Caught in a Mash


Nick Sylvester delves into YouTube's invasion by video mash-ups. It's getting easier all the time to make mutant music-video hybrids, video sites are getting surfeited with the results, and media companies are mighty pissed off. Sylvester offers a defense.

As far as copyright is concerned, most of these remixes seem to fall under the safeguard of transformative use, though already a number of people are making "remixes" that consist of one single still image set to the music of a new song on the radio — an elaborate work-around for the threat of RIAA piracy lawsuits. (Search YouTube for "Kanye West" and you'll see what I mean.) But there's a more substantial issue here. Most people making remixes have no creative vision and no skills to operate the programs beyond matching audio to video — yet they upload all the same. YouTube is becoming a mess of so-called tribute reels, a composition of small clips and photos featuring specific sports franchises, pro wrestlers, or animal attacks set (all too frequently) to Korn and Nickelback. And yet some of these clips achieve considerable Internet fame! Does the simple fusion of audio to video count as high-quality entertainment?

Answer: Probably from the masher's perspective, less so from the viewer's. I don't come away from the many videos of Kingdom Hearts footage synched to TRL songs feeling entertained. But the people who made the videos are weaving the game and the songs into their lives, becoming more devoted to them than the vast majority of people the game or album-maker is selling to.

And then there are the straight-up "look what I can do" videos, which come from the same inspiration but are more fun to watch. Jesse Walker linked to a pre-YouTube, pre-easy-video-editing Winnie the Pooh mash-up: Here's a quick and sloppy Muppets masterpiece that turns "Eric Stoltz" into a bigger punchline than it normally is.

Jesse Walker had an early look at the music-on-music variety of mash-up back in 2003.