Is It Ethical to Remix Someone’s Christian Song as a Godless One? December 8, 2008

Is It Ethical to Remix Someone’s Christian Song as a Godless One?

Here’s a dilemma for you, courtesy of reader Travis:

I have been composing music for some time now. I am a member and contributor to a site called ccMixter.org where music artists can submit sounds, loops, a cappellas, vocals, remixes, and more. I found a vocal on the site that was open and available to be remixed. The vocals were about how God is real, how we should believe in God, etc…

I decided to remix these vocals — add a melody, beat, rhythm, etc… and I made my own original remix. The thing is, I remixed the vocals to say, “God is not real.”

While I got some feedback that the remix was great, it was also suggested by the same people that I take the song down as it was disrespectful to the original vocal artist.

So my question is: Was I wrong?

I do not feel obligated to take the track down as I don’t feel I have done anything wrong or violated anyone’s rights. By posting a loop, sound, vocal, or a cappella to the site for remixing, you can expect it to be remixed. What you can’t expect is how it will be remixed.

What do you think?

You can listen to Travis’ remix here.


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  • Yoo

    As long as it’s made clear that it’s based on someone else’s work, I would view it as ethical.

  • Eric

    If this is unethical, then everything Weird Al has ever made is unethical.

  • Same here. I mean its not like the Christian religion hasn’t appropriated anything and changed its original meaning/intent. At least he would be acknowledging what the work was based on.

  • RevWubby

    ccmixter is a great site, and people who use it and make their works available should know that it can be used for any purpose. There is no “Must agree with me” option for Creative Commons works.

    The people suggesting that it is disrespectful are asking for special treatment for their ideas, not respect for their work. Don’t fall for the “respect my beliefs” crap. It’s a lie and you know it. No one can respect a belief they don’t agree with, and they certainly wouldn’t respect your godlessness. They would only tolerate it.

    If they don’t think you should do what you did, maybe they need to rethink their support for Creative Commons.

  • Akheloios

    Since the butchering of ‘Imagine’ to make it monotheist instead of atheist anything is fair game.

  • David

    Right now I can’t get to ccmixter.org to check the works we’re talking about, but the works posted there are posted under Creative Commons licenses, one version or another.

    Given that, Travis was 100% within his rights to make a derivative work from what the original artist posted. And if the original artist disagrees with the message in Travis’ work, well, let him respond with a new work (or a derivative of Travis’!) that makes his rebuttal.

    Sounds like a pretty level playing field for this debate, better than we atheists usually get!

    By the way, about music-appropriation… I am reminded of the time that the VERY Orthodox Rabbi Moses Feinstein, a widely-followed authority on Halacha (Jewish religious law), was asked for a ruling on the propriety of taking Christmas-carol tunes and singing Hanukkah or other Jewish religious melodies to them. His response was brief: “There is no such thing as a non-Kosher tune.”

  • Justin jm

    If this is unethical, then everything Weird Al has ever made is unethical.

    Good point. US law allows you to make a parody of other songs. However, Weird Al makes a point of asking the artist’s permission first.

    To answer Travis, I think others’ songs are fair game for parody.

  • The original artist said the work could be used in re-mixes. He should have realized that the message could be changed. You’re not doing anything wrong. You work will upset people, but there’s nothing unethical about it since the original is available for remixes.

  • Vincent

    the problem is you have taken his track and completely changed the meaning. It now sounds as though he is saying god is not real.
    But plenty of remixes change the original meaning of the song remixed. Usually not by just inserting “not”, but by changing the context.
    I’d certainly leave it up because it does cause discussion.
    I’d just make clear that you changed the meaning.
    It is only unethical if you are misrepresenting to the audience that “god is not real” was the original artist’s sentiment.

  • weaves

    I consider it a bit rude myself to take a song’s message and flip it around…

    …on the other hand, people have taken Lennon’s “Imagine” and changed the lyrics only to have it aired on radio singing about heaven and god existing…

  • Lyz

    Its tastefulness may be in question (such as the Piss Christ), but I certainly don’t see any ethical quandry in it. If I chose to play Mozart’s Requiem as a joyful dance, it would be in complete opposition to the composer’s original intent, but there’s no ethical question there.

    In fact, the only way I could see this approaching unethical is if it started to move towards hate speech.

  • Part of the point of a remix is to change a song into something it wasn’t before. I’ve heard plenty of remixes that put sentences or phrases in different order and make it sound like something crazy or funny was being said when it really wasn’t. The only difference here is that it’s about religion. Whoop-de-doo.

  • I agree with weaves. Ethical or legal issues aside, it’s just rude.

  • N

    Weird Al has written several original songs. They are as funny as his parodies.
    🙂

    Now back to the point, I agree that if the original artist posted his piece in a forum that allowed for remixes, it was fair game. Christians tend to forget that nonbelievers exist, so it likely caught him off guard, but I don’t think there is an ethical issue here.

  • SarahH

    I don’t think there’s a legal or ethical problem, and unless the artist (or the artist’s offical rep/label/whatever) makes requests that it stop, then I say go for it.

    Since the butchering of ‘Imagine’ to make it monotheist instead of atheist anything is fair game.

