Top RIAA Exec: There's No More Music In Africa And The Middle East Because They Need Stronger Copyright

from the this-is-satire,-no? dept

One of the most hilarious claims that we hear from internet trolls and the like concerning copyright and infringement is something along the lines of “but, without strong copyright, there would be no music!” It’s a silly argument that has been debunked so frequently that we’d thought that it had been relegated to living on only among uninformed internet commenters, rather than actual industry execs. Enter Neil Turkewitz, one of the RIAA’s top execs, who has been with the organization since 1987, and apparently still has the “Home Taping is Killing Music” phrase permanently imprinted on his brain, no matter how laughably false it is.

Turkewitz submitted a paper to the UN last year when it was investigating cultural rights, and that piece has now been republished by IP-Watch. It’s a fairly astounding piece of ridiculousness that argues that there’s no more cultural output in Africa or the Middle East… because they just don’t have strong enough copyright laws.

It starts off with one of those classic lines about how, without copyright, no one makes music any more:

This has been the unfortunate reality in many developing countries where the lack of effective protection has eroded the willingness of private capital to fund production of original cultural works, contributing to economic stagnation and a dearth of cultural diversity. Simply put, when a society fails to reward its own creators, such creators will cease to exist, and ?access? will be limited to foreign cultural materials.

Hmm. Except that’s not what we’ve actually seen around the globe. In fact, with the rise of the internet and computers and the easy creation of works, people are finding that it’s much easier (and cheaper) to create works and to get distribution. Pull up YouTube or log into Spotify and go searching for music from basically any country and see what you find. And compare that to what those of us who grew up in the era of the “record store” had to do to find world music (which was always all lumped together in a single tiny section in the back).

And, from there, he argues that the Middle East and Africa in particular are now silent. Because they just don’t have strong enough copyright laws.

In many developing countries, the marketplace has been so dominated by piracy that there is no viable mechanism for private capital to be employed in facilitating the creation and distribution of creative works. In such instances-i.e. where copyright protection is not effectively introduced and maintained in law and in practice, the creative community is silenced. Communities throughout the globe-particularly in parts of the Middle East and Africa, bear silent witness to the devastating impact that lack of effective copyright protection has on the ability to create. Where there is no financial incentive for the creation and distribution of cultural materials, the distribution of local cultural materials ceases, much to the detriment of society, as well as to the putative creators who are foreclosed from adding their voices to the cultural mix.

Apparently, it does not occur to Turkewitz that there might be other factors that are impacting the markets for music in parts of those areas — such as civil war, civil unrest, religious beliefs, turmoil, astounding levels of poverty and much, much more. But the idea that people in those regions are just sitting around not making music because of too weak copyright laws is simply laughable.

Besides, it’s also not true. It wasn’t that long ago that the NY Times was writing about the so-called “African Invasion” of African music coming to the US. Hell, it was just a few days ago that Ebony magazine noted that African music is the “new pop gold rush” which includes this paragraph:

But now that?s all transforming. Africa is now! The Internet has democratized music and threatened the major label?s cash cows. Radio and TV are no longer the only barriers to entry, and the borders are wide open. Our blinders are off, and we are exposed to music from all parts of the globe via the interwebs.

One thinks that, perhaps, Turkewitz’s concern may be a lot more about the “threatened the major label’s cash cows” line, than the supposed and mythical lack of music in Africa.

As for the Middle East, well, there’s plenty of new music showing up there as well. Just a couple of months ago, the BBC covered the hip hop revolution in the Middle East, much of it inspired by the various revolutions in different countries. Turns out that, maybe, life events have a bigger impact on music than copyright law. Shocking, I know. The same BBC has also covered Iran’s underground pop revolution and how youth across the arab world are “reveling” in a “pop revolution” in the region.

Oh, if you’re interested in some Middle Eastern Pop or African pop music, click on those links. Or do a basic Google search, which will turn up a lot more. Apparently, Turkewitz couldn’t be bothered (perhaps it’s that whole “entertainment industry hates Google” thing).

So, uh, Turkewitz’s argument is already just wrong.

Even more bizarre, he argues that this lack of copyright means that since no one in these countries is making music any more (totally false), it means that those markets are, instead, flooded with American music. You see, it’s the lack of copyright protection that’s leading to American cultural hegemony in those regions, and the good hearted Neil Turkewitz — whose job is literally to advance the interests of the copyright holders behind American cultural hegemony — now insists that he wants stronger copyright laws around the world not to advance the interests of the big labels (oh no!), but rather because he wants to protect local African and Middle Eastern music. Because he thinks whoever’s reading this is an idiot.

