Steven Tyler, Don Henley And Others Join Forces To Fight A Compulsory License For Remixes

from the legacy-artists-attempt-to-control-how-culture-works dept

The US Dept. of Commerce has been collecting input on IP issues through its Internet Policy Task Force (the commenting period wrapped up Dec. 5, 2013). One of the suggestions it sought input on was the creation of a compulsory license that would allow artists to remix the creations of others by simply paying a flat fee, much in the way cover versions are handled now.

The response has come back from several artists and entities (via some "late comments") who see remixes (and mashups, etc.) the way they see most derivative works -- as something that shouldn't be allowed without the originator's permission.

In a letter signed by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and music attorney Dina LaPolt (and echoed by like minded artists like Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Sting, Deadmau5 [somewhat disappointing] and entities like BMI, SESCAC, ASCAP, etc.), LaPolt details their opposition to streamlined remix licensing. The rationale propelling this letter is nothing short of bizarre.

First off, LaPolt asserts that artists should be able to control use of their music.

Approval is by far the most important right that an artist possesses… If an artist or songwriter does not want his or her music used in a certain way, no amount of money will change his or her mind.

Artists can, and should continue to be able to, deny a use that they do not agree with. For one, an artist should be able to turn down uses in connection with messages that the artist finds objectionable…
LaPolt's parade of horribles follows this assertion. Melissa Etheridge remixed with homophobic slurs. Ted Nugent coupled with anti-gun sentiments. Sting's soulful voice draped over a National Beef Council ad. (The last one I made up.) The possibilities are endless.

But this concern is essentially meaningless. An unlicensed remix can still do all these things. The only difference is that the original artist goes unpaid. There's only one way to control how people will use your creation, and that's to lock it away unreleased. Rejecting a compulsory license simply cuts off a potential revenue stream, and instead of protecting artists from derivative works they don't approve of, it simply ensures they'll never be paid for the derivative works that will be created without their explicit blessing.

LaPolt seems to believe that artists will actually do the only thing that can protect them from unsavory derivative works.
Without a doubt, requiring a compulsory license for derivatives would discourage many artists from releasing their work in the first place. Steven and the other artists who have expressed support for our comments have stated that they probably would have withheld some of their work if they knew that one day they would be required to give up their right to approve derivative uses.
"Would probably have withheld some of their work." That's hardly a powerful supporting statement, especially when reported secondhand. I have serious doubts any of these artists would have "withheld" any creations because they were worried someone might offensively remix them. Artists create, and stashing it in the archives isn't nearly as satisfying as releasing it to the public, even if there's a small chance someone might crank out an unlicensed derivative work that offends their sensibilities. (Not only that, but considering the roster of supporting voices are all major label artists, it's highly unlikely the decision to release or not release would have been completely in their hands.)

Moving on, LaPolt insists there's already a "robust marketplace" for remixes, by which she must mean there's a limited marketplace that pays handsomely for a select few artists.

The thing is: LaPolt and her co-signers can't prevent derivative works. An vibrant mashup scene is nearing two decades of doing whatever it wants with the works of others. These artists know they can't sell what they've made, but they've found other ways (donations, live gigs, DJ gigs, themed events) to turn entirely derivative works into a viable form of income. Any DJ worth his salt has dropped dubplates and white labels that contain unlicensed mixes into their DJ sets. And they've seen others do the same with their works, spinning off their own remixes and mashups, all without permission. (And returned the favor by including these unlicensed remixes of their own work into their DJ sets.) There's little to no evidence out there that suggests DJ/producers are shoving new tracks into the sock drawer just to keep thousands of bedroom producers from cranking out terrible, unlicensed remixes.

Artists fighting against this sort of license are not only eliminating a revenue stream, they're ignoring the history of creative works. The phrase "everything is a remix" isn't just something conjured out of thin air and wishful thinking. Culture builds on culture and not every derivative/remix is going to make the original artists happy. But that's the way it goes. The only way to prevent reinvention is to lock the original invention up and resign it the self-imposed obscurity of the studio vault. That's the ultimate veto and, compulsory license or no, that's the only way to prevent the inevitable. Fighting this just leaves artists with the relatively worthless power to say "no."

Filed Under: compulsory licensing, don henley, remix, steven tyler


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  1. icon
    jameshogg (profile), 12 Feb 2014 @ 11:53am

    This is once again the fallacy of defamation.

    Defamation is something that can be answered on its own terms, without the need for copyright. And it is rather simple: include "official" and "unofficial" labelling/signatures on works in a way that is similar to trademarks. The best use of a trademark is defining what is "approved" by a person or business, so they can work just fine here. That way, if people end up listening to some abysmal AMV with Aerosmith music cut up into horrendous pieces and distorted something awful, and that AMV were to have the "unofficial copy of Aerosmith" signature on it, if such an audience goes away thinking that Aerosmith genuinely sounds as horrible as that, that's the audience's problem. No copyright can save artists from audience stupidity like this.

    Let me give you an example of why you cannot stop the stupidity. It does not matter how beautifully George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a means of showing the utopian nature of communism, and crucially it does not matter how Orwell wanted to be seen or heard upon releasing this book: we still got idiots yelling the straw-man that he was an apologist for fascism because he attacked communism. They did not have to infringe on a single copyright to portray Orwell as a crackpot. And hence, that is how his book was treated (and even censored) for a while.

    The speech is enough to distort how an artist is "seen by the public", not remixes. If speech cannot do anything to change what an artist actually said in his works, then neither can remixes.

    But nobody is dumb enough to suggest that because people might, just MIGHT, go off with an image of their music "sucking so much ass" that they will therefore not make that music.

    The better question is this: can anybody name ONE artist who has NOT had the fear of being seen as low quality? Or a fear of simply being perceived in a way in which he would not favour?

    And did the punk movement not teach us ANYTHING? Nobody gives a fuck what others think in the end! And people especially do not give a fuck if money and/or moral duty is involved in expressing themselves. In the end, the original works always come through.

    Stupid fallacy. I take it we must now also shut down deviantArt for all the horrendous (profitable for deviantArt!) My Little Pony mutations that occur there, or fan-fiction sites in case a mediocre Twilight fan-fic suddenly branches off to become 50 Shades Of Grey after having all the Twilight content removed from it? (you'd have to ban fan-fics even on a non-commercial level on that basis, in case its popularity allows the author of the fan-fic to suddenly change character names and make millions overnight - profound "infringement" without actually infringing, such is the absurdity of copyright philosophy).

    People who claim this fallacy also must in turn make the extraordinary claim that internet memes must be stopped if the memes mash up their music in a way they do not approve of. Some of these memes can spread everywhere around the internet within a few hours. Good luck with that.

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