    I couldn’t help but think of all the “and one religion too” incidents as well. I don’t like it, and I certainly think it’s pissing on Lennon, but I don’t think there are ethical or legal issues with most of the incidents.

  • Jen

    To put on my Randy Cohen hat-

    Travis may choose to inform the artist he sampled from, but he is not obligated to do so. However, I do not think he is obligated to remove the song if the first artist dislikes it. After all, in this case, the artist put up the song with the intention of allowing free mixing. The case would be different if Travis took a song from another site, or hacked someone’s computer and took a private file and remixed it. If he were making money from the song (let’s say he is the actual band Travis, and he is sampling from Michael W Smith) then I could see an argument that he should offer some part of the profits to the person he is sampling from, who could choose to accept or reject those profits. I am guessing he is not making profits.

    That said, I don’t see (correct me if I am wrong) a link to the original artist, which I would include (unless the site deems this unnecessary, I suppose, though I still might).

    A better question: Is it unethical to try to get more hits and comments on your song by posing an ethical question to an atheist blog? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Well, I probably wouldn’t do it, though I do get a kick out of Negativland’s “Christianity is Stupid” regardless.

    (Some background: The song contains a couple loops of someone chanting “Christianity is stupid!” and “Communism is good!” The original context for these samples was from a movie called “If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horsemen Do?” (or something to that effect) which warned that if we don’t praise JAYSUS and fight off the evil commies, we’d be forced into labor camps with those things echoing from loudspeakers constantly.)

    An amusing reversal, and it probably pissed off the original creator of the work… which is what Negativland seems to excel at.

    Back on topic, I’d say when in doubt, you should ask the original artist. Granted, they’ll probably say “no” in such a case, but that’s just how it goes. As for the legal ramifications, I’m not clear on how sampling/parody works, so I’ll just stop blathering now.

  • I like that J.Lang responded (months ago) and expressed only disappointment, not the outrage or vitriol you might have expected.

    First let me say , from a re-mixers point of view your mix is very creative and good.

    While we all have our various opinions on religion and our belief and or disbelief’s, we are offended by your remix. Maybe it wasn’t such a good ideal to upload a Christian Hip Hop track to this site. I guess we take a chance when up loading any thing on the net. We never know what direction it’s going to go.

    While I ( J. Lang ) have up loaded and remixed many different styles, including material deemed offensive. I don’t think i have ever change the artist original message.

    I’m not saying what you did was wrong, i just don’t agree with it.

    With that in mind i have removed the Believe it or not pella.

  • Vincent

    He doesn’t seem to want you to take it down. He just doesn’t want anyone else doing that.

    I don’t know what the license agreements on that site are, but it seems to be at least an implied license to do whatever you want. He didn’t have to put it there. If the site use agreement says something like “if you upload, you give license to anyone to modify provided they don’t change the original intent” then you’d be in trouble, but I can’t imagine anyone making an agreement like that for a general artistic site.

  • stephanie

    Not cool to use the original vocalist’s voice and remix it into saying something else. We all hate being quoted out of context.

    But if someone else is singing it, all’s fair. Who hasn’t sung reworked holiday songs?

  • That said, I don’t see (correct me if I am wrong) a link to the original artist, which I would include (unless the site deems this unnecessary, I suppose, though I still might).

    There was a link to his site/original vocals, but because he removed the original vocals, it automatically removed the “Uses samples from:” link.

  • Sandra

    Just my opinion mind you. I hope you don’t take your re-mix down. If nothing else it may serve as a lesson to other Christians that they are not above the rules that we all live by.

    On a personal note, the cynic in me finds this to be hilarious.

    Cheers!

  • Beijingrrl

    I’m conflicted.

    It appears you have every right to do what you did in accordance with ccmixter rules. The artist has no reason to expect his work not to be modified in this way. It’s impossible to know what will happen with anything we post to the internet and we should all be prepared for such repercussions.

    It’s a pretty cool remix, too.

    However, I can’t help but think about how I personally would feel hearing my voice saying things completely contrary to what I believe. Even if it was made clear that it was modified. For instance, if someone made me sound anti-gay or racist. Ouch. The fact that the artist was so rational and gracious about your work and that he removed his original content to prevent future use in this manner would make me lean toward removing your work. If he’d been a jerk, I’d be much less inclined.

  • Pseudonym

    First off, I’d like to secondeverything that Beijingrrl said.

    The argument that “the Christian religion has done X, therefore this is fair game” is completely irrelevant. It’s not being rude to the Christian religion, it’s being rude to one person, and apparently a very nice person at that.

    Moreover, by posting the remix, you’ve encouraged him to remove some of his work from the commons, and probably chilled him from contributing in the future. If the guy was offensive or a jerk, I’d consider that a plus. As it is, I think it’s a terrible outcome, and not in keeping with the spirit of remix culture.

  • SmilingAtheist

    Personally I think it’s pretty lame the guy removed his work to be honest. Can’t he take it that his work was used in another manner than intended? So what if it’s different? Does it really matter? It’s an open license site for people to use others clips to make remixes. Have you ever been to a dance club before? They add and change words all the time. Lets all grow up people. It’s just music. If that’s going to hurt the guy that much then he shouldn’t be an artist in the first place.

    IMO.