Make no mistake ? cultural hegemony flows not from the protection of intellectual property, but from its absence. We owe the world?s creators and societies a better deal, and effective copyright protection has well served the societies which have maintained such systems. We therefore urge policy makers around the globe to reject simplistic formulations of the public interest that are grounded only in considerations of access to creative works without considering the incentives for the production of creative works. We must ensure that policy makers ask themselves ?access to what?? before adopting policies that endanger their own ability to foster creativity and innovation.

Now, we absolutely agree with the central claim that Turkewitz tries to pin his article on: that those who create culture need incentives to do so. But, as we’ve seen, there are all sorts of ways of doing that that don’t require crazy extreme copyright that hinders freedom of expression and innovation at the same time. We see it all the time where new tools like crowdfunding and micropayments are making things possible. We see how the cost of production and distribution has made it so it’s just easier for people to create and distribute music no matter what.

And, Turkewitz’s claim that developing countries need stronger copyright for their local music just has no support in any historical context. Take, for example, the story we had a few years ago about the rise of a new genre of music in Brazil called “technobrega,” which embraced sharing the music either on the internet or via passing around CDs — often instigated by the artists themselves. That helped technobrega become a cultural phenomenon — and the artists make money doing live shows. And there are tremendous parallels to the rise of Jamaican music, where an entire industry was created and built off of weak copyright laws and widespread sharing of music and reusing of riddims.

The argument that without copyright, regional and cultural music doesn’t get created is simply laughable. The idea that we’re somehow now in an era where American music is a “cultural hegemony” as opposed to a decade or two ago is similarly laughable. Turkewitz’s basic premise doesn’t even pass the most basic laugh test.

From there, we get the other silly old debunked RIAA talking point that “without strong copyright, there is no way to make money.” I’d really thought that the RIAA had retired this one, but apparently not:

An effective and functional copyright environment is not a panacea; it does not on its own create global parity in the marketplace of ideas. But it does give individual creators a fighting chance, and an opportunity to compete. The ability to generate revenue from one?s creativity ? to earn a living as a creator ? is central to a society?s ability to foster cultural production. In its absence, dreams and creative lives perish. The moral and economic aspects of this equation are inseparable. We simply must ensure that all creators, regardless of their location, are able to enjoy the fundamental human right to choose the manner in which their creations are used as reflected in international law.

First of all, this is bullshit. Most creators do not earn a living as a creator. This has always been the case. Unless the RIAA is suddenly promising a basic income guarantee to anyone who can sing a few notes, it’s never going to be true either. But, some artists do earn a living — and it’s rarely because of copyright. Sure, sometimes it is, and it may frequently be one important component, but arguing that it is the only lever to pull and that without strong copyright laws creativity goes away is laughable. Lots of artists make more from other ways: live performances, merchandise, crowdfunding and more.

And then Turkewitz gets even more ridiculous:

It does not serve the aspirations of developing societies to return to a system in which the voices of the people serve the whims of the private elite, or worse, to allow governments to be the sole determining body in the matter of cultural works.

A “private elite”? Really? Such as letting a tiny group of top execs at the three major labels choose what songs will be the hit records of the year, and then pay(ola) their way through millions to make sure that those are the songs that everyone listens to? Those kinds of “whims of the private elite”? Because, you know, that’s kinda been a big part of the problem with music for a while.

Yet, in the last few years, we’ve gotten way past that thanks to the internet — and, for many — thanks to file sharing.

By permitting creative genius to be fueled by market forces, we unleash the cultural power and potential of the diversity of individuals, freeing creative impulses from the tyranny of centralized controls and making creative works accessible to the public at large. While copyright may be inadequate on its own in creating fair market conditions, it remains by far the most powerful tool for fostering creativity and democratizing culture itself.

Based on what? First of all, copyright is the opposite of “market forces.” It’s a government granted monopoly to stop market forces from working. Copyright is what has allowed “centralized control” over the recording industry from the likes of the RIAA itself. It’s hilarious that a guy who has worked at the RIAA for almost three decades is actually trying to argue that there needs to be stronger global copyright to stop “the tyranny of centralized control.”

Yes, it appears the king would like to raise taxes to better help the peasants avoid the tyranny of government coercion.

