Some of you cadets may have heard the news that Sweden’s Pirate Party has won a seat in the European Parliament. For those of you who haven’t manged to strike a balance between time in the flight sims and your studies, the Pirate Party is not advocating paramilitary acts of naval hijackery. Rather, the party strives to reform copyright and patent laws, preserve personal privacy and increasing the transparency of sate admnistration.
As you can imagine, this is fairly interesting to someone, who, for instance, might be a mashup producer. Every time a bootlegger creates a new work he or she is potentially violating copyright law. That may or may not be the case, and while Girl Talk is waving the flag of ‘fair use‘ in the face of the record labels quite bravely by no means is his continued success (or at least the fact that he hasn’t been buried under a massive pile of litigation) any indication of the state of current copyright law interpretation.
This movement isn’t about making everything free and denying creative practitioners a revenue stream – the point is to make copyright laws reasonable. The current hindrances to new creative practise impede our culture far more than our overprotective laws help artists (but they do certainly help the bank accounts of international record labels).
In modern times, there is very little in music that isn’t a variation on pre-existing fundamentals of music or that builds upon prior successful works. Every song in the charts today uses the western heptatonic scales, practically every song is in 4/4 time, and it would be a very rare song that uses an instrument developed after the synthesizer. Every song in the charts today is therefore a product of that which has come before it – to turn around and decry sampling as unfair because it is merely more accurate than other techniques is an unfair attack upon technology and musicians who are conversant with technology.
Part of the success of any song is attributable to society itself! Witout the approval of an audience, the creative work would languish in obscurity. To say that society has no right to a creative work may be true, but to say it has no right to a popular work certainly must be false. A great part of the success of a lot of mashups is due to the ‘recognition factor’ of the song – which wouldn’t exist without prior critical success.
Of course, original artists must be recognized and compensated for their efforts. That recognition just needs to be reasonable, and the process for clearing samples needs to be streamlined so you don’t need a city block of legal offices to craft new works.
I think the jury will be out on this one for some time, but I hope for a future where we see a sliding scale for royalties based on how long it’s been since the commercial success of a song – or maybe some other methodology. Somehow, this has to change for the better before every new work is bogged down in an endless stream of sample clearance requests. I just hope it happens while I’m still in the game.