from the PAY-US-screams-the-recording-industry dept
As we've been covering over the past few years, there's been a big battle going on over the copyright status of "pre-1972 sound recordings." That may sound like a weird thing to be arguing over, but it's due to a weird bit of history in US copyright law. You see, for a very long time, Congress believed that copyright law could not cover sound recordings. However, various states stepped in and either through explicit state law or through common law, created copyright-like regulations for sound recordings. When copyright was finally updated in the 1976 Copyright Act, pre-1972 works were left out of the federal copyright system, even as federal copyright law basically wiped out all state copyright law for everything else. This has created some weird issues, including that some songs that should be in the public domain under federal copyright law are locked up in perpetuity. A simple and reasonable solution to this would be to just move pre-1972 sound recordings under federal copyright law and level the playing field. But, the RIAA has resisted this. That might seems strange, until you realize that the RIAA and its friends saw this weird quirk of copyright law as a wedge issue with which to try to squeeze more money out of everyone.
It started a couple years ago when basically everyone started suing Sirius XM and Pandora for playing pre-1972 music without getting a separate license to do so. Once again, the reasoning here is a bit complex, but prior to the 1976 Act, there really wasn't even any concept of a "public performance right" for sound recordings -- only for compositions. The idea of one for sound recordings only came into existence with the updated copyright law. But what the RIAA and friends are trying to do is to rewrite history and pretend that these various state laws also retroactively meant to include a public performance right, and that these newer services were violating it.
In a series of rulings in the last year, Sirius XM has lost a few of these lawsuits, while winning another one. This has many copyright scholars quite concerned that decades of settled law are being tossed out.
And that brings up a whole different issue. As you probably know, terrestrial radio does not need to pay at all for the use of sound recordings (it does pay songwriters/publishers for the use of the composition), because Congress has (correctly) noted that songs on the radio are a form of advertising, and thus the musicians benefit from it, and there's no reason to pay fees for the performance again. While the RIAA whines about this, the major labels own decades-long practices around payola make it clear that they, too, recognize that radio play is valuable for the musicians and worth paying for -- rather than worth being paid for.
Every few years, the RIAA pushes to have Congress change the law, and to start making terrestrial radio pay a "performance rights fee" for sound recordings as well. But that never seems to get anywhere. So, instead, the RIAA appears to be attacking this via the pre-1972 loophole, and claiming that even though Congress explicitly has said that radio doesn't need to pay, such a promise does not apply to pre-1972 songs. The new lawsuits, from ABS entertainment, aims to be a class action lawsuit for a bunch of pre-1972 music, and has targeted terrestrial broadcasters who also stream online, including CBS, iHeartRadio (previously known as Clear Channel) and Cumulus -- the big three radio broadcasters.
In the meantime, one of the first original cases concerning this issue, against Pandora, has now moved to the 9th Circuit appeals court and a whole bunch of copyright experts have weighed in hoping that the appeals court will reverse the lower court and remind everyone that these state laws never included a public performance right in the first place. Unfortunately, this is the 9th Circuit, which is somewhat famous for its wacky copyright rulings, so pretty much anything goes here. However, should it come out in favor of the RIAA's position, it could mean that pre-1972 music will start disappearing not just from streaming and satellite radio, but from traditional terrestrial radio as well.
The infamous Wow signal that might have been an extraterrestrial message from aliens from 1977... still hasn't been completely explained. There are actually many mysterious and invisible messages flying around everywhere. Some people have tracked down the origins of a few of these signals, and the answers are probably not as exciting or dramatic as some might have hoped for. Maybe we just haven't been listening long enough....
We recently wrote about district court judge Philip Gutierrez ruling against Sirius XM on the issue of streaming pre-1972 recordings. As we noted at the time, the ruling appeared to upset what was considered more or less a settled issue. Pre-1972 sound recordings are not covered by federal copyright laws, but rather by a hodgepodge of state laws (and common law), but those have been entirely focused on reproduction/distribution and not on public performance. But this ruling changed all that. Sirius XM, of course, has already made it clear that it's appealing the ruling, and on the other side, the victors in last week's ruling, Flo & Eddie, have already moved to sue Pandora as well.
