Other than missing out an opportunity for changing this blog's colours to grey, I guess that there isn't much that I could have done *sigh* Being on a dial-up connection, it's too painfully slow to download an album, let alone host it.
It seems that today copyright is about two things: money and control. I am not so concerned about the money side of it - within reason. Artists, like anyone else, deserve to fairly compensated for their works. I will be so presumptuous to say that this part of the debate is almost over. Of course there are disagreements about what fair means in this context.
My real difficulty lies in the controlling aspect of copyright law. Like not being able to hear something like the Grey Album just because the suits at EMI don’t like it.
To play devil’s advocate for a moment, there is a reason why a copyright holder should be able control their creations and be compensated when their work is sampled or otherwise incorporated into someone else’s work.
Remember DNA’s remix of Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner? Suzanne Vega deserved to get a cut of DNA’s very successful remix. Really, all DNA did was add some beats, and a few sound effects. If Suzanne Vega hadn’t got any money or attribution for that use of Tom’s Diner, that wouldn’t seem fair.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t have been fair if her record company had arbitrarily forbidden DNA from selling and broadcasting the remix.
Fortunately Suzanne Vega allowed DNA’s remix to exist, which turned out to be a very financial wise decision on her part.
I am in favour of a compulsory license for sampling and other derivative works. So it’s not possible for copyright holder to have the power of veto over other people’s creativity. The original copyright holder would be compensated, but certainly not at 50%. I think that 5% or 10% of revenues would be fairer.
Such a proposal would not be popular at Disney and other mega-copyright holders. The only effective arguments they could use against it would be based on moral rights. Namely that artists have the moral right to control everything about their creation – from how it is published and distributed to have the right to withdraw a work from the public.
I used to be in favour of moral rights when I initially studied copyright law. Maybe because they seemed so chic, European and idealistically artist-friendly, compared to the boring utilitarian justifications for copyright in the English-speaking world.
The big change has been in my understanding of the process of artistic creativity. Works of art are like people – they all have parents and families. They don’t spontaneously appear fully-grown, like Athena out of Zeus’ brow. Sometimes the ancestors of a new creation will be obvious – but even if the connections are not obvious, it doesn’t mean that the work came from a vacuum.
I like the music of the Beatles, but their music didn’t magically appear out of a vacuum. They have their musical debts – to Chuck Berry to name one (a music historian could name a lot more). And Chuck Berry was in turn influenced, and so on and so on. Any artist who thinks that he or she only contributes to the lake of human culture and never drinks from it is very delusional.
This isn’t to discount creativity. I don’t think less of Shakespeare’s Hamlet if I learn it stands on the shoulders of Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy and other revenge tragedies. This helps me appreciate and understand Hamlet even more.
I am not the first person to have thought that Shakespeare would never been allowed to perform or sell his plays, if today’s oppressive copyright regime had existed during his time.
Again, there is no perfect solution. Imagine that you were a song-writer and wrote a great, popular song which also expressed a lot of your personal values. Imagine how awful you'd feel if George W. Bush adapted your song for his campaign ads and corrupted the words so that they meant the opposite to your original intention. The worst part would be people thinking that you wrote the song for George W. Bush and were one of his supporters (hmm - this reminds me of how Reagan tried to appropriate Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA). Maybe it might be possible to develop a remedy in tort law so that you could be compensated for having your reputation ruined by George W. Bush's corruption of your song.
I still think that once words, music or images are released into the world, they cannot be recalled. The artist should be reasonably compensated, but needs to understand her or his work acquires a life of its own, to be used or misused as the vagaries of the world see fit. The alternative - tight controls over all content - is folly and doublethink.