They Tampered in God’s Domain: Nick Madison

4 05 2010

So I’ve written 40+ blog posts about people who have reused someone else’s artistic creation in a creative way. I generally think that strict copyright law stifles creativity and is counterintuitive when considering the history of art as a whole. If anyone wants to quote my blog to further their argument, go for it. If anyone wants to quote this blog out of context in order to make me look like a jackass, fine by me, as long as the final product is funny.

But there’s a difference between reusing someone else’s work for your own purpose and flat-out plagiarizing them. Nick Madison decided to plagiarize some of the finest alternative comedy acts of my time, and for that he shall be forever remembered as a complete jackass.

You can read Patton Oswalt’s outraged response at his blog.

I interviewed Kembrew McLeod about copyright law my Sophomore year. Pretty much the single thing I walked away with was that an individual can use another person’s intellectual property in their art as long as the final product won’t replace the original on the market. So, by this standard, Danger Mouse‘s “The Grey Album” is fine because it won’t replace “The White Album” on the market. Re-cut editions of “The Shining” trailer don’t affect either the value of the original trailer or the movie itself. The Asylum is able to get away with producing “Transmorphers” because there’s no way it could take the place of “Transformers” because of differences in plot, cast, director, release size and budget. The two works can be similar, even incorporating portions of the original, just not so similar that they are interchangeable in the market.

I believe that there’s a fundamental difference between covering a song and “covering” a comedy act. The value of comedy tends to depreciate with repeated exposure. Monty Python and the Holy Grail isn’t as funny on the 500th viewing as on the first. Trust me.

In this case, Madison not only rips off other comedians word-for-word, he also steals their timing and inflection. To a person who’d never heard the comedy of Patton Oswalt or Dave Attell, it would appear to Madison’s own work, and it would effectively take the place of Oswalt’s comedy on the market. And by using the same jokes and inflections, Madison essentially depreciates the value of the real comedians’ work.

So, while I extol the virtues of a freer and more open copyright system, we still must acknowledge the devilry that thieves and usurpers are capable of. Taking another person’s work and repurposing it is sublime. Taking another person’s work and parroting it blows. Remember kids- if you’re gonna steal someone else’s idea, at least be creative about it.




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