I’m going to start out with two related and very touchy subjects: copyright law and intellectual property theft. These two, coupled with the fact that most people see them as oposed to one another, have had me baffled for quite some time. Plain and simple, if you’re using someone’s pre-existing work to create something of your own, what you do with it is original and your own. On the other hand, if you’re swiping someone else’s work (and you know when you are) it’s theft. Done. What’s the problem?
Recently, the European Parliament voted to extend music copyright to 70 years, while performers and major music labels are battling it out globally over cuts of royalties, torrents, videos, and illegal downloads. Just like the human race to take another step backward and call it progress. Other countries have similar lengthy copyright laws. Just days ago, via a link someone posted on Twitter, I found out that Warner Brothers makes about $2M a year from the “Happy Birthday To You” tune! And it seems that’s only about 1% of what they would make if everyone who used the tune for any commercial purpose were to pay a royalty fee.
Let’s move on and pose the question – what is originality and intellectual ownership in the 21st century? Better yet, where is originality in the 21st century?! Originality is on its death bed, folks, and I’m afraid it’s a matter of days before we can all get together, have a few drinks, play some old records and call it a wake. When we lost the last of the great original composers over the last century, from Claude Debussy to John Cage, and visionary authors like Jules Verne in 1905 and J.G. Ballard in April of this year – originality lost most of its natural anti-bodies to fight the disease we call mainstream.
Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying I have anything against the mainstream. Debussy is mainstream and I adore his music. And John Cage, considered by many the father of modern dance music and electronica, is more mainstream today than ever before! However, all forms of art are the common treasure of the world and humanity, inspired by all and created by few. We all hold the copyright and we all deserve a big, fat royalty check. A reality check would suffice for now. So take another step back. Take a look at history. Musicians were paid the big bucks for their performances, not for their compositions per se. Paintors were paid for commisioned work, not the art they slaved over for months at a time that would usually bring them fame decades after they were dead and burried.
Thank Lord almighty, there are great artists in the world today that understand that concept. Modern day pioneers Paulo Coelho and NIN’s Trent Reznor, followed by others, are fighting the good fight and asking fans to “steal their music” and “pillage” their work. In fact, Coelho and a group of writers have dubbed the practice auto-piracy. They are confident their work is good enough that you will first download it for free and then go buy a copy when it eventually hits stores. I doubt they have any worries that other’s would dare sign their name to an NIN or Paulo Coelho creation. Gentlemen, I salute you!
On the other hand, there is an everyday flood of theft of intellectual property, especially in the online world. Ay, but here’s the rub! Billy Shakespeare wrote that. Or something like it. (It’s ages old and no big time corporation owns those rights though so I can step all over it.) Need I mention CNN’s “coverage” of the post-election protests in Iran? CNN and other major networks blatantly swindled information and quotes from citizen journalists and failed to give credit where credit was due under the pretense that the information and identities weren’t verified. Hey, fellas! Here’s a little something I remember from Journalism 101 back in the 10th grade: if you haven’t verified it, don’t report it! To make matters worse, I recently ran into this blog where the author reports of a case in which the Toronto Star and other major newspapers grabbed an independent columnint’s 10 year old story and published it as news in 2006. Ridiculous.
Copyright laws, folks. Do we even need them? When will common sense and fundamental respect preside over spineless executives, corrupt courts, and ridiculous legalities? If I happen to hear a track I like and can’t find the original CD to buy right away, I get impatient and find the leaked torrent. I’ll do it with literature, film and other art too. I will not, however, take someone else’s words, work, or art and present it as my own. Not even as a link or status update on my facebook page, Twitter or blog. Why? ‘Cause my mama raised me right and taught me the difference by the time I was 6. He that is without sin among you, let him first cast legal action at me. That’s a slightly altered quote from the Bible (John 8:7, King James version). Do I have to pay for that too?
Update: Not 15 minutes after I published this post, I decide to take a look at the automatically generated “possibly related posts” below any post. Funny thing too because I see this: More support for changing copyright law to help newspapers. Well, at least someone at wordpress.com is doing their job right.