Besides, we’re actually seeing exactly what happens without the “tyranny” of control under the old copyright system, and the true “marketplace” thanks to the various innovations that the RIAA has fought hard to kill, from YouTube to MP3 players to streaming music and more. And it’s allowing artists without major label connections to outperform the biggest names from the major labels at times. Perhaps we need less focus on the old system, and more of these new innovations that appear to be giving power back to the public to determine what they really like, rather than the power of Universal Music’s payola budget.

Copyright protection, while it may sometimes serve the interests of multinational corporations, is the mechanism that permits individuals to devote their lives to the creation of original materials;

It may be one mechanism, but it is hardly the only such mechanism, and what we’re finding more and more is that it is a rather poor mechanism for that — though it has been a fantastic mechanism for helping the RIAA labels screw over artists. But I digress…

If we want to foster cultural diversity (and I assume we all do), and want to ensure that diverse content is available to be accessed (and I assume we all do), then we must be more vigilant in ensuring the effective global protection of copyright.

Again, copyright may be a tool that works for some in some cases, but this ridiculous insistence that it is the only such tool and that it is the core thing that must be protected — at a time when it’s so obvious that it also creates tremendous problems elsewhere and when many other solutions to funding artists are coming on the scene — just makes Turkewitz look incredibly out of touch.

Ms. Shaver writes that ?copyright protection inflates the price of cultural works.? But again, that is completely wrong. Copyright protection gives economic value to cultural works, and sustains creators. It doesn?t inflate price ? it recognizes a property interest so that the creator can determine the conditions of subsequent use.

Of course copyright inflates the price of cultural works. That’s its sole purpose. That’s what monopolies do. To argue against that is ridiculous. An intellectually honest argument Turkewitz could make would admit that, yes, copyright inflates the price, but in doing so creates new incentives for the original creation of the work. Then we can debate whether or not that’s true. Instead, he makes the completely ridiculous assertion that copyright doesn’t inflate the price at all. Of course it does.

And, no, copyright does not “give economic value to cultural works.” Turkewitz, like so many others, is confusing price and value. Something may have tremendous economic value, even if it’s free. This blog is free. Yet it has economic value in generating other kinds of revenue. Turkewitz’s article is free. Yet I’d imagine he thinks it has economic value in (he hopes) convincing policy makers to bow down to the RIAA’s distorted view of copyright law.

While I’m sure that some will argue that this is just the RIAA spouting nonsense as usual, it’s important to note that Turkewitz isn’t just sending a random note to the UN with this nonsense. He’s also the Vice Chairman of ITAC-15, which is the USTR’s “advisory committee” for intellectual property in trade agreements. All that crap we’ve seen in the TPP and TTIP about intellectual property — that’s partly Turkewitz’s doing. And he is either totally ignorant of what’s happening in the market (unlikely) or he’s willing to make completely outlandishly bogus statements in order to push the RIAA’s preferred course of action, at the expense of all of the innovation and cultural development we’ve seen in recent years.

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Comments on “Top RIAA Exec: There's No More Music In Africa And The Middle East Because They Need Stronger Copyright”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Stronger copyright is magical.
It can end civil wars, raise people out of abject poverty, protect them from being beheaded by religious zealots, create music when everything has been burned in a cleansing fire, and make those starving to death sing more songs to make it into the Apple store.

Perhaps they need less concern about copyright laws in their country, and have the RIAA lobbying cash spent on helping the citizens and not as graft lining the pockets of leaders who don’t care as long as someone is paying them.

It was in this moment that if you look at the RIAA as a 3rd world nation run by an insane dictator who cares nothing about those they lead, as long as they get paid… it all gets a lot clearer.

Anonymous Coward says:

The real problem is that the RIAA members are losing control over the distribution of music, and without that control they cannot rob the creators to make their profits. The only copyright law that would protect their profits is one that gives them exclusive control over the publication of all music, and that is what they mean by strengthening copyright laws.

David says:

If you love something, lock it up

protect local African and Middle Eastern music

Locking up music may, like locking up animals in a zoo, be considered part of a strategy for delaying an extinction event.

It’s not how culture or wildlife actually work. And the music industry has specialized on selling allegorical venison. They systematically kill off the wildlife in order to “preserve” and market their shortlived housestock instead.

So guess what the goal of Ms Shaver is when she laments the dearth of music industry controlled sales of African music: increase the amount of local singing and playing of instruments?

