Posts Tagged 'copyright'

Lawrence Lessig, The Colbert Remixes and Where We Go From Here

Early in January, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert sat down with Lawrence Lessig. The interview was typical Colbert tongue-in-cheek, but good for a laugh. For those of you not closely following the implosion of the music industry and subsequent recreation as a more inclusive forum, Lessig is the author of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, a book that examines methods of creating revenue out of creative work. The example Lessig used while talking to Colbert was Flickr which allows users to post pictures which Flickr can then create revenue from. But Lessig’s primary argument is that the war on Peer-to-Peer file sharing has failed (he’ll get no argument here) and that the copyright laws are outdated with the vast number of increasing ways people can share, remix and alter original work while making something new. In a way, every blog does this. This post in itself is a remix of two interviews, the functions of two websites and my arrangement of these facts with my thoughts. It’s about as close as I come to making music. The DIY explosion in music is part of the culture that has helped spawn mash-ups like Danger Mouse’s Grey Album (The Beatles’ White Album/Jay-Z’s Black Album) and AmpLive’s Rainydayz Remixes (AmpLive remixing Radiohead‘s In Rainbows.) The point is that technology and the rapidly evolving music industry need to find common ground with artists, and not just other musicians, but all artists, as the mixed media medium is something that can only grow from here.

Well, when Colbert was very specific about becoming “possibly litigious” should anyone take portions of his interview and remix it with a dance beat, he had to do so knowing full-well that someone would. He wasn’t disappointed as two days later, internet upstart IndabaMusic jumped into the fray with a full site devoted to remixing the Colbert/Lessig interview. But it didn’t end there, did it? With Colbert, how could it? Never being one to avoid an opportunity to poke fun at himself, Colbert remixed a video of his own work to a pulsing dance beat, and told the remixers to lay off again, to of course encourage them to remix more. Enter Dan Zaccagnino, head of Indaba who had an interview on Colbert the other night (interview at 14m in) to talk about the remix culture. Of course, these types of remixes are nothing new over at MixMatchMusic, which has had success with their Remix Wizard. While the Indaba/Colbert remix contest is excellent, it is Indaba based. MMM’s Remix Wizard is a free widget that can be set up and used by any artist on their website to host remix promotions. It doesn’t even need to have anything to do with music, as evidenced by Remix Sarah Palin.

While Colbert’s thoughts in the interviews with Lessig and Zaccagnino are clearly meant to be humorous, they serve a larger purpose in that these episodes help create buzz for a rapidly growing and increasingly important segment of the music industry: collaborative pieces brought about through alternative means. Indaba has managed to create a large community of musicians from around the world who are engaging in internet based musical collaboration, and this is a huge first step in breaking down barriers within the recording industry.

But with every broken barrier comes the question of the next frontier. While Colbert asked Zaccagnino what happens to girlfriends breaking up bands if the musicians collaborate on the internet, he failed in his attempts at humor to get to the root of the issue, namely monetization of content. While not many musicians will actively think internet collaboration as a means to avoid break-ups with their significant others, a most serious topic of interest to them is how they can profit from their work. No artist likes the idea of losing control over their work, but if knowing that the usage of their work by others would create tangible income for them, the concept of collaboration and other artists who liked them enough to mix them with their own pieces becomes a much more appealing, and therefore widespread trend. As with the foresight of their DIY remix widgets, MixMatchMusic provides the ability for artists to monetize collaboratively made songs, as well as contribute stems to their social sample library to earn royalties.

The monetization of artist work and internet collaboration is the next step in the rebuilding of the music industry. As fans become more involved with the artists because they are part of a shared internet workspace, the desire to support an artist will increase. Add to that the ability to remix their favorite artist’s work, and the fan interaction with the music becomes uncaged. Forget making a mixtape for a friend. Imagine taking your favorite songs and going Girl Talk on them. This interest and desire to support the artist would in turn funnel revenue back to the musicians.

The recording industry would say that this has been the goal of their war on file sharing, but that is an outrageous lie as most artists never see a dime of the few settlements the RIAA succeeds in obtaining. Little wonder then that the RIAA is backing down. In fact, one could argue that the backlash against the recording industry has been fueled by the consumer perspective that the artists aren’t seeing the profits they should. Furthermore, as revenue streams move away from the major labels and into the artists’ pockets, the majors will be forced to work with both musicians and consumers on more viable distribution and revenue models.

But forget about the money and the labels and the upheaval in the industry. How will this help music evolve? As more artists turn to internet collaboration because their work is safe and profitable, the inevitable evolution of genres and musical landscapes will grow exponentially. Think The Beatles and Jay-Z were cool? What happens when you can take a French hip-hopper’s lyrics, a tribal drum beat from a musician in Africa, a flute melody from Tokyo and a guitar piece from Columbus, Ohio, and add it to your piano piece from the comfort of your home and computer? Sure, you could make money, but look at what your collaboration has created musically. When internet collaboration is monetized and all-inclusive, the community becomes the music industry, and the listeners become the musicians.

