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managing copyright in a global environment…

November 3rd, 2007 | No Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. |

One of the big problems for artists distributing music (for free or profit) online is that copyright laws are different the world over. That’s why there are Russian websites selling very cheap downloads of ‘illegally’ ripped CDs. There’s very little law enforcement in most of the former soviet union, and if a site is hosted in a particular country, it’s subject to those hosting laws…

…at least, it seemed to be. Tom from the forum sent me a link to this BBC article about a public domain sheet music site in Canada who had fastidiously made sure that all the music they posted complied with Canadian copyright law, but were then threatened with being sued for copyright infringement when Europeans downloaded the scores! (the salient legal point being that copyright in Europe remains with the estate of a deceased composer for 20 years longer than in Canada).

The interesting thing here from a moral/ethical standpoint is that the point was a) contested by the Europeans, and b) there wasn’t an option to add a disclaimer to the site. Interesting that one of the synonyms for this in the web world would be porn, where the laws related to what you can and can’t look at are hugely different across the globe (I’m not sure if they still do, but the UK used to have MUCH stricter laws about what could be published than in the US…) – I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot of stuff available on sites that are legal in the host country but illegal in other places. In the US, it’s probably true across state lines! But has anyone been prosecuted? I’ve not read about it if they have (but to be fair, I tend to read a lot of news stories about legal issues in the music industry, and not too many about the porn industry…)

So it’s kinda sad that porn goes on unchecked and able to get round localised legality just by hosting off-shore, and a wiki established by a student strictly within the laws of the host country, attempting to provide a great resource for musicians firstly in Canada, but then across the world, is curtailed…

The pernicious onward march of Capitalism, I guess – he who can afford the best lawyers wins…

…though it’s definitely worth comparing the worlds of sheet music and recorded music here – this was, apparently, the largest public domain music score library on the internet, and was being widely used. Is there much of a community for trading public domain recordings? I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle recently when a bunch of still-living crusty old jazz dudes were getting upset that they were about to lose the rights to their own recordings which were now 50 years old (that does seem a bit weird, though not really top of the list when looking at the positive and negative impacts of copyright…) No, copyright infringement in recorded music is now seen as a matter of not getting caught – the RIAA prosecute a bunch of school kids for downloading and think it will frighten everyone else into compliance.

But they screwed it up for everyone by trying to make it an issue of illegal action followed by legally enforced action. They excluded themselves entirely from any dialogue about the impact on creativity, or as I keep saying, and the impact of the music life of the listener when you have no filter. So in a digital world, where community ethics seem to have far more influence on behaviour than any notions of legality, they pushed the discussion into communities that proceeded to laugh at them, use Lars Ulrich as as totem of out-of-touch-millionaire-rock-star-greed and were then able to ‘morally’ justify all the filesharing as a blow against ‘the man’.

Actually, I guess what’s worth throwing in here (damn, this is a disjointed blog post!) is the case of the Real Book – a book of jazz scores written by a load of (I think) Berklee college students, with some pretty heinous chords in them, which was sold by the hundreds of thousands the world over. I’ve no idea who was duplicating it, but it was sold under the counter in shops for YEARS before anyone did a proper legal version – then Chuck Sher came along and published a great book called The New Real Book, which has the proper chords for things in it, neatly printed arrangements, a load of unneccesary pictures of jazz stars (huh?), but is generally a great resource. There are about 5 volumes, as well as Latin versions (that’s Latin music, not jazz scores in Latin) and a ‘Standards Real Book’ which I haven’t got, but is probably the most useful of them.

However, there are digital versions of this kicking around as well – some enterprising young file-sharer has scanned in the New Real Books and uploaded them somewhere. I guess they see themselves somehow in the tradition of the old Real Book, keep the music alive, or whatever… I dunno, it’d be great if Chuck would put out a legal PDF version of all the books for a sensible fee. It’s great to be able to support the people who write these tunes.. There is also now a legal version of the old Real Book – cleaned up, some corrected changes, much cheaper than the Sher books…

Anyway, where did this start? Ah, yes, sheet music, porn, cross-border copyright problems… My last point to note is that there’s already cross border protection for buying digital music – you can only access iTunes in the country you’re a) from and b) in – I can’t buy from UK iTunes while I’m in the US!! That seems completely mad. One central store, in the host country of the company, so occasionally someone else gets a break due to fluctuations in exchange rates. Surely that makes the whole thing easier and more fun? :o) Even my favourite legal download site, emusic has different costs for stuff in different countries. There aren’t many online industries that bother with that – if you’re looking to buy domain names, or web hosting, you just pay the fee for the country where the service is being provided…

Anyway, I hope the music library is able to just stick a disclaimer at the top of certain works saying ‘this music is still illegal to download for free in Europe, please go and buy it’ and get their archive back online…

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