For many years, we've discussed how Europe allows for a "database right" on collections of works, while the US forbids it. The US considers a database right improper, since copyright is not supposed to apply to facts and isn't supposed to be given out solely based on the "sweat of the brow," but rather to incentivize creativity. The Europeans, on the other hand, argued that the labor of putting together a database needed to be protected to create the necessary incentives for a thriving information/database industry. In many ways, this has created a useful natural experiment concerning copyright law and whether or not it actually creates incentives. The data has been overwhelming. Without a database right, the database industry in the US has thrived, while the same market in the EU has stagnated.
And yet, many in Europe (and some in the US) still see good things in such a government granted monopoly. We were just talking about how clinging to this outdated and clearly failed concept was now threatening important moves towards open data.
Thankfully, it appears that at least one European country has realized how damaging such rights are, and is moving in the other direction. The Dutch government, which has a number of politicians who really seem to get this stuff, is apparently trying to "modernize" its copyright law by removing protection for any "non-original" works such as databases. The link from the Future of Copyright site notes that the database right -- called "geschriftenbescherming" -- is being removed, as officials are noting that copyright should be focused on creativity, not merely protecting the upfront investments of publishers and printers:
The modernization of copyright law in the Netherlands will be done in two ways. Firstly, modern copyright will only serve to protect creative performances. Since ‘geschriftenbescherming’ does not cover any creative performance, this will now be removed. Secondly, the Dutch government believes copyright should not inadvertently preclude the creative reuse of existing material or the innovative use of information and easy exchange thereof. The protection of non-original works is often invoked to regulate parallel import instead of merely protecting the publisher’s or printer’s investment. By removing the additional protection under copyright law, the exchange and re-use of these works may be simplified. Also this could remove a legal barrier to the use of open data.
As noted in that last sentence, this story is almost the polar opposite to the one we just had about this same concept being used to hold back open data. This would be a nice step forward for the Dutch, and hopefully other European countries will quickly get with the program as well.
Update: In the comments someone points out that this is related to the EU Court of Justice ruling we wrote about last year, which noted that copyright rights need to include an element of creativity and that you can't just copyright facts.
Update 2: More information from the comments, which argues that, despite great similarities between the database right and geschriftenbescherming, this only impacts the latter not the former. The specific issue appears to be that geschriftenbescherming falls under copyright law and copyright law requires creativity (as noted in the story from last year). Yet database rights, fall under the database directive, and don't require any creativity (which is silly, for reasons we explained earlier). We apologize for any confusion and would like to thank the commenter for adding further details.
from the you-can't-do-this-with-catcher-in-the-rye dept
A Kickstarter project by Ryan North, called To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure, has become the most funded publishing project on Kickstarter ever, as it recently surpassed $400,000 (he was originally seeking $20,000). While we always love to see interesting and successful crowdfunding projects, this one is interesting for a few additional reasons concerning topics we talk about here: copyright and trademarks. The actual book is, as North explains, "an illustrated, chooseable-path book version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet." So, how does that hit on copyright and trademark issues?
Copyright: Even if the head of the Author's Guild doesn't seem to know this, Shakespeare's works are in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use them however they want -- whether it's to make an exact copy (and, yes, there are plenty of those on the market) or to do a derivative work. There have been tons of remakes and updates on Shakespeare's work, and many of them are super creative, such as this one. Kinda demonstrates just how ridiculous it is for copyright maximalists to argue that without strong copyright protection, creativity gets killed off. Just the opposite, it seems. The ability to build on the works of the past quite frequently inspires amazing new creativity.
Trademark: North refers to this as a "choosable path adventure" because:
"Chooseable-path" you may recognize as a trademark-skirting version of a phrase and book series you remember from childhood. Remember? Books in which... an adventure is chosen??
Yes, they're not using the widely known phrase "choose your own adventure," because it's trademarked, and the owner of the mark has sued before. Of course, the story of the mark is interesting in its own right. Apparently, Bantam Books who helped popularize the original choose your own adventure books let the trademark lapse, and it was bought up by Ray Montgomery, who had run the small press that published the original books, but had not held the original trademark on it.
