Thursday, December 10, 2009

Free Culture

This Wednesday we listened to a lecture by Lawrence Lessig discussing copy right laws, and the movement he calls "free culture." The debate has two sides, the "copyright" which believes that any creative/innovative material is the intellectual material of the creator, and that that material should be protected with copy rights and patents. The "copyleft" as the free culture supporters are sometimes called, argues that today's copyright laws stifle creativity and that all new culture is built off of the old, so it necessary to reduce copyright laws.

Both sides have positives and negatives. The copyleft's argument that copyright laws are stifling creativity and cultural vibrance are partially true, how can today's musicians be inspired by other songs, if using those influences leads to lawsuits. But at the same time, how could a musician have a career if they can't make any money of the fruit of their labors? I think the real answer is a balance between the two. Songwriters, artists, filmmakers, engineers and software technicians, anyone whose work can be considered intellectual property should have certain rights to protect their efforts, but should those licenses last for life + 50 years, and if its a piece of corporate work, 120 years after creation? That seems a little extreme to me, and the amount of money necessary to use that material seems insane. $25,000 for three seconds of the Simpsons in the background of a documentary? Honestly, it seems a bit extreme, most people probably didn't even notice Homer at all. So the answer is somewhere in the middle, we need to protect artists and innovators, without stifling the creativity that is inspired by the past.

For an example of what I think is a gross misuse of copyright laws, read the following... You've probably heard the song, "Bittersweet Symphony" by the Verve, at least if you had a radio in the US in 1998 you probably did. But did you know that the song writing credits go to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards? Yepp. And thats because the Verve sampled the music of the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, that covered a song written by the Rolling Stones, "the Last Time." (You can read about it on Wikipedia too, if you're curious) The Verve had permission to sample the Oldham song, but allegedly "sampled too much", so all of the song writing credits, and 100% of the royalties go to the Rolling Stones. Is this fair? The Verve wrote the lyrics, and while the music is rmostly taken from the Oldman Orchestra's cover, I wouldn't say its plagiarized, especially if they paid for sampling rights. And more than that, if the arrangement is really by the Andrew Oldham cover, which is distinctly different from the Stones version, why aren't they getting any money out of this deal?

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