Have you heard the song Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing by MACINTOSH PLUS? Even if you haven’t listened to it – you’ve probably heard it.

A buffering YouTube video, the visual glitches of a struggling graphics card, screen burn, unintelligible corrupted files – personified in vocals slowed to wordlessness, drums overlapping at conflicting time signatures and song structure only foundationally laid to be pulled out from underneath you – this is the spirit of Lisa Frank.

The YouTube upload of Lisa Frank has 23 million views. However, this upload is unofficial – there is no place you can purchase Lisa Frank, and uploading it anywhere on the internet is technically illegal. This is because Lisa Frank uses an unlicensed sample of It’s Your Move by Diana Ross. Any upload of the tracks is targeted with DMCA takedowns, or requests from the owners of the masters (record labels) that 100% of the revenue be diverted to them. 

This isn’t ethical. Although copyright conceptually is generally uncontested in mainstream society, in this essay I will make the radical assertion that it foundationally enables the worst tendencies of capitalist societies and limits artistic expression.  

There are two common angles in favour of copyright protection – 

     1. Copyright protects artistic intent and originality

This position argues that an artist has an inherent right to control their work. However, this is not the case and is only sensible when you individualise artworks to singular figures. Although useful in discussing commonalities between works, it is quickly outmoded in any other context. 

When an artist releases a work, is it necessarily theirs? Do they have the right to control and change the work’s context and reaction? 

The original version of Star Wars has been altered over years of reduxes and remasters and is no longer available to legally buy or stream – which is ostensibly an obscuration of the original film’s groundbreaking advancements that make it important to film history. 

The changes to the film were essentially Lucas’s testing ground for his new special effects technology – although he insists on his changes simply because they are his, never mind the fact that the film is only special because of the audience’s appreciation of it, and it has no value independent of that appreciation. 

Also, said appreciation it is not due to some quality inherent to the director, but rather due to the collaborative effort of hundreds of individuals: cinematographers, actors, set and costume designers, editors, VFX artists, folie / sound design artists and composers – don’t they all deserve some degree of control over these alterations? 

Further, this mindset fails to take into account the transformative nature of art. Going back to our Lisa Frank example – the song is unrecognisable from the original sample, very clearly showing original thought, execution, and effort exerted in transforming the song into its own entity. Lisa Frank is far and away different from Diana Ross’s original recording, and yet according to copyright law, it is wholly the sum of its parts and thus at their behest.

There is no denying that plagiarism is a real phenomenon, but in copyright law it is conflated with what is merely derivative, leaving no room for nuance.

This flies in the face of the very nature of art – to eternally question and transform the structures around it (including other pieces). This suppression is very directly bad for art and artists. 

Let’s examine the next common justification for copyright.  

     2. Copyright ensures that artists are correctly monetarily compensated. 

This claim is partially true – monetarily compensated, yes. Correctly, no. The royalties/residuals system copyright operates on creates vast injustices in the compensation of artists.   

Actors such as Emma Myles received residual checks as low as $20 for a role on Orange is the New Black – an immensely successful show that essentially made Netflix popular. Her work is managed by the conglomerate, and they control her earnings – and they can give her as little as they like. 

Did you know that Diana Ross, the singer of the original recording of It’s Your Move, doesn’t actually own the masters to her recordings? She receives similar residuals, and granted, they’re probably much more than Emma Myles’. However, she is not actually in control of who uses her music – that right is reserved by Sony Music Entertainment. Diana Ross – at 79 years of age – likely doesn’t use the internet extensively enough to know anything about Lisa Frank or how her music has been used. 

Obviously, these corporations don’t have a complete monopoly – another artist famous for not owning her masters, Taylor Swift, got hers back through a few legal battles and a lengthy re-recording process. However, she is uniquely privileged in this situation being a literal billionaire with essentially infinite legal power. Many other artists, even with a very clear cut case, don’t have the resources to fight back for control of their work. 

This is because copyright, as a product of a capitalist system, is merely a symptom of the unjust society that produced it, inherently advantaging those with accumulated wealth.

In many ways its illegal status is an integral part of Lisa Frank. She is an internet vampire, signalling the decaying underbelly of our world, she beckons us away — it’s her move now… 


Lisa Frank and the ethics of copyright‘ by Kieran Cashin is the winning essay in our Young Writers’ Competition (13-18 age category). Find out more about the competition here.

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