The Reason to Create
The other night I was restlessly flipping through TV channels looking for something to tire me out before bed when I came across a documentary about copyright. Assuming I'd have trouble keeping my eyes open for more than five minutes, I started watching. An hour later, I found myself contemplating everything I'd learned and found it even harder to fall asleep. Good Copy, Bad Copy, which you can download or watch at their website, is a 2007 "documentary about the current state of copyright and culture." The bulk of the discussion is on the copyright assigned to recorded media, like music or movies, and piracy.
For those who don't know, there's another, separate type of copyright assigned to the composer or writer of the underlying work. The two copyrights can have different owners. For example, if I record a song written by somebody else, I own the copyright to the recording, but the composer own the copyright to the music and lyrics.
When the music industry, specifically the RIAA which represents the majority of record labels in the US, sues individual people for illegally downloading music online, they are going after the violation of the recording copyright. That copyright is almost always owned by a major record label, and not the artist. In other words, the RIAA is not directly representing your favorite artists, but the companies that own your favorite artists' recordings. I digress...
Good Copy, Bad Copy interviews people from around the world that work in the media industry. Some come from countries with copyright laws, others without. Proponents for strict copyright law argue that by protecting intellectual property, people will be more motivated to create. That is to say, who would want to create or invent anything if they couldn't get paid for their ideas! I believe this concept was meant for creative works that benefit the greater society, and is a poor argument for heavily marketed lowest common denominator pop dribble that might have sold 2 million copies a week were it still 2001.
As Good Copy, Bad Copy points out, there is no lack of creative art being produced in countries with no copyright law. Furthermore, other cultures accept the re-purposing of existing recordings, such as sampling and remixing, as a legitimate form of art. This is more of a controversy amongst US lawmakers, who I imagine are influenced by the RIAA and MPAA lobbyists.
Where Do I Stand?
I hate to say it, but I don't take a strong stance on any particular side of this issue. I understand it incredibly well from many angles, having worked at a record label, owning my own recordings, and also as a musician.
[pullquote_left] The issue is bigger than me. It's far more dependent upon our culture and how we choose to collectively value art. [/pullquote_left]
This is not a decision to be made entirely by creators or copyright holders. It's not a decision to be made entirely by lawmakers. It will be made unknowingly by an entire generation of fans.
The demand for recorded music is greater than ever, but that vast majority of it is acquired for free. First, record stores went out of business, now record labels are struggling, recording studios are closing, and everyone that has ever profited from recorded music is starting to think about other ways to make a living.
Will the quality of recordings suffer? Probably, but many legendary recordings have been made with less technology than what I have on my desktop. People rarely complain about the sound quality of music that speaks to them. After all, don't most people listen to lower fidelity MP3s anyway?
Will career musicians go away? I doubt it. My friend and pianist Dave Hahn made a point that musicians existed long before the recording industry came along, and we'll continue to exist, just in smaller numbers. I'm sure musicians will continue recording as well, just for different reasons: strictly as an artistic statement, for a commissioned work, for commercial purposes, or similar purposes.
I believe the real reason people create is to satisfy an internal drive. It's about a purging, a self-satisfaction, a release, but not about the money. That's not to say musicians can work for free, quite the opposite. Musicians don't want to live in poverty any more than you do. They'll just find a different way to make a living making music, and the only people that will suffer are the fans.
Or, perhaps only the aesthetic depth of our culture will suffer as more and more truly creative artists take on day jobs and keep most their musical output to themselves.
Listen to Gillian Welch's song, "Everything is Free" from Time (The Revelator).
[audio:http://www.cameronmizell.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/09-Everything-Is-Free.mp3|titles=Everything Is Free|artists=Gillian Welch]
I love it, especially the last verse:
Every day I wake up humming a song. But I don't need to run around I just stay home. Sing a little love song, my love and myself. If there's something that you wanna hear, you can sing it yourself.
'Cause everything is free now, that's what I said. No one's got to listen to the words in my head. Someone hit the big score, and I figured it out, That I'm gonna do it anyway, even if doesn't pay.
Maybe that's the consequence for a society that holds no economic value for music. Eventually, if there's something that you wanna hear, you'll just have to sing it yourself.
Now go buy Gillian Welch's Time (The Revelator), the album featuring this song. Help keep the good music coming.