Side #2: Why copyright is pointless in today’s society
One of the most important questions in the music industry and media since the introduction of digital media involves copyright. Should it be strictly enforced and regulated or should we have a freer system based around public domain? I have already examined one side of the debate. Those on the other side of the spectrum base their argument mainly upon folk traditions and the historically non-monetary functions of music. All music has roots. In the Led Zeppelin v. Spirit lawsuit I brought up in the last post, some argue that there is no copyright infringement despite the two songs’ (“Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus”) similarities. They believe that “Taurus” in itself isn’t even truly original, heavily borrowing phrases from classical Renaissance and Baroque-style pieces. Moreover, Led Zeppelin has appropriated music from many different sources and rather than label them as fakes copy-cats, some believe we should applaud them for developing their own unique sound from those sources.
Another common argument is the idea of ownership in music. It is thought that those who try and maintain power in copyright are corporate entities who think of music as a commodity rather than art. Brett Gaylor, the director of the documentary RiP!: A Remix Manifesto coined the term “copyleft” which refers to the group who believe “copyright” limits the free exchange of ideas and only functions as a means of the past trying to control the future. The copyleft support a reemergence of the public domain and artists reclaiming control of their own works. Corporations and powerful record labels are the main supporters of strict “copyright”, who do not have the best interests of the artist in mind and only seek to maintain power of the industry.
The “copyleft” look to Brazil’s copyright system as a model of what America could improve upon. Brazil has created a system which utilizes Creative Commons, a platform which allows artists to directly authorize the use of their material without any chance of lawsuits or ugly court battles. They have successfully created a way for sampling and remixing to not be looked down upon or made with fear. In place of the royalties that would have been made from their music, musicians are then expected to make more of their profits from live performances rather than studio albums. Supporters of this model believe that this system is more equal than the current U.S. copyright and allows for more competition among artists.
Being a musician, I have had firsthand experience with this issue and understand many of the basic ideas this side of the debate is arguing. In writing my own material, it would be absurd to say that I am not influenced by artists that came before me or that I don’t sound similar to certain artists. I have also felt how difficult it is to make something uniquely original given that there are millions of songs that have been recorded and are instantly accessible online. There are only so much chords that are available, and overlapping of chords in multiple songs is inevitable. Just watch this video from the group Axis of Awesome and you can see for yourself. Music needs the freedom to grow and build from the past without the constant fear of having to face a multi-billion dollar corporation.