rip-offs unavoidably bring new shades of meaning to the original. We can’t stop our humanity from showing through, even when we’re stealing.

The Digital Superconducting Super Collider

All creativity is the collision of existing ideas in new and interesting ways. Perhaps the best way to understand the internet and digital media is as a massive and endlessly self-regenerating Superconducting Super Collider.

In that sense, it’s a little insane that instead of harnessing digital to tell stories we are using it to create spreadsheets that drag down creativity to no higher aspiration than “Click Here to Try it Free”.

What Could Digital Ads Be If We Let Ourselves Be Inspired Again?

Here are two examples of how digital creative can have huge impact. I freely admit these works benefit from the frisson of harnessing classic and familiar elements. And I admit that it’s easier to create works like these outside a corporate environment, and when liberated from the need to register product benefits.

But still – just look at the vitality these ideas have. If we could create something half as interesting, we’d finally have digital advertising worthy of people’s attention.

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We Can Do Better Than Zero

Click-through rates are approaching statistical zero. Digital clutter is an epidemic.

Our industry is capable of producing digital advertising that is memorable and compelling, but it doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

When will we stop being satisfied with zero?

When will we be ready to let go of our spreadsheets and KPIs a little bit and begin selling – really selling – again?

Maybe we need more pirates and less spreadsheets.

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