So we have examples of how a lack of a common "intellectual property" law enabled greater creativity, and how a current "intellectual property" law stupidly limits the option of using the most reasonable description of the work.
Either way, the book looks absolutely awesome, and if you want in on the Kickstarter offering, there are just a few hours left.
Beer has been around for centuries, and it's arguably responsible for the development of civilization and the prevention of waterborne illnesses. Beer is still evolving and improving as food scientists play around with the yeasts and the ingredients that go into making modern beers. Before you head off to happy hour, check out a few of these beer-related factoids.
from the doing-it-because-you-want-to,-not-because-you-have-to dept
There are many who argue, despite historical and ongoing evidence to the contrary, that creativity will die out if creators cannot be guaranteed some sort of livable wage. It's almost as if any creator who creates as a hobby or potential second job either a) is being shortchanged by disruption, piracy, etc., or b) shouldn't be taken seriously because they haven't abandoned their day job.
It's an odd assertion. Most groundbreaking creative efforts were conceived and carried out while the creators worked in a variety of other non-creative jobs. It was only after these breakthroughs that these artists went on to live solely on the earnings of their creative works. Somehow, we're now expected to believe that without piracy and other disruptions, creators would be making better, livable wages, possibly right out of the gate.
For the past two years, Brandon Medenwald, Justin Kalvoda, and Bill Burgess have held down full-time jobs while also launching their company, Simply Made Apps.
Their only product is an app called Simple In/Out, which solves a problem that drove Brandon crazy. He explains, “In my fulltime job as a web programmer, we had an old magnetic in/out board like they use in sales offices to keep track of who is in the office and who isn’t. Five or six years ago, they transitioned to a Web-based version.
“I was constantly frustrated with it, because some of the roughly 40 people in our firm wouldn’t use it. The board became extremely out of date. For years, I was joking that I could write a better piece of software in a weekend, but then over beers in a bar with two friends, it dawned on me we could solve this problem by using the GPS chips in cell phones.”
On it's face, it seems terribly simple: build something better. And yet, no one had really tackled it before. So they took a weekend off to knock out the framework early last year and since then have been refining it based on customer feedback.
For the first four months, the app was free. Last September, they introduced pricing that was based on the number of people being tracked on the company’s board. Prices start at $5 per month for 4 to 10 users, and gradually step up to $160 a month for 250 to 1,000 users.
Although the trio are far better programmers than they are marketers, today they have over 1,600 registered companies. More importantly, they have something they love so much that they occasionally use their vacations to devote extra time to their “nights and weekends” startup.
None of them hate their real jobs. None are eager to quit. They come across as smart, patient people who want to solve interesting problems that other companies aren’t solving.
Creativity very often springs from those tied to day jobs. These three don't sound even remotely "tied." It's not about sustaining yourself from a nights-and-weekend project. It's about being passionate about what you do with your nights and weekends. These days, anyone with a spark of creativity has hundreds of free-to-cheap tools at their disposal. The barriers to entry have been demolished, whether it's music, movies or software. It's not money that drives these creators: it's passion. And if you ignore that fact, and cling to past business models, you're going to find yourself trailing the pack very quickly.
“In a big corporation,” says Brandon, “I’d be fearful of the little people out there doing something that they are passionate about, because, passion trumps money.” He and his partners love what they do, and feel fortunate to be able to solve interesting problems.
Even though the company is turning a modest profit, he says, “Because we love what we do, we don’t have to be concerned about turning a profit, which means we are extremely dangerous people when it comes to our dedication to improving services
The three were able to get this off the ground using spare time and around $100 each, which covered "licenses, a Web domain, a 'doing business as' name, etc." From $300 and a few nights and weekends to 1,600 paid users, all without having to "quit the day job."
Those arguing that creativity is tied to a steady paycheck are relics looking back fondly at the days of gatekeeping, when competition was low because the barriers were too high. It has nothing to do with wanting future artists to be properly "protected" against disruption and everything to do with keeping more people out. That sounds more than a little like fear.
