Everyones Rights Reserved

“A brainy person does not abuse copyright; instead they respect it and uphold it.” (Maximillian Degeneres)

Copyright law and the enforcement of it has been in exsistance long before we were anywhere near the age of digital technology. So why is it that while we have the ability to create this great new way to get media that we also feel the need to steal, pirate and abscond with music that isn’t ours and we haven’t paid for?


The name even sounds illegal. Napster was created and designed by a former computer hacker. The creator was even at one point required by the FBI to do community service for his misdeeds. This was a guy who was so smart that he easily convinced his parents that he should pass on college because he was already way beyond that. The “file sharing” service, as they liked to call it, was a digital community service. That’s what they said. This was a community service set up to benefit those who were so desperate for music and were now unable to afford it after purchasing the latest computer technology. After all, most of the users owned the music they were downloading already just in another medium. Life must have been tough. After numerous FBI investigations and law suits brought on by record companies and their clients, they were finally shut down. They eventually saw the error in their ways and with some pressure eventually became a legitimate music sharing site. Well hurray for the enforcement of copyright law!

The Rio

The Rio was the first device to make the recording and sharing of digital music portable and a fairly simple process. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) did not find this to be a good thing. They filed suit against the company arguing that the digital files saved on these devices could be shared countless times without regard for the royalties due. They believed this was a definite copyright infringement. While the lawsuit eventually failed, this was an opportunity for the music industry to address the many ways that current copyright law was inadequate in the digital world of today.

The Remedy

Finally in 1998 the law caught up with technology. The recording industry got the DMCA or the Digital Media Copyright Act. It is also referred to as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a proper name for the times. This legislation when passed by the US Senate was quickly signed into law by President Clinton 17 days later. The bill was designed to make it illegal to fix sounds, copy, reproduce, transmit, distribute, sell or traffic copyrighted material. There is also a provision in the law that prohibits the circumvention of copyright protection by the use of any technical measure. You would think that would cover it, but the fight was only beginning. The protection of artists, whether they are well established or just beginning to find their voice, is still an ongoing battle.

Less is more

The laws have been written and test cases have been argued and both won and lost. You would think that things would find their way back to some kind of normalcy and there would be far fewer questions concerning copyright infringement and digital media. Think again! Digital files have created a new type of artist. We call them DJ’s/Disc Jockeys. A DJ is someone who plays your favorite tunes on the radio and the guy that plays the music for the homecoming dance and the first dance at your wedding. Nope, not any more. DJ’s are now considered artists in their own right. DJ David Guetta collaborated with Nicki Minaj and DJ Mark Ronson, working with Bruno Mars, on the recent hit Uptown Funk. This collaboration produced lists their name as lead artist. This is all fine and good as long as they are creating completely original music. More recently there has been a lot of controversy over something DJ’s are calling mash-ups. Mash-ups are what DJ’s consider “original tracks”. These consist of portions of songs from artists linked together as one. These mash-ups can have as many as three artists represented in just a 30 second track. The sampling of an artists’ music like this has become widely popular because digital technology has made it possible for a song to be pulled apart beat by beat and reused in a different way. DJ’s like Girl Talk claim they are creating original work and thus copyright laws do not apply here. There are also claims that the act of sampling falls within the rights provided by consumers in the fair use section of copyright law and therefore royalties do not apply. You have to wonder where the justice is when a DJ can demand upwards of $20,000 for a 30 minute set and sell over 20,000 copies of their “mash-ups” and yet not one penny goes to those artists who originally produced a lot of that work. Something does not smell right.

He just needs a break

Every artist needs the protection of copyright. Since the arrival of the internet, the ability for an artist to get their music heard has become significantly more attainable. There are so many platforms that allow an artist to share their work that doesn’t require an expensive recording studio, record contract, agent or publicity budget. Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, just to name a few. Artists can post their work on one of these web sites and obtain hundreds of thousands of followers that may lead to the post being shared by others and maybe a big time producer, or Usher, will see it and give them the break they need. As a friend of a hopeful rap artist, I understand the desire to get your voice heard. My friend’s stage name is YC/Young Cedar. He produces his music in his basement and then up loads it to a site called SoundCloud. He is pretty good if I do say so myself. He has opened in small clubs around Akron and has followers totaling over 100,000 worldwide. Not too shabby. The concern is that in his eagerness to get noticed, he has overlooked the need to copyright protect his work. If you review SoundCloud they by no means ignore copyright protection but they are primarily focused on making sure that their users do not violate copyright. I’m pretty sure that the artists that need the most protection are the users of sites like SoundCloud. They put their hard work out there looking for that big break only to find that someone with more clout has gone ahead and produced a highly successful piece of music using a borrowed line or sample they happened come across on the internet.

Only the famous

As you read this, take time to listen to the following two pieces of music. Marvin Gayes’ “Got to Give It Up” and “Blurred Lines” by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke (see link below). Did you hear it? Did you hear about it? The copyright case involving these two artists was all over the news, not just for its $7.3 million dollar outcome but also for the copyright law by which the settlement was based. This case has now put copyright law in a whole new light. The judgement ruled that “Blurred Lines” was not identical to “Got to Give it Up” but had enough similarities that it was infringing on copyright. Since the advent of digital music, this type of copyright infringement is very hard to prove. For the judgement of similar but not identical you also had to prove access. In the past, if your collection of albums, tapes or CD’s included the pirated work then access could be proved. Now with digital technology, a few clicks and you have access to anything in your Great Grandmothers vinyl collection to an unknown artists’ latest piece of work. Unfortunately for those trying to get a break in the music business, this type of copyright infringement could only be brought by artists like Marvin Gaye, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke with money to bring and fight this type of copyright infringement. The up and coming artist has no chance against the likes of well established artist and the recording industry as a whole without copyright protection and enforcement.

Whether you like her or not, Taylor Swift said it well when she called out Apple for non-payment of royalties during a 3 month trial period of their new music site.

“Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing…We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” “This is not about me…This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success.” — Taylor Swift

Even as artists still fight for copyright protection, they are also fighting to keep up with technology and the new ways that technology infringes on that copyright protection. It is no longer just the music lover trying to get access to their favorite tracks, but large corporations, Apple, attempting to get more than they are rightfully due at the expense of an artist just trying to share their talent. With the support of artists like Taylor Swift, those trying to get their foot in the door have a leg to stand on when it comes to the big fight.

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