While I tried to express how much this ruling upsets what had been considered pretty much solid law, law professor Tyler Ochoa does an astounding job actually detailing the history and just what a big change this ruling is, calling it a "seismic" ruling on the scale of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Here's just a snippet, though you really ought to read the whole thing, detailing historical case law that this ruling totally upends:
...in the early days of radio, sound recording copyright owners also tried to use state law to restrict unauthorized broadcasts of sound recordings (which, as explained above, were not eligible for federal copyright). In 1937, in Waring v. WDAS Broadcasting Station, 194 A. 631 (1937), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that state common law prevented the unauthorized broadcast of phonograph records (when the legend “Not Licensed for Radio Broadcast” was printed on the records); but in 1940, in RCA Mfg. Co. v. Whiteman, 114 F.2d 86 (2d Cir. 1940), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Learned Hand, held that common-law copyright prevented only the duplication of a sound recording, and that sale of phonograph records exhausted any common-law property right to prevent the unauthorized broadcast of the recording (notwithstanding the same restrictive legend). The Supreme Court denied certiorari, which effectively meant that broadcasters did not have to pay royalties to sound recording copyright owners to play their records on the radio. (Broadcasters still had to pay royalties to musical work copyright owners, under federal copyright law.)
... when sound recordings were added to the federal copyright act in 1972, Congress likewise limited the exclusive rights that were provided to sound recording copyright owners. Authors of most copyrightable works receive five exclusive rights: the right to reproduce the work, to adapt or prepare derivative works based on the work, to publicly distribute copies of the work, to publicly perform the work, and to publicly display the work. But broadcasters had enough lobbying power to block any action in Congress if it required them to pay more royalties. As a result, Congress gave sound recording copyright owners only the right to reproduce and distribute copies of the sound recording, and to prepare derivative works (by electronic manipulation of the sounds recorded, not by imitation or simulation). Congress did not give sound recording copyright owners any right to publicly perform their works. (The policy argument was that radio airplay served as free advertising for the sale of phonograph records.)
In other words, contrary to what you'll hear today from the record labels and copyright maximalists, this ruling was not obvious or about Sirius XM, Pandora and others ripping off artists. This was actually about them upending what had been considered completely settled law. It was only in 1995 that Congress first established that copyright had any sort of "public performance" exclusivity -- and then only for post-1972 recordings (remember, the recording industry itself has fought quite hard to exempt pre-1972 sound recordings from other aspects of federal copyright law) and only on digital streaming. So, to argue that pre-1972 state and common law somehow was intended to cover such a public performance right is almost impossible to fathom. Yet that's what the court ruled.
And the impact could be immense. Beyond just Sirius and Pandora, it could hit a lot of others as well. In a big way, in part by undermining the very foundations of the DMCA safe harbors.
The ruling is a huge victory for sound recording copyright owners, which can use the ruling not only to negotiate higher negotiated rates for public performance of pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, but may also use such older recordings as leverage for negotiating higher rates for post-February 15, 1972 sound recordings. (Such negotiation tactics might be deemed to be copyright misuse, but it is unclear whether state law will recognize this federally-recognized defense.) Moreover, nothing in the decision limits the state-law violations to public performance by means of digital audio transmission, so the decision gives sound recording copyright owners the general public performance right in pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings that they have always craved, but that was previously denied to them under federal law (and was assumed not to exist in state law under Whiteman). That means that traditional AM/FM broadcasters and television broadcasters, who are expressly exempt under federal law with respect to post-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, can expect to be sued next.
Sound recording copyright owners can also use the ruling to go after internet service providers. Section 512 of the federal Copyright Act provides that internet service providers are not liable for infringements committed by their users, so long as the service provider promptly complies with the “notice-and-takedown” provisions of that section. But because Section 301(c) states that pre-February 15, 1972 sound recording copyrights are not preempted by the federal act, sound recording copyright owners have been suing internet service providers under state law, arguing that service providers are liable for reproduction and electronic distribution of pre-February 15, 1972 recordings under state law, and that the limitation of liability provided by federal law does not apply. Existing court decisions so far are split, with the New York Appellate Division holding that Section 512 does not apply to pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, because of the express terms of Section 301(c); while the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has held that Section 512 does apply to pre-February 15, 1972 sound recordings, notwithstanding Section 301(c).