While the EU Commission has been much more copyright maximalist at times (it was the major driver behind ACTA in Europe), some on the Commission have been pushing back on such views for a while. Neelie Kroes, who is VP of the EU Commission and in charge of "the digital agenda," has been speaking out on these issues for a while. Last year, she pointed out that new business models, rather than greater enforcement was the right path forward. She's also spoken out against kicking people offline and in favor of open innovation and creation.
She's now given another talk on copyright issues, in which she notes that the world has changed a great deal in the last 14 years since Europe last reviewed proposals to update its Copyright Directive. While many maximalists would say the same thing and focus on the struggles of particular subsector -- the record labels -- Kroes properly notes that the real change (which is, in part, why the labels have struggled) is that the world has shifted from one in which gatekeepers control the means of production and distribution, into one where everyone can create and distribute works:
The last major EU copyright instrument, the Copyright Directive, was adopted in 2001. The Commission proposals it was based on date back to 1998.
Let's remind ourselves what's happened since then.
In 1998, Mark Zuckerberg was 14. Today, almost one billion people around the world actively use Facebook, to share photos, videos, and ideas.
In 1998, YouTube didn't exist. Today, one hour of video is uploaded every second.
In 1998, most people listened to music on the radio, CD or tape. Now digital downloads often overtake conventional sales. New technologies allow downloading or streaming; easily, instantly, wherever you are. Not just to passively listen, but to interact and give feedback, to creators and friends.
But changes are not limited to the content business, they affect all sectors. Huge changes have taken place in the research area. Today, new scientific discoveries don't just come from new experiments, new drugs, new clinical trials: in fact, now, we can get new results by manipulating existing data. Data and text-mining techniques now lie behind a huge field of research, like human genome projects, potentially life-saving. They could hold the key to the next medical breakthrough, if only we freed them from their current legal tangle. Research activities are not clearly exempted from the copyright rules and there are many different rules in the 27 member states.
And here's the most important change since 1998. Back then, creation and distribution were in the hands of the few. Now they are in the hands of everyone: democratising innovation, empowering people to generate and exchange ideas, supporting and stimulating huge creativity.
From there, she notes that copyright may be holding back the real policy issues that they should be focused on -- which isn't just about setting up a system for artists to earn money, but also to "stimulate creativity and innovation, improve consumer choice, promote our cultural heritage and help the sector drive economic growth." But, with copyright designed for a gatekeeper society, and focused solely on a system for certain artists to get paid, you have a broken system. As Kroes points out "you have to look at how [copyright] fits into the real world" and she notes that it's clearly lacking. Everywhere you look, copyright seems to be getting in the way of the important policy issues she mentioned, rather than helping them along:
Well for one thing, you often find that online licensing restrictions make it impossible to buy music legally. Sometimes, for example, you can't buy an MP3 across an EU border.
We have already made a proposal on orphan works and recently one on collective rights management, to make multi-territorial licensing easier. The licensing proposal is a good step forward to make it easier to legally access the music you love, especially across borders. I hope legislators are able to agree it quickly. But this tackles only one aspect of the problem.
Because there are other problems too beyond licensing or orphan works. That's why the June 'Compact for Growth and Jobs' makes clear we need to focus also on substantive copyright reform.
And quite right too. For example, I ask myself, are current copyright rules favourable to potentially life-saving scientific research or do they stand in its way?
Do they make it easier or harder for people to upload and distribute their own, new creative content? And is that the best way to boost creativity and innovation?
It seems clear that Kroes -- like many of us -- recognizes the unfortunate answer today is "no, copyright does not help those things, it makes it harder for individuals to create content and it's not the best way to boost creativity and innovation." This is why we're seeing countries finally start to look at true copyright reform, rather than just doubling down on a broken system.
from the people-are-going-to-create-and-share dept
Nina Paley (filmmaker, activist, occasional Techdirt contributor, and many other things) has given an interesting interview with O'Reilly's Mac Slocum, in which she talks about the concept of "intellectual disobedience" -- merging "intellectual property" with "civil disobedience." Nina argues that if you believe in creating and sharing culture these days, copyright infringement is almost necessary, and people shouldn't apologize for it, but should stand up for what they're doing:
"A lot of people infringe copyright and they're apologetic ... If you know as much about the law as, unfortunately, I do, I cannot claim ignorance and I cannot claim fair use ... I know that I'm infringing copyright and I don't apologize for it."
