Gillis brings Girl Talk, controversy to Utah

By By Brian Trick

By Brian Trick

Come Oct. 30, Salt Lake City will be host to the biggest walking, talking, potential lawsuit known to the music industry.

Girl Talk is a one-man band, made up of only Gregg Gillis, who originally studied biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University. Rob Walker of The New York Times Magazine described Gillis’ music, “…(as) a lawsuit waiting to happen.” Girl Talk’s style, or even genre, is very hard to label. Some call it “mash up,” “glitch,” even experimental music, but at the core, it’s the ultimate dance music.

There is no denying that Gillis’ music is catchy, and that one Girl Talk album is all you need for an impromptu dance party, but the real question is for how much longer. Gillis’ style consists of taking one song usually just old enough to sound retro, and a hip-hop or rap song with usually the most gratuitous sample taken from it.

For example, in the song “Smash Your Head,” he samples “Tiny Dancer” by Sir Elton John, and “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. Although this might either sound like an orgasm to the ears, or a travesty to the art of music, it gets better8212;this mix is only about 50 seconds of the song. Any given track can use up to 18 songs. With an album of 14 tracks, like Feed the Animals, he samples 264 songs. It could be a hand clap from “We Will Rock You” by Queen or two notes from “Pepper” by Butthole Surfers.

No one really seems to know just how legal this is. Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania has defended Gillis’ art form during a House Subcommittee meeting on telecommunications and the Internet. However, music download sites like emusic.com continue to remove his tracks in fear of copyright violations. Gillis does not get permission from the artists to use their songs, and all songs used are copyrighted. As of now, Gillis is not under investigation, or being sued by any artists. However, by definition, he should be sued. Everything Gillis does is technically in violation of copyright law.

Amy Landers, a visiting professor of Intellectual Property Law at the U explained the unique situation.

“Girl Talk’s work illustrates a tension in copyright law…copying another’s work without permission is an infringement,” she said. “However, the “fair use’ defense attempts to strike a balance between initial and subsequent creators.”

The Copyright Act states that fair use is “one of the rights accorded to the owner of the copyright, the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords.” The definition goes on to say, “The distinction between “fair use’ and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined.”

By definition, the artists must still give permission to use their songs. However, under fair use, Gillis is able to use the song without permission to create something completely original. It’s the ultimate contradiction.

Everyone remembers the day the funk died; it’s universally accepted as the day the band Parliament broke up. As soon as Gillis is shut down, that’ll be the day creative license dies. It’s a matter of choice to pay for a Girl Talk album, or go to a concert. Therefore, it’s a matter of choice whether to support profiteering from someone else’s work.

In today’s world, where one can steal music for free online anyway, there doesn’t appear to be a difference between them and Gillis. We are all guilty of being Gregg Gillis. At least Gillis provides a service, entertainment with his supposedly illegal activities. Where there’s a demand for such music, there should be a supply. Gillis has taken “remixing” and “mashing up” to such a new level, he shouldn’t be punished for creating something so distinctive and unique.

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Brian Trick