In the meantime, Ochoa notes, expect "oldies" to start disappearing from lots of different services as companies seek to limit their liability. Funny how yet another copyright ruling is likely to make music even more scarce.
The ability of the record labels and RIAA front groups to flat out lie about the internet is really quite incredible. There's been some buzz recently about the crazy fact that Pandora just bought a small terrestrial radio station in South Dakota. Now, you might wonder, why would an innovative company that basically seems to be focused on making terrestrial radio stations obsolete need to own such a station... and Pandora is rather upfront in its answer: because the music collections societies, like ASCAP and BMI discriminate against internet companies, in direct violation of an antitrust agreement that ASCAP signed. Furthermore, ASCAP not only won't offer Pandora the same rights, but it engaged in highly questionable negotiation practices, such as refusing to tell Pandora what songs it was pulling the rights to, such that Pandora risked huge statutory awards for copyright infringement:
During negotiations, ASCAP and the publisher increased the pressure by refusing to provide Pandora the list of tracks that were being withdrawn, exposing Pandora to copyright infringement liability of up to $150,000 per work. At Pandora’s scale, such liability would be enormous. Faced with such potential liability, Pandora negotiated an agreement that resulted in increased rates. Shortly thereafter, additional major publishers took steps to withdraw their catalogs from ASCAP, again with respect to Pandora.
ASCAP created additional ways to circumvent its antitrust consent decree. Our motion also describes how ASCAP refused to provide Pandora a license under the same terms as the iHeartRadio service, for only one reason: iHeartRadio is owned by a terrestrial broadcaster.
All of this is in direct violation of the antitrust agreement ASCAP has with the DOJ, in which it's supposed to make sure that ASCAP can't use its monopoly power over compositions to discriminate against certain players. Yet, ASCAP is clearly trying to discriminate against internet streaming services, by charging them significantly higher rates.
This is a perfect example of the twisted incentives and strange results we get from a music licensing system that is based on who wants a license instead of just what they want to do with the music they’re using. This makes no sense. The law should treat like uses alike. Regardless of how high or low you think performance royalty rates for webcasting should ultimately be, there is no logical reason to give preferential rates to certain companies just because they arrived at the negotiation table first.
And this is only about composition rates, not even getting into the rates that Pandora has to pay for sound recordings, which is infinitely higher than terrestrial radio. Buying the radio station won't help on that front, because the internet streams are charged differently than terrestrial radio no matter who owns it, but just the fact that it's paying different rates than everyone else seems ridiculous.
And, of course, the incumbents try to twist all of this. First up, we see that BMI has sued Pandora for buying the radio station. I'm not joking. I can't see on what possible grounds a lawsuit would make sense. Are they saying it's illegal for a company to seek to get the same rates that BMI offers radio stations?
But, even worse than that is the reaction of the RIAA front group, MusicFirst, a lobbying group set up by the RIAA and SoundExchange solely for the purpose of lobbying against internet companies and seeking ever higher rates for those companies, to make sure no internet music company can stay in business. That this is short-sighted and stupid never seems to occur to MusicFirst, who is always quick with a blog post arguing that internet companies are up to no good. In this case, it accuses Pandora of playing a "sick joke" in making this purchase:
This has to be some kind of sick joke. Pandora bought an FM radio station to game the system in order to pay songwriters less?
Pandora continues to find new ways to give artists and songwriters a raw deal from the bottom of the deck. In their race to the bottom to see how little they can pay music creators, they have stooped to misleading legislation, bait and switch petitions, and now fronting as an FM radio station.
Oh really now? It's a "sick joke" to try to get the same license rate that ASCAP and BMI offer terrestrial radio stations? How so? It's a "sick joke" that the company doesn't think it's fair for ASCAP and BMI to discriminate against internet streaming radio services? The only "sick joke" is MusicFirst pretending to represent artists as it seeks to kill off new and innovative internet services that are helping artists build bigger fan bases. No wonder the RIAA-funded MusicFirst has to resort to silly claims like this. The RIAA has never wanted to adapt to an internet world, and is, once again, looking to spread completely bogus propaganda in an attempt to stifle internet progress, which tends to help independent artists, such that they don't need the RIAA labels any more. What's incredible is that the RIAA, which set up MusicFirst, has it pretend to represent the interests of "artists" when it's never been anything more than a big-label front group. If there's any "sick joke" it would be MusicFirst's pretend concern for artist's rights, that just so happen to align entirely with the interests of the big labels.
