This started as a quick response to a piece that Paul Resnikoff ran on his excellent Digital Music News blog. I realized later that I really had a more general point to address. There is a large contingent of people in the Copyleft (especially academics) that don’t seem to realize that eliminating copyright actually reduces choices and empowers rich and powerful corporations.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing comedian Patton Oswalt at my wife’s venerable DIY/indie music venue The 40 Watt club.
Patton opened with an apology to the largely liberal academic and college students in audience.
“I want to sincerely apologize for my opposition to gay marriage, I realize I may have offended many of you. But no one told me gay marriage wasn’t mandatory”.
This is what is so incredibly stupid about the copyright debate. The tech lobby has created an army of ignorant academics, tech public policy apparatchiks and paid bloggers that seem to not understand that copyright is not mandatory. Anyone is free to enter into a creative commons like licensing agreement or even just give away their music by fiat if they chose. The hybrid/sharing economy is here and it’s thriving.
In fact that is what I do with some of my repertoire. Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven have had a Grateful Dead inspired taping/sharing policy since our inception in the the early 1980’s. We have thousands of live tracks on the internet music archives I unequivocally support an artist’s right to monetize his/her songs however they see fit. Or not to monetize those songs.
Eliminating Copyright protections does not increase choice by artists but limits them. It does the opposite. We would no longer be able to choose how we monetize songs. We could not chose with whom we do business. Eliminating copyright is mandatory collectivization, it’s closer to something that totalitarian regimes impose than the kind of free choice we provide in our democratic societies.
If this had been the public policy in the 1950’s and 1960’s the mafia connected Morris Levy wouldn’t have even had to buy those R&B singers the occasional Cadillac. He could have paid them nothing. Most of the digital shysters arguing that they they want to “help” artists by “promoting” their music and paying them nothing are making the exact same arguments that Morris Levy made to artists in the 1950s and 1960’s when artists came to him asking for money.
Those calling for the abolition of copyright protections would simply be allowing multinational corporations like Universal Music, Google, Apple and BitTorrent to exploit artists without little or no compensation. It would make the most exploitative practices of the old music business look like childs play.
While it may seem revolutionary to many academics and bloggers to sit behind a computer and post invectives against copyright and the major record labels it’s not. It’s actually a regressive pro-corporate activity. The truth is the rights of millions of individual artists (not record labels) would be destroyed in the process. While mostly large multinational corporations would benefit.
The ideals of western civilization are ultimately designed to protect the rights of the weak, poor and powerless against the strong rich and powerful. It may seem stupid in this age of cynicism and greed to measure policies against the fundamental principles of western civilization. But it is not. Especially if you believe in leaving behind a better and fairer world. If academics and intellectuals have time and energy for “fair trade” coffee isn’t it hypocritical that they don’t want to ensure that artists (the vast majority of which are in the developing world) are also fairly compensated and not exploited?
In an age when we are obsessed with advancing the rights of formerly persecuted minorities and generally making the world a kinder place. It is startling to see so many people arguing to make the world less fair and less civilized place for the milions of individual artists on the planet. I can’t help but wondering if these generally progressive academics and intellectuals have really thought through their opposition to copyright.