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John McCain: Music Thief pt. 2

Several weeks ago at the height of the election race, I posted concerning McCain and Palin’s unauthorized campaign use of songs by several different artists. Well, the campaign is over, McCain has lost, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to throw in the towel on the lawsuit brought against him by Jackson Browne. McCain (or, as McCain claims, the Ohio Republican Party) used a 30 second clip of the Browne song “Running on Empty” in a commercial televised in Ohio. While a majority of McCain’s usage of music by groups that are Democrats and in other ways don’t support this aging war-hawk isn’t eligible for trial as it was broadcast live and publicly at venues that traditionally have rights to use songs, Browne’s lawsuit is the exception because it did it in a nationally televised with without asking for rights to use the song.

But who would for a second think that McCain, despite making campaign promises based around honesty and integrity, would actually be honest and have integrity? That’s why, rather than admitting he did wrong and seeing to compensate Browne for it, he’s counter-suing claiming that these are frivolous lawsuits. McCain claims that, “Given the political, non-commercial, public interest and transformative nature of the use of a long-ago published song, the minuscule amount used and the lack of any effect on the market for the song (other than perhaps to increase sales of the song), these claims are barred by the fair use doctrine.”

That defense is contrasted by Browne’s claim that the use was a violation of his publicity rights, copyright infringment and a false endorsement. My question is how can McCain claim that his use was public interest? It certainly wasn’t in the interest of the person who made the song, a longtime Democrat. The use of the song didn’t help the public in any way. You can say that there was a minuscule amount of the song used, but 30 seconds of a 2 minute spot, or 25% of the commercial, doesn’t seem minuscule to me. But to me, the greatest threat here is the unauthorized use of a song to give the appearance of promotion on the part of the artist. If an artist is clearly against what a politician stands for, then the “political” fair use argument shouldn’t stand. Of course, this counter suit and the failure on McCain’s part to take responsibility for what he and his party did simply makes me more certain that the country picked the right President. But where do you stand on “fair use” and politicians using musicians’ songs without their knowledge?

5 Predictions for Digital Music Trends in 2008

After watching my Mac-obsessed friends win/lose their bets about Steve Jobs’ announcements at the MacWorld Expo this week, I feel obligated to make some predictions of my own. Plus, every self-respecting tech or music blog has to make some predictions for the coming year, right? In no particular order:

1. The beginning of the end of big record labels: With CD sales continuing to plummet and big name artists like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails cutting out the middle man in favor of a direct relationship with their fans, record labels are beginning to look a bit outdated. Probably not the best place to look for a job right now, anyway.

There are now so many ways that artists and fans can find each other online: band websites, social networking and/or music sharing communities (e.g. MySpace, iMeem, iLike), individual mp3 sales (e.g. iTunes, eMusic, Amie Street), music discovery sites (e.g. Musicovery), internet radio sites (e.g. Pandora, Last.fm) subscription services (e.g. Rhapsody, Napster), webzines (e.g. Pitchfork, Mix) etc. Furthermore, services like Slicethepie and Sellaband are paving the way for a more direct financial and emotional connection between creators and consumers.

Not to mention that artists don’t really need a label to get them started on recording an album anymore. With the plethora of affordable software and equipment available, virtually anyone can record their music at home. At this point, it seems the labels have all but given up on reviving CD sales. So, the question is can they find other ways to be profitable? What’s in store for them in their not-so-big future?

2. Music Search Engines: Several new “playable search” engines allow you to simply type in an artist name and then give you a host of options for a song/artist such as: listen to, buy, share, embed, blog, download ringtone, find tour dates, youtube videos, photos etc. Seeqpod, in my opinion, is the best service so far. Also worth checking out are Songza and SkreemR.

On the flip side, there is the concept of search based on sound recognition, which I think is likely to start catching on. Midomi, a community for music fans, uses MARS (Multimodal Recognition System) Search technology, developed by Melodis. Their goal is to “create a comprehensive database of searchable music based on user contribution”. Can’t remember the name of that song stuck in your head? Sing, whistle or hum it to Midomi, then search!

3. Music Widgets – More and more widgets, typically music players that you can embed into, say, your myspace profile or your blog, are popping up. Facebook, with its innumerable enthusiastic application creators, is of course churning out a ton of music-related apps. I think that 2008 will see not only an increasing number of music widgets but also a much higher level of sophistication in these apps.

4. Copyright Restrictions Lesson – Though still a very sensitive area, it seems there is a general trend toward dropping DRM protections. Even Sony BMG is preparing to join the other top music labels in doing so, in an effort to man up and compete with Apple and its market share.

5. Niche Social Networks for Musicians – Now that social networking has pretty much infiltrated the mainstream and everyone from grandparents to business people are hip to the concept, the industry has begun to specialize. All kinds of niche social networks have been popping up, and I predict that in 2008 this trend will gain significant momentum. With special interest groups ranging from beer lovers (Coastr) to shoestring travelers (CouchSurfing) and everything in between, clearly musicians will be trying the various music related social networks on for size. There are quite a few communities and networks for musicians out there now. Some pretty decent. Some…not so much. Luckily, musicians far and wide will soon have a place to call home.


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