David Israelite, CEO of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), tonight interrupted his state-of-the-industry speech at the group's annual meeting in Manhattan to lash out at Pandora's decision to acquire a radio station in South Dakota. "Pandora is going to pursue lawsuits and gimmicks," Israelite told the hundreds of songwriters and composers in attendance. "Pandora is hoping to fraudulently sneak in the back door. Any shred of credibility that Pandora had is gone. They are at war with songwriters "
Once again... huh? Asking for the same rates that radio pays to stream music online is "going to war"? How does that compute? It's as if the music publishers, collection societies and the RIAA can't help but lie because they have such distaste for Pandora actually figuring out a service that people like online, when they've spent so many years trying to ensure that online services fail. If there's any "war" going on here, it's the legacy recording industry against online services that fans seem to love.
Classical music and hymns are replacing rock and pop on BBC Radio Cymru as the deadline for a rights deal with leading Welsh-language musicians passes.
The right to broadcast the songs of 331 Welsh-language musicians and music publishers rests with Eos - the Welsh word for nightingale - from today.
The BBC said Eos had rejected a substantial offer to settle the dispute shortly before Christmas. As no agreement was reached, Radio Cymru has implemented changes to its broadcasting hours and programme content.
BBC Cymru Wales said in a statement on Monday it was "very disappointed" an agreement had not been reached and confirmed Radio Cymru programmes would be affected.
"Radio Cymru's commitment to support and develop Welsh music is a longstanding one - and we have listened carefully to the concerns of Welsh-language composers and artists during this dispute," the statement said.
Once again, the desire to make a cash grab has overwhelmed the desire to be heard. And it always seems to be "representatives" of the artists that keep cutting ahead in line to get their hands out first, often at the expense of the very artists they "serve."
Unsurprisingly, the pernicious acts of another performance rights group is behind Eos' search for a "fair price." Having been screwed by an old Techdirt favorite, Eos is now attempting to force the BBC make up for PRS' actions.
The musicians broke away from the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to join a new agency, claiming they were being short-changed for their work. The dispute arose from a change by the PRS in 2007 which many Welsh language artists claim cut their royalty payments by as much as 85%.
Rather than attempt to get PRS to pay this "fair share," Eos has decided to go after the broadcasters who had nothing to do with the severe slashing of royalty payments, which fell from £1.6m in 2007 to £260,000 in 2009. Eos is acting on the recommendation of research paper published in 2009 that presented a way to generate (or at least ask for) nearly 10 times the going rate per minute of broadcast time.
The report says artists who broadcast on BBC Radio Cymru receive 49p for every minute of airtime, collected by PRS. However, it says Radio Cymru is treated like an English local radio station, rather than a national broadcaster
The report argues that if the station was available on the UK DAB network of digital stations, artists would earn £4.71 per minute, nearly ten times as much. It said a Welsh-based royalties agency would be aiming to bring back in something more like the larger DAB royalties fees.
"Welsh language repertoire - Radio Cymru relies on that for its broadcasting," pointed out the report's joint author, Deian ap Rhisiart. "If the whole composers and publishers en block declare they are terminating their membership with the PRS, then the BBC haven't got any choice but to deal with them - that's the scenario."
At that point, a spokesman for BBC Wales (quite logically) claimed that this was a dispute between PRS and its Welsh members, and that these two entities should attempt to solve it on their own. Unfortunately, Welsh artists decided it would be better to set up their own organization and tangle with the BBC directly. The end result? An outcome that overreaching rights organizations all over the world are familiar with: no additional income and the loss of an outlet.
So, in a quest for "more," Welsh artists have ended up with less (at least temporarily) exposure and the very real potential of finding themselves vilified by the same listeners who used to consider themselves fans. Rather than go after PRS for screwing Welsh artists, Eos decided to pass the screwing along to Radio Cymru, pricing itself out of the market and depriving itself of a useful promotional tool.
One of the running themes we discuss here is the difference between gatekeepers and enablers, but there's also a third category that overlaps both of the others to some degree, and is more relevant than ever in a media-saturated world: curators. Though recommendation and matching algorithms are taking on some of the curation roles that humans used to fill (or that didn't exist before), nobody has ever suggested that there's no longer a need for hands-on human curation of media.
