Vandals' Bass Player Not A Fan Of The Public Domain, Thinks PD Recordings Will 'Destroy' Classical Music

from the is-this-a-joke? dept

We've covered how Vandals' bass player, Joe Escalante, a former entertainment industry lawyer, is currently in the middle of a legal fight with Reed Elsevier over a parody logo the band briefly used -- but has since stopped using. His discussions of the lawsuit have been interesting and informative, so I'm a bit shocked to see the following article, submitted by a bunch of folks where Escalante goes a bit off his rocker in attacking the public domain as "communism." Honestly, I had to read it a few times, and am still sort of wondering if this is pure satire. If it is, bravo. If it's not, Escalante may have taken cluelessness about the public domain to previously unheard of levels.

At issue? The story we recently covered of how the folks at Musopen wanted to raise money to hire an orchestra to record public domain symphonies, and release the recordings into the public domain. As you're hopefully aware, while such symphonies are in the public domain already, new recordings of those works are not. The composition is still public domain, but the recording gets a new copyright. Thus you really can't find public domain recordings of many of these works -- something which Musopen is helpfully looking to fix. That effort has been a massive success, with the group far surpassing its original goal of raising $11,000. In fact, Musopen has said that the more money they raise, the more songs they'll record and release into the public domain with the orchestra they hire. Who could possibly complain about that?

Escalante apparently.
Does this sound nice to you? If it does, you are forgetting one thing.You are forgetting that if these recordings have some commercial value it creates a market for them which not only employs musicians, it encourages better and better recordings and orchestrations that benefit all of society. Destroy their commercial value, and you destroy a lot more than you realize.
This makes absolutely no sense. Putting something into the public domain creates all sorts of additional commercial value in that it makes those works usable in all sorts of new and interesting ways. That's why we have the public domain after all. And, just because something is in the public domain, it doesn't "destroy" the value of the work. That's economically wrong, as has been shown over and over and over again. Allowing a work to hit is actual economic price, leads to a much greater economic efficiency, enabling all sorts of additional commercial opportunities. With the statements above, Escalante shows why he's a lawyer/bassist, not an economist.
Is it that offensive to these people that musicians should get paid for mastering their chosen instruments and making the sacrifices necessary to become a professional? Or is it crazy if someone gets a return on an investment to undertake the enormous task of recording a 100 plus person orchestra? Carried to it's logical conclusion, someday all classical recordings will be in the public domain so this faction of the recording industry can just shut down. Now you can tell your kids not to waste time learning the cello, because there's no way to earn anything from the sacrifice, so don't go to orchestra practice. It's a waste of time.
This is the paragraph that made me wonder if this is really pure satire. Escalante should go look up the history of the music industry. When player pianos first came out, the industry said that no one would ever go see live music again. When the radio came out, we heard the same thing. All through history, every time something new comes out, we're told that it will "destroy" the previous industry, but that's never happened. Making public domain recordings does absolutely nothing to remove the "return on investment" of an orchestra. Did Escalante really miss the fact that Musopen just raised a ton of money to pay this orchestra to make this recording? If he didn't get confused, then why is he claiming that this action to pay musicians is "offensive" to those who believe musicians should get paid? Furthermore, just because there's one public domain recording, there will be no market for orchestras? Seriously? This is the identical claim to the idea that player pianos would kill off musicians, because who'd ever need to see a live musician when they can just stick a piano roll in the player piano.
So we should let people make films and sell them and keep all the money instead of giving some to the musicians and encouraging their pursuit of these arts?
First of all, the musicians got paid. Why does Escalante keep ignoring this? It's like a giant mental block. On top of that, one of the important parts of the public domain is the fact that it allows others to build on previous works and create new sorts of works. Escalante seems wholly ignorant of the public domain. If someone sends me his address, I'll gladly send Escalante a free copy of Jamie Boyle's excellent book The Public Domain, so he can learn a bit about why the public domain is so important, and why it's a complete myth that it harms anyone.
Can you believe this? Why not hire sound alikes to record all the works of the Buena Vista Social Club so we can get around paying those suckers. We can avoid paying at least 1/2 of what we used to have to pay to license their works. They're seminal, why not? Esguerra actually calls this a "creative solution" to the problem of having to pay for the rights these musicians have obtained by sweat and talent. Does he also agree that waiting until midnight with a brick in your hand is a "creative solution" to the problem of having to pay for a plasma TV as well?
Again, I'm left wondering if Escalante is being satirical here. Just look at the video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero. For a while, both of them regularly used "sound-alike" recordings for bands that didn't want to license the originals -- and fans hated it. They wanted the originals. The claim that you could just hire a sound-alike and that's fine is provably false. People want the originals. It's already legal to record sound-alikes if you pay compulsory licenses, and it hasn't damaged anyone.
And please don't confuse this with the concept of "music should be free" because we're in a "new era," etc. It is nothing like that. My band The Vandals allow many unauthorized uploads on YouTube and other places as a measure of good will, we don't run around and bust infringers routinely. We get it, they listen, they might come to a show or push some kind of demand for us. Musopen is not a part of that movement, make no mistake. They are extremists trying to deprive honest working people of what they already earned to spite them for having the audacity to charge for their services.
Seriously? Putting public domain music into the public domain is "extremist" and "deprives honest hard working people" of what they've earned? Someone seriously needs a massive history lesson on the public domain.
The EFF calls for "music lovers" to support them with their wallets. This isn't for music lovers, it's for music killers. I actually used to have respect for EFF. I thought they were an important part of the debate but this is off the deep end.
Supporting the public domain is killing music and "off the deep end"? No, Joe. Telling people that supporting a larger public domain is what's off the deep end. The public domain is where great creativity and great creative works come from. It's the endless fountain of resources that people can pull from to do amazing new things. I actually used to have respect for Escalante for his fight with Reed Elsevier. I thought he was an important part of the debate, but this is off the deep end.

Filed Under: classical music, joe escalante, public domain
Companies: musopen

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  1. icon
    Richard (profile), 14 Sep 2010 @ 7:24am

    Re: No Satire

    It just demonstrates the nature of the copyright monopoly.

    Officially it is just a monopoly on individual compositions or sound recordings - but the holders of most of these rights behave as a cartel. They trade the rights in large blocks so that ordinary people can never afford to purchase them. They distribute work under the strictest provisions that the law allows. They never compete with one another in the area of conditions of usage and copying etc.

    The effect of this is to turn the monopoly on individual works into an effective monopoly on ALL works!

    What this initiative does is to break the cartel by radically undercutting its standard terms and conditions. That is why these people hate it so much (much more than they hate piracy - because that appears to give them some "moral high ground") - but they dare not be fully honest about why.

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