The phrase "intellectual disobedience" has a call-to-arms ring to it, but Paley characterized it as an introspective personal choice driven by a need to create. "It's important for me as an artist to make art, and the degree of self-censorship that is required by the law is too great," Paley said. "In order to have integrity as a human being and as an artist, I guess I'm going to be conscientiously violating the law because there's no way to comply with the law and remain a free human being."
There's much more in the full interview:
I have to admit that I'm a little bit torn by this concept. I certainly think that each individual needs to make their own decisions about what they do when creating, but my general approach has been to avoid infringement wherever possible, and focus on convincing creators that being open and encouraging others to build on their works has tremendous benefits in both the short- and long-terms. At the same time, however, I can see where Nina is coming from as an artist who feels restricted. And that's a major concern. When the laws are holding back what artists can do to express themselves, that seems incredibly troubling. So many people have this unfortunate view that if someone builds on someone else's work (even though that's the very basis for pretty much all of human culture), something has been taken away from culture or society. The truth is the opposite: building on someone else's work expands culture, and does so in fascinating ways. It both creates something new, but also often generates new interest in those original pieces (as Paley herself did with her movie Sita Sings the Blues). Old culture doesn't disappear because someone does something new with it -- it gets revitalized.
Holding that back, for some mistaken understanding of "preserving" culture, does seem like a tremendous shame. And so in those situations I think Nina's point is a good one. Creating new artwork should never be something that people apologize for. Historically, building on the works of others is how culture has been expanded. Some of our greatest forms of culture were created exactly that way. Great plays and novels of the past were really re-imaginings of older stories. Musical forms of folk music, rock music, jazz and soul all are versions of building on the works that came before (often very soon before). Hip hop, of course, is even more directly rooted in building on top of the work of others and making something new out of it. Why should people be apologetic for doing what we've always done?
Researchers from NYU and the University of Virginia are looking for computer programmers to participate in a study of creativity and innovation. The study involves a creativity contest that will take about 5-10 minutes. The winner will receive a $500 prize. The researchers are looking for professional and serious amateur computer programmers to participate. You can access the study here.
We recently posted what I thought was an interesting essay by musician Erin McKeown on her reaction to seeing someone copy a song of hers, and have that other song become a "hit." We thought it was an interesting and nuanced exploration of some of the challenges of being a musician and thinking about copyright -- from both an emotional and logical perspective -- and thought it would make for an interesting discussion. And, in fact, it did make for an interesting discussion. With well over 100 comments, representing a variety of different viewpoints, there was a pretty deep dive into the myriad responses the piece brought out. Like pretty much any online discussion, some of the comments were more polite than others. But, when viewed on the whole, it struck me that the conversation was much more polite than most online discussions around copyright. In fact, what was interesting was that because the discussion was quite nuanced, most of our usual haters didn't take part. So we didn't have, for example, anyone calling me a slimy lying sociopath or a disgusting human being.
Some of the comments were pointed in their disagreement with Erin, but almost immediately others came in to defend her, and the overall discussion was quite interesting in my mind. And, yet, a bevy of the standard Techdirt critics took to Twitter to claim that Erin's article was proof positive that Techdirt was pure evil, hated artists and was the disgusting underbelly of the internet (a very close paraphrase of actual statements). I'm not going to link to any of these, because I don't mean to call out those people specifically. Similarly, there was a thread on a music site that was entitled "why does Techdirt hate musicians?" I suddenly had people tweeting at me, personally, about how I was somehow destroying music and why did I not want artists to get paid.