When it comes to music, the classic curation role is the radio DJ—but, like so many traditional fixtures of the industry, that role has increasingly (though not universally) drifted away from creative personal curation and towards safe, commercially-dictated playlists. Music blogs and podcasts have stepped in to fill the void, and today the best barometer of what's worth listening to is online, not on the airwaves—especially for those listeners interested in discovering the most compelling acts emerging from small, independent scenes.
Perhaps no genre feels this more acutely than hip-hop, which still enjoys widespread radio play as one of the dominant pop genres of the past decade, but where even the most widely acclaimed indie acts with a decade of rock-solid releases under their belts struggle to get onto DJ playlists. Rapper/producer/indie hip-hop fixture El-P (who dropped by with a guest post earlier this year) recently took to twitter (found via egotripland) and gave a straightforward rundown of why so much of radio is broken and what DJs need to do to fix it. The self-proclaimed "rant" was in response to an New York DJ who was asked why he didn't play underground records that had a lot of audience buzz, and responded by saying "you don’t just get a slot, you earn a slot"—but even without context, El-P's points serve as a perfect summary of what it means to be a curator in the modern music landscape. You can view the full set of tweets on the egotripland post, but I've copied the sum of the text below:
if you're a radio station that doesn't break new great records because they haven't "earned their slot" you might be forgetting the point.
unless of course you are talking payola. then i get it.
not to state the obvious but that's kinda why radio is dying. the internet lets you listen to ANYTHING ANYTIME. its a simple truth.
being the gatekeepers of what people hear only works if they actually have to get by you in order to hear it, and thats just not the case.
therefore in order to be competitive with the new paradigm radio programmers need to re-examine their whole approach or what it all die.
*watch it all die, i mean.
just my 2 cents. fuck do i know.
which is not to say radio has lost its power. but to not see that on the horizon if everything remains on the same path is foolish.
personally i feel like radio dj's should have more autonomy to play what they like/not have to choose from pre approved content. might help.
it certainly would encourage the music to grow if everyone wasn't desperately trying to make jams that they think fit in with that criteria.
and that would lead to more and renewed interest in traditional radio broadcasts, which would lead to more money for everyone.
but hey i come from an era where we had cats like @StretchArmy and bobbito launching the careers of people who go platinum now. im spoiled.
look at whats happened to the newspaper industry. no one wants their news a day later anymore. theres a metaphor in there somewhere.
also there are clearly many amazing stations that do just what im talking about and breed serious listener loyalty.
it ain't like i'm speaking some sort of hidden esoteric knowledge/philosophy here. but its worth bringing up now and again.
anyone way its just the opinion of one man. #fuckdoiactuallyknow
one more thought: music is a representation of human consciousness, and like human consciousness it is expansive and varying.
it wouldn't hurt for everyone to consider their role in the purveyance of that consciousness a little closer.
put simply:ultimately the only thing that should be a deciding factor in radio play is if the dj likes your shit or not. trust who you hire.
if the people consistently dont like what he plays hes by definition a bad dj. you should fire him. but he's the music guy. let him be that.
aight "rant" officially over. WHO WANTS SOME FART JOKES!
Michael Robertson has a long history of pushing the boundaries of copyright law, by going where the technology allows, even if the law hasn't quite caught up yet. As such, he frequently finds himself on the wrong end of legal actions from legacy players who hate being disrupted. Last year, we wrote about his DAR.fm effort, which basically is an online DVR for broadcast radio. He's now taking that even further, with the launch of UberTalk, an online directory of what's on radio right now (and in the future). You know your basic online (or on screen) TV guides? Yeah, UberTalk is that, but for radio -- with the convenient ability to play... or to record and time shift anything you'd like.
Given the state of radio today, this seems really, really useful. But, is it legal? We've already seen legal threats pointed at DAR.fm, and I can't imagine that all the broadcast folks will like this either -- even though it only increases the value of their product by making it more easy to find and useful.
What we're seeing, yet again, is how the technology allows for something really useful that adds value to both the content and for the users. And yet... copyright law makes it very, very difficult to pull off. Why? Because copyright law is purposely built around keeping the status quo, not about encouraging innovation. So you have yet another clear case where it seems like copyright law is holding back "the progress" rather than helping to speed it along.
