Creative culture is on the rise, thanks largely to recent technology. Anybody can shoot a video or record a song and upload it to YouTube and millions of people might see it. Digital technology has put the arts back into the hands of the people.
Copyright lawyer and chairman of Creative Commons Larry Lessig gave a presentation about a year and a half ago in which he talks about the way that the younger generation’s perception of creativity and copyright has changed since their parents’. This generation has the tools and the desire to remix, mash-up and recreate the music they hear and the videos they watch and turn them into something new. The way they appreciate art is by engaging with it and making it their own.
Lessig suggests that the law has not greeted “this new use of culture using digital technologies” with much common sense. Common sense would have been to realize that times have changed, that digital technology has fundamentally altered the way that consumers and creators alike are able to produce, enjoy and interact with art. Common sense would have been for entities like the RIAA to acknowledge that fact and adapt business practices to be remain competitive in the emerging market.
Of course, that’s not what happened. Instead, “the architecture of copyright law and the architecture digital technologies as they interact have produced the presumptionthat these activities are illegal.” Lessig continues, “because if copyright law at it’s core regulates something called ‘copies’ than in the digital world the one fact we can’t escape is that every single use of digital technology produces a copy. Every single use therefore requires permission. Without permission you are a trespasser.”
So this presumption that remixes, mash-ups, videos or any other fan created content that uses copyrighted material are illegal has made nearly an entire generation guilty of breaking the law. I love it that he uses the word presumption – this is one of the foremost lawyers on copyright saying that what the RIAA believes about copyright law is not correct.
The RIAA has seen the internet and digital technology as a threat to their business, and responded by taking an extreme position regarding copyright law. This exaggerated version of copyright all but ignores the concept of fair-use and considers – wrongly – that every use of copyrighted material is illegal.
So they crack down, launching a huge legal offensive against just about everybody, including individual consumers suspected of violating their interpretation of copyright law. This in turn creates a growing backlash – both among those whose genuinely illegal activities were thwarted, and those whose legitimate fair-use was wrongly lumped together with piracy. Now the world is experiencing a “growing copyright abolitionism” says Lessig, “a generation that rejects the very notion of what copyright is supposed to do … and believes that the law is nothing more than an ass to be ignored and to be fought at every opportunity possible. The extremism on one side begets extremism on the other – a fact we should have learned many, many times over.”
You and I can’t control the RIAA. They have proven that they are out of touch with today’s digital culture and determined to snuff out any innovation that smells like it might disrupt the traditional models. We can influence the other side of the table, though.
Artists don’t have to get in bed with the RIAA. The new independent, DIY approach to a career in music is not just a pipe dream anymore – there are plenty of success stories to look to now. In this new marketplace the artists who recognize the value of openness will be the ones who succeed. The ones who see the benefit of allowing their fans to remix their tracks, or to produce amateur videos for their songs and spread them across the Internet.
Regardless of what we have been taught to believe recently, there is such a thing as fair use, and it’s in the artist’s best interests to allow it. Release your music under a more open license such as Creative Commons and see what happens. Let your fans do the promoting – if you give them a quality product and the freedom to use it the way they want use it they’ll do a surprisingly good job. Better than you could ever do, maybe even with a big-label marketing budget that only the top acts see anyway.
Thanks to Eugenia for the video.