Nope. She wants to drain the local music swamp and turn it into a profitable desert where she can then sell bottled water.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well since they can’t speak foreign languages to them I suppose the lyrics are nothing but noise. Heck, the shills around here barely speak English and most of what comes out of RIAA/MPAA reps comes off as incoherent noise anyways. Their reading comprehension doesn’t seem to be all that much better and given their apparent lack of intelligence I imagine most everything they attempt to read or listen to comes off as noise. After all Hollywood has a long history of drug use so it’s not like these are the most competent people around.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Middle eastern music is often a lot different from euro-american and asian music which makes it harder to market to new ears (rap is often lyrical based and arabic is not a too common language to learn outside of the middle east). Musical taste is subjective and good longer term musical connotations requires getting used to the particular kind of music to appreciate its nuances. That side seems to evade Turkewitz and may be part of his disrespect.

He has a point in the idea behind the spread of culture in classic media-landscapes which is often limited by how much money you use on promotion. However, he lacks the understanding of more open modern platforms where money used on promotion is less of a factor compared to how you do promotion! And these particular examples of misunderstanding seems to point towards a man grown stuck: He lives in his radio and can’t understand that culture can exist outside its sphere!

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s artless fecks like this who try to ruin culture for everyone else in the name of saving it, despite actually serving his profit margin.

The inclination of human beings to produce art is innate and not tied to legality. If you outlawed music, you’d still find people flouting the law to make music. You’d still have kids playing the drums on their schoolbooks with pencils. You’d still have people whistling and humming and singing to themselves. Some of those people are incredibly talented and the next simple step to recording what they create isn’t much of a barrier.

If you couldn’t suppress it with a law, you couldn’t suppress it with the lack of a law (that primarily benefits immortal corporations who can profit off of copyrights long after the artist and their children are dead).

David says:

Re: Hmmmm

If drone attacks were being flown on copyright infringers, this has not yet been corroborated by leaks of secret documents.

Frankly, we are no longer where one could laugh such a hypothesis off as tinfoilhattery.

The secret services have been exposed as clearly serving the interests of commerce. And copyright infringers are clearly attacking the financial infrastructure of U.S. congresspeople.

Ninja (profile) says:

HMMMM. Brazil should be silent too. Piracy, PHYSICAL piracy (where actual money is spent on pirated media) is rampant here and yet there’s plenty of music being produced.

And, from there, he argues that the Middle East and Africa in particular are now silent.

No, they are not silent. It’s this moron that is deaf due to extreme geed.

Now, we absolutely agree with the central claim that Turkewitz tries to pin his article on: that those who create culture need incentives to do so.

Do they? I know at least 3 guys that do it out of their own pockets for virtually no gains. Do they really need? Does the MAFIAA pay the small musicians the royalties they should?

After that I went in to read the whole thing an it’s basically disgusting. The MAFIA is exactly everything he criticizes and yet there he is, supporting the very system that the rotten organization uses to screw the artists, society and culture alike. We should ignore this moron. But instead it’s good that TD and others point out the utter bullshit they spew every time. Because without that the propaganda might be effective. You know, spew bullshit until it sticks.

cybearDJM (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Of course there’s plenty of music produced in many different styles and genres (from traditional to urban music, from tradi-modern to EDM and so on) across the many African countries.
As I try to train artists in various West African countriers, the main problem is IMHO, to the exception of South Africa and might be Kenya, how IP on culture (being “copyright” for English speaking countries or “droit d’auteur” for French speaking ones) is managed.
Most of the African countries were pushed (forced? lobbyied? bullied?) to sign IP laws, via African orgs OAPI – ARIPO or via Unesco, so that they offer the same “features” as in EU or US. But these laws are not ratified or implemented at all, as 1/ nobody really cares what IP is and does 2/ nobody’s really trained to try to understand the matters, impacts and objectives (some countries don’t have IP-trained lawyers 3/ people working in culture are not well trained (that’s what my org’s trying to achieve, at least)…
But, but, but… Africa is the next frontier!!! then the big majors want to make money from Africa, as soon as possible… Sony just opened office in Nigeria. UMG is about to open office in Abidjan… and so on… do they come to nurture the local culture? Are you kidding me? They just want to push their existing moneymakers and once in a while help sell one “native”…

There’s so much to say here…

PS: on a side note, US/EU know very well how to lobby African countries into signing bad IP laws/protocols. Just check what happened with the so-called “protection of new variety plants” where traditional farmers have been sold to big agri-business and

jlaprise (profile) says:

Begging the question...