Neil Young apparently isn't too concerned about copyright infringement these days, according to his comments at the D: Dive into Media conference:
It doesn't affect me because I look at the internet as the new radio. I look at the radio as gone. [...] Piracy is the new radio. That's how music gets around. [...] That's the radio. If you really want to hear it, let's make it available, let them hear it, let them hear the 95 percent of it.
Of course, that's a bit of a reverse from back when he was angry that YouTube wasn't paying him money when people uploaded his songs. Still, it's good to see him come around to the view that infringement is, basically, a new form of radio. Artists like Chuck D have been making that argument for over a decade.
Young is still concerned... but about the fact that the quality of MP3 files sucks. He'd prefer technologies that provide a much fuller sound:
Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, his legacy was tremendous. [...] But when he went home, he listened to vinyl.
One phenomenon we often write about on Techdirt is how the internet has completely killed the music industry and how it has turned our world into a culturally barren wasteland, deprived of art and even joy. More accurately, we write about people who say such things and point out the inaccuracies, ignorance or basic flaws in their logic.
Critically acclaimed pop culture critic Simon Reynolds was recently interviewed by Andrew Keen and made a bunch of generalizations and claims that are in seeming contrast with his progressive outlook previously shown in musings about punk and post-punk, as well as rave culture.
The interview starts off as you expect it would:
"It's much less likely that you'll be able to make a living doing it."
And how have you measured that 'likelihood'? Even if there are less people making a living from making or performing music, a claim for which I have yet to see good proof, is it really less likely that anyone will be able to make a living off of it?
Instead of backing up his claim, Reynolds continues and discusses the way things used to be in a romantic tone which doesn't change as he compares the old label-centric model to a "lottery", with artists usually having to get "in the red." Misplaced nostalgia. What a long way we have come from that - from a world where artists were at the mercy of corporations to a world of empowered artists in which they are at the mercy of their fans, their customers.
In fact, people have a much larger chance to make a living from music these days. This can be witnessed very clearly in electronic genres, where it is the norm for people to start as 'bedroom producers' and, if they're good enough, they'll get picked up by blogs, then labels and will then be able to build a proper studio and make a living from touring. If they're good enough, according to fans and curators within their niche - not according to label execs or music journalists. Anyone can become a producer and anyone that manages to find an audience and connects with them properly has the opportunity to start making a living from it. It's not easy, but at least it's not a lottery.
"A generation has come along who don't think they should pay for music."
Then explain Justin Bieber. Where does the demand for his merchandise come from? Who is attending his tour events? About 30% of all music recordings are still bought by people under 30, the generation that grew up with the internet. Even the RIAA's numbers show it. That does not take into account live shows or other ways of 'paying for music'. True, the same group used to be responsible for 45% of the purchases, but that still doesn't mean they don't believe in paying for music. Just because only 20% of teenagers will clean up their room out of their own free will, that doesn't mean an entire generation has come along who don't think they should clean. Then again, where would music be without people talking about new generations they do not understand.
"I think there's something about paying for music that makes it more intense; you've got to listen harder to music. If you pay for it you're going to pay attention to the record you bought and get your money's worth."
Does music that depends on the psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance really deserve to be bought? At the end of the day, music being available in a 'feels like free' manner, for instance via YouTube or Spotify, means that your music has to stand out. Either by being really good or by having a unique sound. Preferably both. Quality gets rewarded with attention and attention is what can be monetized down the line. No more lotteries.
Then follows a breakdown of mash-ups. Two lines really stand out:
"A mash-up is not something that you'd really want to listen to more than a few times because it's like a joke, isn't it, really?"
"And they're not adding anything. They're not adding--they're not a contribution to the future of music, I don't think."
Come on! That's what my parents said about house music when I first heard it as a kid. Those statements, especially the latter, sound like an echo of the criticisms early rave innovators like Shut Up And Dance and The KLF received from the previous generation that did not understand the new revolution in music.
Perhaps some explanation is needed. Part of the mash-up culture is indeed like an out of control meme - nerd humor at its finest, focused more on the joke than on the art. However that's definitely not what all mash-ups are. Take a look at this live mash-up by Madeon, which we covered a while back:
Or look at Girl Talk. Or look at absolute classics like De La Soul's 3 Feet High And Rising album, which is basically composed of intricate mash-ups layered with raps. The same for the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique album, of which someone composed a great Spotify playlist with all the tracks that were sampled on the album by the way.