I honestly can't figure out why this was the response. First of all, we've regularly been attacked because (we're told) we never, ever post an article where we show sympathy for artists' difficult plight these days. So here was an article, from a musician, explaining her plight -- and we get attacked for that?!? Furthermore, I'm long since past the time when I could read all the comments on the site, but I do read a pretty large number of them, and the amount of hate and vitriol that has come from Techdirt haters (see above, for two very recent examples) is way, way, way, way beyond anything seen in that particular thread.
In fact, the further you read into the comments the more you realize it's a detailed and nuanced discussion on many important issues. People don't agree, but no one's calling each other a slimy lying sociopath or a disgusting human being. Yet, because a few commenters (not even the majority, as far as I can tell) disagree with Erin, all of Techdirt hates musicians? There were a few tweets and statements elsewhere saying that Techdirt hates it when artists make money. Of course, that's ridiculous. We regularly celebrate artists earning money -- sometimes lots of money. What we get nervous amount is when artists start making use of laws in ways that may actually do them more harm than good in the long term, by attacking their fans as if they were criminals, or when they seek to abuse laws that take away fundamental rights of others.
But, really, what was most amazing to me was how quick some of these people were to jump on the entire Techdirt community, because a few comments disagreed with one musician's opinion. They ignored everyone who came to her defense. They ignored the fact that we posted the story in the first place. They ignored all the people on other stories who attack Techdirt supporters in often extremely personal ways (I've been threatened with physical harm as well as seen multiple comments I won't repeat about my family). But most people -- myself included -- see those kinds of comments as part of the price you pay for having an open discussion. Some people are going to disagree and some will use different levels of speech, some more polite than others. To tar and feather everyone on the site because someone on it disagrees with your personal views is to suggest that every community online is a problem.
Is it that difficult to distinguish a nuanced conversations where not everyone agrees with each other... from the "dark underbelly" of the internet?
Multiple people have passed along this fantastic manifesto of modern creativity that was put together by five curators of an exhibition for Les Rencontres Arles Photographie called "From Here On."
One friend noted just how inspiring that graphic alone was, but reading the more detailed manifesto is worthwhile as well. It talks about just how much the internet and digital technologies have changes our lives, and changed the way art and creativity works -- in undoubtedly positive ways. Here's just a snippet of the larger piece:
The growth of the Internet and the proliferation of sites for searching out and/or sharing images online—Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, Google Images, eBay, to name only the best-known—now mean a plethora of visual resources that was inconceivable as little as ten years ago: a phenomenon comparable to the advent of running water and gas in big cities in the nineteenth century. We all know just how thoroughly those amenities altered people’s way of life in terms of everyday comfort and hygiene—and now, right in our own homes, we have an image-tap that’s refashioning our visual habits just as radically. In the course of art history, periods when image accessibility has been boosted by technological innovation have always been rich in major visual advances: improved photomechanical printing techniques and the subsequent press boom of the 1910s-1920s, for instance, paved the way for photomontage. Similar upheavals in the art field accompanied the rise of engraving as a popular medium in the nineteenth century, the arrival of TV in the 1950s—and the coming of the Internet today.
Across-the-board appropriation on the one hand plus hyper-accessibility of images on the other: a pairing that would prove particularly fertile and stimulating for the art field. Beginning with the first years of the new millennium—Google Images launched in 2001, Google Maps in 2004 and Flickr the same year—artists jumped at the new technologies, and since then more and more of them have been taking advantage of the wealth of opportunities offered by the Internet. Gleefully appropriating their online finds, they edit, adapt, displace, add and subtract. What artists used to look for in nature, in urban flaneries, in leafing through magazines and rummaging in flea markets, they now find on the Internet, that new wellspring of the vernacular and inexhaustible fount of ideas and wonders.
What I love most about this is how inclusive it is, and how much of it is about recognizing and embracing what an amazingly creative time this is for artists. All too often, we hear of artists who decry such things, who complain about the fact that their club doesn't feel as exclusive any more. For artists and an art exhibit to not just embrace, but joyfully celebrate the way creativity works today, while recognizing how these tools mean that anyone and everyone are creating art all the time, is really wonderful to see.
