There are at least two different schools of thought on this issue. One has a vested interested in how it all turns out for profitability and survival, and the other wants content and intellectual ideas to become available for a cost close to free as possible, if not completely free. The parties are on opposite sides of the pendulum and archaic laws that never were designed to handle the “immortality” of human expression in art have been altered slightly to accommodate Disney and the mouse money to be generated in the billions-for years to come.
Rather than argue laws, let’s debate common sense or what’s left of it here in the infancy of interconnectability. What I’m writing right now as you read this is a culmination of my experience, education, and imagination. It is by law, owned by me and supposedly not to be redistributed, copied, or reproduced without my permission. The “Fair Use” doctrine holds that I can be quoted on various media in small part by anyone so long as the proper crediting is maintained -as this being an original “work” as defined by the original copyright statute. We all know damn well that this will appear on mirror blogs, lifted by automatic reaper spiders, cut and pasted in whole or part by individuals without any such adherence to the above laws. Why is that? What is the cause of such “free for all” attitudes and practices? Look no further than the humans we are.
The day mimeographs (and that strange compelling smell) were doomed by Xerox we opened the gates to a pilfering society. The ease of theft was promoted by technology, sort of like having automatic glass doors that open on infrared sensors instead of steel security entrances to bank vaults that are 24 inches thick. Why wouldn’t you just walk in and take a few bundles for your needs? Ah yes, but then the needs turn into wants that turn into human basic instinct of insatiable greed –as long as there are no repercussions– stuff your pockets full while you can. Computer technologies are the automatic glass doors, and when was the last time you cut and pasted someone else’s music, photos, research, or content and emailed it to someone else? How many minutes ago?
I have read articles on giving content away and how it will supposedly promote the sale of books, music, and the like. I can only react quizzically as I see how well that works with blogs. No one pays for blogs and all the advertising in the world isn’t going to really compensate you for your effort, although there are some ingenious few that can wring money from Google-but that’s more of a function of commerce merging with know-how than art for art’s sake. Remember “Net Zero,” the free web portal? That didn’t last long-so much for advertising paying the way for “free content.” Musical groups have fought on both ends of this philosophy, the most impressive for me being the most magnanimous and “free” bands of all time. You could tape them in concert, exchange them with your friends pre-internet, and up until last year there was a data base for every concert they ever played in the last 40 years-completely free for your downloading pleasure. Then something happened. The surviving members totally disagreed on how to further proceed with this free-wheeling philosophy and shut the access down to free downloading. No more burning and exchanging live concert experiences-and that had turned into a huge non-profit enterprise. Fans that just wanted more of their favorite band, were willing to buy new CD’s but there were none after Jerry Garcia died in 1995. A new production company took over the immense vault of all the shows of the last 40 years and there is no further free downloading of old Grateful Dead concerts. That prevailing philosophy is what this is all about. For the first time in our history we can preserve all art that is viable for profit as it’s immortality is somewhat assured by the digitization of it, for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. It is now possible to have the heirs of this art to pass the profits of these works to their children’s children. Is this not a good thing? Which side of this would you stand if you were the person involved in doing the actual work that made all this possible?
The problem is that we are trying to cope with this prolonged copyright protection with such a heavy hand, we are ignoring and doing harm to those who want to use such works to enhance and create new art from the ashes. For example, I recently tried to get permission for use of music over 35 years old for use in an audio book, as the my book “Only Moments” utilized music of different eras as a thread because the book was about two musicians in love and their lives that spanned over decades. The Harry Fox Agency in New York is supposed to handle these types of (what we used to call “needle drops” on an actual record) snippets but after months of futile emails to their legal department, they would only defer to the original publishers. Now, we are talking about a possible audio book that may sell about 100 copies if successful, and to hire someone to flush out 16 different publishers for permission to use 6-10 seconds maximum per song (of songs that are 35 years old) is not only expensive and time consuming, but the attempts were ludicrous. By the time I had contacted four of publishers there was so much paperwork and confusion, it just wasn’t worth the effort. So much for a fun project that would have been unique. Why? Because the intensive protection prohibits further creativity to use an art form from the past to enhance a new piece of art. I’m not about to expose myself to a legal liability that could cost me tens of thousands of dollars to be made an example by those corporate lawyers who chose to be vicious. The prosecuted cases of illegally downloading music cost some children’s parents and grandmothers incredible amounts of money in the recent past. I would have gladly handed over a small fee for a small project but there is no structure for this type of consideration. I know this affects people who shoot video for weddings, events, and corporate training, but legally they cannot use any music other than purchasing licensed musical “beds” that are available and generally work only with radio commercials.
I understand the need for making money. I would like some protection myself, however there are extremes and at some point if we expect to have everything free, then the motivation to create art, to dedicate one’s life to do so-becomes possible for only those who have been financially endowed by rich parents or some such trust fund. You can have my ear for my art, but I draw the line at my reproductive system. Of course if it’s already past functioning ability, then what difference would it make to me? There has to be a legal middle road here, I don’t like driving at night without headlights.
Here’s the latest irony of the issue. The Chicago Digital Rights Agency recently gave recently deceased multi-media artist Ed Paschke an award for his acheivements in art. Take a look at his art. It is mostly using other’s images and photos that have been altered or inserted into other media. Is this not copyright infringment? http://www.edpaschke.com/ And that’s an award from an agency committed to protect copyrights. It get silly when you start to think about DVD’s being produced in China, fake clothing lines, and all other intellectual property. Hell, I wear a fake Rolex because if I could afford a real one I’d be afraid that someone would rob me of it. This one costs $350 and I bought it not because it is a status item, but because I like the way it looks and I don’t have to worry about it being forcibly taken from me. But whatever reason I have, it doesn’t take the issue away. The fact that there are positive aspects to copyright infringement doesn’t make it any more illegal by present law. The enhancement of knowledge is created by building on the past and always has. The digitization of knowledge may inhibit such knowledge growth by the laws passed by those who stand to profit forever on concepts they essentially stole from someone else as well. Everything comes from some source, my own writing is heavily influenced by authors of the past and present that I have absorbed into my being. It is a difficult thing to take control over and be fair, as in fair use.
After all is said, we are talking about business and the business of business is business. In the words of Milton Friedman the famous United States’ economist, “there is no free lunch,” no matter how good it looks, smells, no matter how bad you want it…..eventually, we all pay the price. I don’t mind paying a price as long as it doesn’t prohibit the progression of knowledge and expansion of the arts.
Now, if you want to reproduce all or part of this article you have my permission, as if you needed it anyway.
Next-Part III- Immortality, the Ultimate Goal