Is Auto-Tune Transformative?

There’s a theory of copyright that calls works which are inspired by other works derivative; that is, unless their creation required enough work to be called transformative. To bastardize a Marxist concept, the more work an artist puts into a derivative work, the more it is theirs under this theory. Works that were generated with more work are transformative and therefore copyrightable, and those that required less are derivative and infringing. Where this line is, between derivation and transformation, is as slippery and gray as any area in copyright.

Enter auto-tune. At its simplest, auto-tune is a technique for correcting pitch. It has been used to tint (some might say, taint) everything from a few notes to entire albums. It has been used humorously in a hundred videos, and seriously by artists of various calibers. Below is a guide to auto-tune as a meme, followed by two examples of auto-tuning:

Symphony of Science‘s “The Poetry of Reality”, which uses auto-tune:

Fan video slashing Kirk and Spock, to Kei$ha’s “Tik Tok”:

To use auto-tune effectively, the creators of these videos probably spent hours applying it and editing the results exceedingly carefully. But auto-tune itself can be applied with little work and still produce remarkable results. To me this implies that technology is not in and of itself transformative. That, if work does generate ownership, that work must be counted in person-hours, not in the changes to the original caused by its movement from one media to another.

(This has particular bearing for whether written fanfiction of a tv show is more likely to be protected than written fanfiction of a book, because moving from the medium of television to writing takes work and imagination, but also takes technology.)

Inspirational Quote:

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” –Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler

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