Erin McKeown, a wonderful musician who has been very involved in some discussions on copyright and internet access -- and who was especially helpful in the fight against SOPA -- recently wrote the following thoughtful, heartfelt piece concerning the emotional roller coaster of having someone copy your work, and how all of this relates to copyright law.
I always knew my song "Slung-lo" was a hit.
It just took longer than I expected.
"Slung-lo" came out on my 2003 album, grand (Nettwerk). It found its way to the Brittany Murphy masterpiece "Uptown Girls" and into episodes of "Roswell", "Gilmore Girls", and "Privileged". It also found its way into a Tesco F&F commercial, which ran in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2008. Though not a hit by any means, it was a remarkably long life for a song that came out in 2003.
And then last year, I received two separate emails through my website pointing me to this video for a song called "Touch The Sun" sung by the Czech artist, Debbi. (editor's note: we tried to embed the official video for this song, but Sony Music refuses to allow an embed on the song).
"Have you seen this?" both emails asked. I hadn't.
From the first moment I heard "Touch The Sun," it was as clear to me as anything that someone had taken the DNA of my song "Slung-lo" and turned it into another song. At this point, my lawyer wants me to make very clear that IN MY OPINION, THIS IS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.
I don't want to spend a lot of time technically breaking down the two songs, but I'd like to point out a few things. Among the many substantial similarities between them, check out the lyrical content (weather as metaphor for happiness), the almost exact song structure (solo verse, band verse, double-tracked vocal in the chorus...), and the vocal cadence in unison with the descending instrumental line in the chorus. I could go on.
Debbi's "Touch The Sun" isn't the proverbial "kid in the bedroom with a laptop" who remixes pop culture and makes mash-ups to show how alike we humans really are. No, it turns out the song was written for a commercial scale beer campaign by the giant European alcohol company Metaxa, which itself is a subsidiary of the global beverage conglomerate Remy Cointreau.
And it is a hit. A huge one. Debbi was the runner up on the Czech version of the "Idol" franchise. The song won "Song of the Year" at the Czech version of the Grammys. The original video that was sent to me has almost a million hits. A quick search of YouTube reveals karaoke versions, animations, "how to play versions," and plenty of people in their bedrooms playing the song and singing along. The beer ad with the song aired across the Czech Republic more than 1200 times in September of 2010. That's about 40 times a day.
So, after all this time, "Slung-lo" is finally a hit.
The easy part of this story is that I work with an amazing publishing administrator, Duchamp, who has stepped in to help me. We've retained Czech council who have been in contact with Metaxa, Debbi's record label (Sony!), and the Slovak production house that produced the track. All have denied any infringement, declined to settle, and at this point, court proceedings have started. My lawyers estimate that this could take anywhere from one to five years.
This spring Remy re-launched the ad campaign across all of Europe.
By the way, the writers are Tomas Zubak, Peter Graus, and Maros Kachut. Let's #kony2012 them.
Actually let's not.
Instead, I want to talk about the whole host of emotions this experience has brought up for me, and the way it's forced me to confront and articulate my beliefs about copyright.
After watching the video for the first time, I was certifiably apoplectic. I was physically shaking with anger. How dare they! I wasn't so much angry at Debbi -- who, from what I eventually read, really just sang the damn thing -- as I was at the writers. They had to know what they were doing, I fumed. I mean, the song was just in a commercial there. They had to know about it. How dare they!
And then I felt small. I'm nobody, I thought, so they probably figured they could get away with it. It's not like they ripped off Beyonce. Just small-time me.
And then I felt defeated. I've always wanted to have a hit like "Touch The Sun". And I thought I wrote one in 2003. It was such a great disappointment to me that no one noticed. There will never be enough people to notice me, I thought.
And then, I would find myself dreaming. Maybe I'll get a settlement. Maybe it will be large enough to make all my problems go away. I'll be able to pay for my new record. I'll be able to afford the best marketing and publicity money can buy. And then there will be some left over to buy a house. My life will change!
Finally, I disconnected. I couldn't tell very many people about what was happening, and the feelings were overwhelming me. Ok, I thought, I'll just let the lawyers do their lawyer thing. This is why you pay them. I am powerless. Breathe deep and exhale.
