Monday, February 25, 2008

NMW Spotlight : Larry Lessig On Copyright

If you find yourself on both sides of the fence regarding the issue of illegal downloading, you aren't alone. The R.I.A.A. has made a mockery of justice and their strong arm tactics aren't solving this very real problem. In fact solutions aren't really what the R.I.A.A. is looking for. They want control, but the genie is already out of the bottle. Technology will never be the same and this is a losing battle. What's needed is a creative idea.

Today's post is a level headed opinion from Larry Lessig regarding copyright, the media and the law. Lessig argues that there ought to be a third category of content besides copyrighted content and free public domain content; that is namely, "Freer" Copyright, which allows limited unlicensed use by the public without the legal headaches. "Freer" Copyright would be at the artists' discretion, it would compete with "Free" or illegal downloading (hopefully ameliorating the younger generation's anarchist view of copyright), and would allow, among other things, the kind of creative interaction that music fans are seeking when they do remixes or create custom radio playlists, or Youtube videos. This is a very compelling presentation, and well worth the 19 minutes it takes to watch. You'll probably change your mind about a few things afterwards.


Tim Wheeler said...

My head hurts.. but in a good way.

It really does require a new paradigm. That's something that I've sensed but couldn't quite get a handle on.

I always had the feeling that we were in an 'America-Love-It-or-Leave It-argument' when it came to Napsterites and the RIAA... where one day I was going to regret having chosen sides...

The static paradigm is part of the problem.

The video had great illustrations that created a fresh slate for thought.

.. Plus... i finally heard the 'rest of the story' on the BMI /ASCAP epic. Bless your heart, Ralph, but it sounds like ASCAP slapped up the hornet's nest one too many times back when. (I wonder if Fifty Cent knows the history...)

The pendulum swing of revolt, though, may have made the middle ground unattainable for a long time.. most likely until after the RIAA has been rendered down to a user group on myspace.

I picture Charlton Heston ("Bright Eyes") screaming at the torch sticking up through the surf.

chromehead said...

Thanks Tim, I think you're right about the middle ground. This has gotten nasty precisely because small minds are doing exactly what small minds always do when challenged : they become territorial. It will be a long time before the artists undo the damage caused by the R.I.A.A.

I recently read a discussion about why it's good to steal from the major labels but better to buy from the smaller ones. It would be funny if it wasn't so tragically myopic. If we think we can destroy the music industry and leave all the virtuous artists still standing, it won't happen folks. You can't spare the pyramid's top by cutting away it's bottom. We are visualizing the whole model wrong. The Indie labels are not on the bottom, they are on the top of the pyramid. In fact many of the Indie labels still depend on the major labels for distribution.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Craig. I find Lessig's ideas really interesting -- a friend from my college singing group, Jonathan Coulton, embraced them fully and it changed his life. In a couple of short years, he has built an enormous following and was able to quit his day job and support himself through music. He offers his songs through Creative Commons and gives his fans the ability to interact with him by making videos, drawings, etc. (the fact that his songwriting, singing and playing are top notch is helpful). There was a recent Yahoo story and video about him that more fully tells the tale -- it can be found at

I don't think his path is for everyone, but you can imagine how this new model could reward those artists who are really able to touch and engage their listeners. Of course, engaging their listeners may not be something that some artists really want to do ...

chromehead said...

The R.I.A.A. has become the voice of the big 3 labels, and that's not how it ought to be. Many Indie labels are members of the org and they probably disagree with some of these tactics but they're afraid to speak out.

This seems to be endemic in the industry-- the fear that we'll all be left alone in the dark, cold world to scratch and claw for our nickels in royalties. We hear very little from mainstream artists about ANY of these issues. The ones who stick their neck out (like Trent Reznor) get their heads lopped off either by the R.I.A.A or a disenchanted public that thinks all artists are wealthy, whining people who feel entitled to an easy life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I read some public comments about Reznor's experiment with Saul Williams that seemed grossly ignorant such as "Hey, they made over $100K so they shouldn't complain that most people didn't pay for the download". Are you kidding? After the recording costs, miscellaneous expenses, the time invested, and divvying up the rest between all the parties who were royalty participants and the graphics, promotion people, webtechs, etc, I bet Reznor and Williams made very little money off Niggy Tardust.

And for some badly needed perspective, here's something Trent said that bears repeating : "I remember a time when it felt like, being on a major label, our interests were aligned. At times, it's a pretty well-oiled machine and the luxury is that I feel like I've got a team of people who are taking care of the shit I don't want to think about. I don't care about the radio guy, I just want to make music." It's sad to see all of this coming apart over greed.

Tim Wheeler said...

While I do see the continued need for the RIAA's clout to push fundamental change and legislation through, I continue to see them mongering to be paid for things they no longer provide. Physical distribution for one. They provide less now than ever, and we have seen at the digital distribution level, they want to make up for the loss of physical distribution profits, by reducing percentages of artist / writers shares of the revenue pie.

So while the artist and writer may still be dependant on the majors in some sense, unless the RIAA changes its tune back to artist rights (not the self-preservationist attitude veiled in the cloak of artists rights), the two groups will continue to flounder and the consumer, unable to tell the artists and major labels apart, will continue to rebel against both.