I think Illy said it best when he said, “Please forgive me if it all sounds so familiar; I’m sure that you’ve heard this all before; I’m only one voice in a world of billions and no idea’s original no more”.
The Australian rap artist’s 2012 single focuses on the inevitability of stealing ideas and using them as your own, even unknowingly! Even with intellectual property and copyright laws as they are, it verges on impossible to say that any idea we have is completely original. It’s often said that history repeats itself and in my opinion, the same goes for ideas and art (whether it be in the form of a song, poem, story etc.)
Copyright is designed to protect those with original ideas…but what if there aren’t any original ideas left? I know that’s a fairly big call and not by any means realistic – of course there are still things yet to be discovered, melody combinations that are yet to be heard…but surely we can take old ideas and bring them to new and wider audiences?
Henry Jenkins suggests, “a world without copyright is a world without new ideas” (2004). I disagree with this, partly as an optimist and partly as a music lover. Today, artists constantly sample old tracks in their music – undoubtedly Kanye is king of this art (and he knows it). Despite being in what seems like a constant legal battle over copyright, West cleverly takes the old and makes it new again. I’ve mentioned his work in previous blog-posts purely because it seamlessly demonstrates that people can be just as innovative using old ideas as they can be creating completely new ones. Jenkins argues that a justification for intellectual property is that it “increases innovation and creation”. Basically, if you cant use another person’s idea, you are more likely to think up something new and better. But I put it to you, is this not innovative and creative? Is Wests’ work diminished because it is not completely original?
Clearly sampling Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” (1965), West effectively takes the old and makes it new, demonstrating that a world without copyright would not be the end of original ideas like Jenkins suggests. Rather it would encourage the appropriation of old material, bringing the art to wider audiences than it ever could upon its first release.