Very early in the process, my lawyers asked me what I wanted to be the goal of my settlement. Did I want 100% of the money made? Did I want a flat fee? How much? Did I want a public apology? Did I want to let it go? Did I just want credit?
These questions became a spiritual exercise. I began to think that how I answered them said something about who I was as a person.
I believe that creativity is an unpredictable, mysterious process. I often have no idea where a song comes from. Other times I am more aware of the hard work. It is not always an easy thing to know where influence ends and mimicry begins. But there is also a way we recognize ourselves in the faces of our children, and a gut instinct that tells me when I am hearing my own musical fingerprint.
I thought for awhile, and decided I would like 50% of all the monies made so far, and 50% on everything moving forward. I didn't need a public apology. I think this is fair, not punitive, and given the current copyright law system and options available to me, a reasonable request.
Now I just have to wait one to five years to see how it turns out.
Recently, I've ended up doing a lot of advocacy and policy work around copyright. This isn't because I am a copyright crusader, for or against, but because the issue gets tied up with so many other things I care about: media access, fair compensation for artists, creating a sustainable music business.
I actually hate to talk about copyright because, once it's brought up, it just seems to take over any conversation. Most of the time I feel like that conversation then becomes counterproductive. People throw around complex legal principles. The jargon resembles a foreign language. Often, the emotions get so heated that a room ends up divided at just the time when we need to work together. I've also noticed that most of the people crowing about copyright aren't individual copyright holders. They're groups of people who make money from the business of policing and administering copyright.
In my advocacy, I want to talk scale. I want to talk relationships and power structures. I want to talk about technology. Copyright is part of this, but it's not the whole enchilada. I've come to think that current copyright law is like an immovable boulder in the middle of a rushing river. It's not likely to change, so I'm going to have to work with it, as it is. And not let it stop other important work.
Yet here I am facing a difficult situation where copyright is the main issue.
I recently watched Kirby Ferguson's "Everything Is A Remix" series and found it really helpful to understand the feelings that came up for me around "Touch The Sun." In part four, Kirby makes the observation that we humans are easily and freely influenced and inspired by the world around us. However, when we feel like something has been taken from us, we get very angry and indignant. Our anger is as natural and essentially human as is our borrowing or being influenced.
Really how I feel about copyright is this: can you please just ask me? I am so easily found. One or two clicks, a badly mangled combination of "erin" and "mck" will get you to me. Let me know what you're doing. Let's talk. Take some time and connect with me. I know this is imperfect. Sometimes in the creative economy, there just isn't time. But how about we try?
I'd also like us all to acknowledge that the current copyright system, the unmovable boulder in the stream, rather than protecting rights holders and acting as a deterrent to infringement, is in its very complications a shelter for those who use others' material without permission and an obstacle to those who would like to legally use or remix content. Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously, nefariously or in communal bliss, given the complicated, arcane process, the myriad hoops to jump through, the length and cost of the process, who can afford to participate?
So Tomas, Peter, and Maros, I won't assume your motives in turning my song "Slung-lo" into "Touch The Sun." Instead, I'll say this: if you asked me, we might have worked something out. When I found you, we might have worked something out. Who knows, maybe we could have advanced the conversation around copyright and made a radical contribution toward a different type of economy. Instead, it will drag on in court. And I will fight it in court as long as I have to. But this could have gone another way. And for that, I am sad.
Erin McKeown is an internationally known musician, writer, and producer, releasing 8 full length albums in the last decade and spending an average of 200 nights a year onstage. She has appeared on Later with Jools Holland, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NPR, BBC, and has had numerous film, television, and commercial placements. She's even written a song via text message with her friend Rachel Maddow. Lately, she has added mentor and activist to her resume. She is a board member at the Future of Music Coalition and a 2011-12 fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Visit her website www.erinmckeown.com for more info and to join her mailing list.
Special Thanks to Mike King, Andy Sellars, my lawyers, Lawrence Stanley and Vaclav Schovanek, and Erik Gilbert at Duchamp for their help researching and proofing this post.