I may be late to this party, but a friend of mine just turned me on to The Johnny Cash Project.
It’s an amazing example of crowdsourcing, billed as “A unique communal work, a living portrait of The Man in Black.” Basically, artists get to draw an image of Johnny Cash to be integrated into an animated music video of Cash’s song, “Ain’t No Grave.” For me, one of the coolest aspects is that because people are constantly adding new content, the video is always changing. And you can choose to view the video by watching Highest Rated Frames, Director Curated Frames, Abstract Frames, Realistic Frames, and more.
I highly recommend checking it out. And thanks to my friend, surfer, homeopathic physician, and killer folk music artist Acoustic Apothecary, for sharing this with me. (Check out Acoustic Apothecary’s You Tube videos here.)
But of course, I’m not here simply to bring you the new and interesting (at which I’ve failed miserably given that this has been around awhile). I think there’s a much more important issue at stake here: who owns a creator’s work, and what rights does the creator have as to it’s reproduction and use.
I have written before about who actually owns a creator’s work (please read my posts about Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and The Who’s My Generation). In this instance, while “Ain’t No Grave” is Johnny Cash’s final studio recording, this video is posthumous.
Because it was created with the support of the Cash Estate, I’m sure all the legal bases have been covered. But what about the moral ones? (Including whether his estate is the right authority to make that decision, when its interest in continuing to make money on his creativity may be in conflict with its responsibility to protect the integrity of his legacy? For more on this, see my post, “I See Dead People…”.)
Specifically, would Mr. Cash approve of his fans collaborating with him on his last song? Is he the kind of artist who would have micro-managed every aspect of creative interpretation, as many do, or is he the kind that would willingly allow fans to play in his creative playground, as a growing number of transmedia creators are doing?
Companies and brands face this dilemma whenever they decide to allow their customers to create user-generated content. There have been disasters, like the Chevy Tahoe crowdsourced commercials, and successes, like the Doritos Super Bowl ads.
But what about artists? How do artists feel about covers? Some, like Prince, are against them, and even take their battles to court. Others, like Lady Gaga, who clearly understands the power of social media, are thrilled to death, and tweet about fan videos she finds and likes.
In other words, different creators make different choices about who can use their work, and how. And I believe it is their right to do so.
So, as much as I love The Johnny Cash Project, and as much as I am personally in favor of letting fans play in my own playground (which I am currently developing as part of my “Spirit In Realtime” science fiction series I’m writing), can someone please explain to me whether you think it’s okay to steal and use a dead man’s song for any purpose, even that of celebrating his life?