Many new, trendsetting genres, such as dubstep or moombahton, rely or have relied heavily on remixing, altering or mashing-up previous works. The outright dismissal of mash-ups as a contribution to the future of music is nothing new though. This dismissal was false when hiphop and house DJs started mashing up disco and funk records in the late 70s and early 80s, and it is false today. Mash-up culture is pop art on steroids.
After Keen notes that "you're not allowed to be on TechCrunch and be too miserable," they aim to end the interview on a cheerful note and start talking about radio (yes, really).
"Anything that can take on the role that radio used to have and deliver new things to people that they're gonna like. It's gonna prosper."
I think he's on to something there. Personally I have very high hopes for something called... the internet. It's common to see people looking for ways in which 'new technology X' can replace 'old technology Y', although that's never the people that grew up using the new technology. The internet's purpose was never to create a way to replace old technologies with some a single new alternative. What the internet has done is take all the different roles of radio such as curator, broadcaster, gatekeeper, commentator, critic, entertainer and more, and it has separated or perhaps eliminated some. Now anyone can take on one of those roles or any combination thereof. It's no longer something exclusive.
Hope you don't mind the sarcasm here and there, Simon. You've got a great mind, but I couldn't let these claims go by unchallenged. If you'd like to retort, please get in touch. We'd be glad to feature it on here.
Personally, I think this is an awesome time for both musical artists and fans right now. There is so much opportunity and freedom. I think it's a great time for music and perhaps it will take some more years and further disruption for some folks to finally be able to see that -- just like the general music industry's shifted opinion about that De La Soul album mentioned above, which was initially met with plenty of animosity from the traditional industry. Luckily, true pioneers ignore such animosity, move on and set the standards for tomorrow for both musical artists and fans.
I'd never heard the song, but the specificity of the phrase, and the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with copyright -- other than mentioning that phrase -- immediately sent me searching for more info on the phrase and the song. It turns out that it's from the Broadway show, "The Gang's All Here," which was apparently a total flop (23 performances). According to the notes on another rendition of the song the show tanked in part because the star of the show would come out and warn the audience that the script was horrible, and the show should have been a revue, rather than a "book show." That version of the song has a few more lyrics at the beginning, which provide another clue to the oddity of the lyrics. It starts out saying:
Every time a radio is playing
"and next... you will hear us play
something with the publisher's okay."
Listening to this great announcer trilling
Told me what to do
Try this very notion out on you...
And from there it breaks into the same lyrics in the first version above. So we're a step closer to understanding the details of the phrase. And then... I found this fantastic Time Magazine article from August of 1932 that explains how the music industry was dying because of radio, and that our friends at ASCAP required radio stations to not just get permission to play any song on radio, but also to make the statement that was the title of that song, with "no facetious trifling":
The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers is Tin Pan Alley's clearing house. Its 800 composer & publisher-members own the copyrights to nearly all the music composed in the U. S. since 1914. It is affiliated with similar societies abroad. To many radio listeners and broadcasters the phrase "by special permission of the copyright owners" has been irksome. A. S. C. A. & P. used to insist upon it, permitting no facetious trifling with the announcement. Lately, however, it lifted this requirement. Most of its songs may be performed without special permission, but a number are restricted, for example musical comedy songs which the producers do not wish to be too soon familiarized.
That's ASCAP. Pissing people off for nearly a century. But what was a lot more entertaining about the article was the paragraph above this, in which it seemed to suggest that radio was absolutely killing music. Stop me if you've heard this before, but the refrain may be familiar:
Tin Pan Alley is sadly aware that Radio has virtually plugged up its oldtime outlets, sheet music and gramophone discs. The average music publisher used to get $175,000 a year from disc sales. He now gets about 10% of this. No longer does a song hit sell a million copies. The copious stream of music poured out by Radio puts a song quickly to death. The average song's life has dwindled from 18 months to 90 days; composers are forced to turn out a dozen songs a year instead of the oldtime two or three.
Has there ever been a time, ever, in which the music industry's established players weren't complaining about the industry dying?