Copyright is a sticky business. More often than not it isn’t the artist that is being protected by copyright so much as the distribution company that owns the rights. The music industry is still trying to get itself out of being a manufacturing and distribution concern, which is where the copyright habits we’ve developed with music started.
When you’ve got to justify stamping millions of CDs to make music financially viable, the focus shifts from the artist to the manufacturing/distribution system (where big infrastructure costs exist). In order to protect this distribution system, a robust, aggressive and quite jackassey legal specialization developed that has nothing whatsoever to do with the art it claims to protect.
It seems we’ve arrived at an age where an artist can be stimulated by influences and then effectively prevent anyone else from evolving ideas out of them. The Beatles, perhaps one of the biggest offenders in this, freely stole ideas and even whole pieces of music from the black R&B musicians in the US that proceeded them. Later in their careers they made art by evolving influences from Indian and other world music as well. They then aggressively locked down the rights to the art they freely took from other people.
It seems that Boomers are unique in many ways, not the least of which is their self-claimed right to take everything that came before them and own it entirely forever. US copyright has led this erosion of artistic license for many years, continually expanding and pursuing the entertainment industry’s right to own a piece of music, eventually (they hope) forever.
One of my favorite cautionary tales is Sita Sings The Blues. An artist going through a breakup creates an animated piece that integrates the 1920s music she is listening to at the time with an ancient Indian myth and her own relationship disaster. It’s very thoughtfully done. Give it a look if you’ve never seen it before. The details are on the website, but here’s the summary: when she went to get the copyright for the 1920s recordings (long out of copyright) that she wanted, she discovered a copyright law firm (one of many that buy up copyright-passed, older material) contacted her back and wanted a quarter of a million dollars for songs they didn’t own by an artist they never represented.
This is the state of copyright nowadays: a savage wasteland of corporate vultures looking to pick the bones clean of any work of artistic merit. It’s a completely unsustainable system that stifles art and kills creativity. Had Shakespeare been alive now, he would not have been able to publish any of his work (almost all of which borrowed heavily from proceeding material). Corporate vultures would have swooped in and killed Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet stone dead.
I make no bones about artists being able to make a living from their work, I’m an artist myself. My hope is that digitization of the workflow will free us from the vultures that have been feeding (and killing) the artistic process for the past 60 years.
Many artists are beginning to push content directly to fans. Courtney Love famously once said, “I work for tips” when she was talking about how little she made from CD sales. Doing tours made more, but even live performance requires covering a lot of hangers on.
The irony in all of this is that the music industry claims to be the protector and savior of music, yet it is the very thing stifling creativity, and it’s doing it to protect an archaic manufacturing system that barely exists any more.
Ok, so after all that? I think NerdyTeacher’s blog is a great opportunity for Taylor to step into a new era and develop fan based appreciation through Twitter and social networking. Those students, and the people who see the performance will know of her willingness to share her art. What I fear is that she isn’t the one to make this decision. A legal firm representing her music industrial complex will make that decision, and it won’t go well.
Thanks to @dougpete and @TheNerdyTeacher (and twitter) for the impetus to write!