I just read something very bothersome, although it’s probably more bothersome to Rich, my editor at VH1 (who also runs FourFour (I may be the only person who knows those things in that particular order)), than it is to me. Quickly: Rich edited together this supercut of moments in horror films where the characters’ cell phones die. On Youtube it has over 300,000 views:
This week an NPR writer did a story on the horror cliche of the dead cell phone. She never acknowledges Rich’s video, though her piece uses the same audio, has the same subject matter, etc. Here’s the audio from NPR:[audio:http://public.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/me/2010/05/20100505_me_20.mp3]
She does link to it in her piece online, but she only did so after Rich wrote about it, and some of his commenters commented on her story. What’s bad about this?
First, she basically uses the same films that Rich does. I mean, she adds in one or two new films (which she points out in her defense Tweet (defense Tweet!)). But she likely added them in for relevance (when you’re a writer and you pitch a story you have to connect it to something timely in order to get your pitch heard). And she interviews a couple of horror fans in California. But in her piece she’s basically providing running commentary for what she sees in Rich’s video. It’s not like he just randomly threw together all the clips either — he organizes them into sort of mini clichÃ©s and subcategories. The same groupings that she uses, and, worse (from a “that probably took him a long time” POV) and she uses the audio from his clips.
So why this sucks in a more-than-wanting-credit way: Curating and collecting is such a big part of a music or pop culture writer’s skill set. Not crediting curation, indexing, etc., is like not crediting someone who created a playlist or a DJ mix. This is terrifying when half your job involves recalling details and putting them together. And terrifying when the other half — reviewing records — becomes less needed/wanted. Maybe what we put it together isn’t our work, but putting together is work.
I’m thinking also of Rich’s gif walls for Ru Paul’s drag race, which, when viewed, create this hypnotic, hilarious, disturbing collage of big and small gestures. If Rich had presented this as a “piece” like the Wrath of Khan video
…there be no question of having to credit him. And couldn’t you see one of these posts becoming some huge, multi-television, three stories high piece at the New Museum (except, I think the New Museum is just awfully designed, but you know)? It’d be great! It’d be art. And it would be credited or acknowledged. But since it’s inside a blog post, then it doesn’t get the same sort of treatment.
Now if she didn’t want to acknowledge this as her idea (and maybe she did come up with it independently), she had to acknowledge that a lot of the heavy lifting was done for her, right? This YouTube video is compiled research. When I was a linguistics undergrad I collected sounds and samples for a research project called “Instances and Examples of -iz Insertion in Urban English.” That’s one way of saying I collected, recorded, and saved every time I heard someone use “shizit,” “snizzle,” “nizzle,” etc. in hip hop, in interviews, TV shows. Had I compiled those (my shizzle reel), then that’d have to be acknowledged as research too. But once again, blog post /Youtube = not real?
Now I think the other big problem — which I noticed when I uploaded my compilation of Kristin Stewart sighs — is that YouTube doesn’t acknowledge supercuts are works you own. YouTube has no regard for fair use whatsoever. You aren’t even supposed to upload works you didn’t shoot and edit yourself, so YouTube can take things own based on that alone. But if they don’t acknowledge fair use, then it’s harder to expect other people to use stuff fairly.
Rich, in his post about the NPR piece, knows that it’s one of the problems with making and releasing stuff online. In fact, when I interviewed at VH1, Rich complimented my Twilight video and I sat there almost polishing my nails on my shirt. Only later did I realize that he had done a ton of these, tons I had seen and enjoyed. But I never knew they were his, because they were embedded without attribution on a lot of other sites.