Even if RIAA were correct (which it is not), stronger copyright requires stronger rule of law, not the other way around. Improving governance of the Middle East and Africa has nothing to do with copyright.

I’d also say that having professionally advised the government of Qatar on IP, the whole concept of intellectual property is foreign if not outrightly imperialistic. Culturally, copyright is nonsensical to the Middle East where the first Arabic language printing press did not show up until the 19th C. Moreover, sharing is much closer to regional cultural norms than IP.

Grey (profile) says:

A family friend brings bands to the US on tour from Africa, I’ve met the Mahotella Queens, and I’ve driven Hugh Masekela and Orchestra Virunga between tour locations here in Oregon.

(Hey guys, if you’re reading this, family is good, Hope you make it back here eventually!)

They would be rather shocked to hear that Turkewitz does not apparently consider their work music.

One of the best conversations I’ve had in my life, (once they realized I could understand most of their French) and explained to them that the country is not ruled by the Pres, (GW at the time) and that half of us always disagree with the other half, openly, and consistently.

Oddly enough, Copyright was never one of the topics.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nailed it.

To the *AA types, if they aren’t making money from it, or control it, it doesn’t count as real creativity, and is dismissed out of hand.

Therefor, if they aren’t the ones making money off of the music in other countries, of course they’re going to claim that no music is being made there, because under their twisted definitions of ‘music’ they’re right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Copyright protection, while it may sometimes serve the interests of multinational corporations, is the mechanism that permits individuals to devote their lives to the creation of original materials;

Copyright protection is the mechanism that serves the interests of multinational corporations, while it may sometimes permit individuals to devote their lives to the creation of original materials;


Anonymous Coward says:

"World Music"

I remember the “World Music” section in music stores being small. In most cases it was because the store(s) did not want to pay the import duties and the original manufacturer did not want to license local manufacturing. And it wasn’t just Africa and the Middle East, it was pretty much all of the world. (As Ninja pointed out Brazil I cannot remember much of anything from South America.) Even the few stores that still exist today the “World Music” section is still small.

The internet has exposed world artists to a bigger audience than any record store – individual or chain – could. But the region restrictions are still ridiculous.

And for those who think world music can’t make it in the US: I can remember when Mocedades’ song Eres Tu was being played on just about every english language radio station in the US. That song was sung in spanish. They did record and release an english language version (Touch The Wind); that release went nowhere.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: TRUE statement

For Turkewitz, art is simply something to be invested in, like technology or oil or pork bellies. You take a risk and hope for a return. Without legal protections and a stable commercial market, the risk become incalculable and therefore not worth taking.

Nevermind that art is also culture, free speech, history, fashion, philosophy, and just fun – all things that do not ask for or want a return on investement.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: TRUE statement

In the USA, where is the market?? everywhere..

In africa, where is the market?? Who buys the music created locally..?

How much is really recorded..

It would be/might be a small market, but its NOT worth a multimillion dollar setup..

Also that the area is not Using ALLOT of tech for playback of the music…Lucky if they have a cassette player in a car.. There is Little to market in africa TO africa..

Anonymous Coward says:

I like how the RIAA magically thinks that copyright laws and ridiculously priced, region-specific content is the answer to global problems.

European economic crisis? Obviously, the solution is to enforce stronger copyright and get Greek and Spanish citizens to pay for content! Clearly, they can afford it!

ISIS? Obviously the solution is to pay for American content with equally limited resources!

Boko Haram and tyrannical African regimes? Obviously, the solution is etc., etc., etc.

It’s funny to see just how far they’re willing to take this farce. For all the shills harping that “if you don’t like the RIAA’s terms, do without” and “no one is twisting your arm to consume/use copyrighted things”, the RIAA sure as hell seems to want people to not do without.

blue skies (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Be careful with wishing stronger and/or longer copyright as a solution for an european economic crisis. You don’t want those poor hollywood movie studios having to pay huge sums of money to the europeans for using our folktales and fairy tales?

On the other hand, if we do make this so and then produce a bunch of movies based on ancient Greek mythology, this might be a nice solution to “The Greek Problem”…

Sheogorath (profile) says:

This reminds me of the situation when I was a boy where the music people were playing on their MP3 players and other devices was never in the charts, only stuff you never heard except on the radio and TV because music downloads were ignored by those who made the pop charts. Even music streaming was ignored until last year. There seems to be an utter failure by incumbents to get with the times and see reality until the opportunity has completely passed them by, and then they blame everyone except the party that’s actually responsible: themselves.

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