Copyfights

Interesting piece on Cory Doctorow in the Chronicle (via Sivacracy, which luckily doesn’t require a subscription) – laying out his beef with intellectual property law as we know it now. I particularly like his distinction between what USC says is the purpose of the university- “to promote and foster the creation and lawful use of intellectual property” and his definition: “The purpose of a university is to promote learning and scholarship.” I definitely like his version better.

I’m not sure if these arguments are having an effect, or if the music industry is simply waking up to the fact that it’s hard to sell things you can’t share with your friends, but the NY Times today reports that EMI is dropping draconian DRM, something Steve Jobs urged a little while ago.

One Response to Copyfights

  1. penez says:

    Downloaders may be guilty as hell but A&R people are often worse than demons. For far too long artists have been ripping off material from small-time wannabes.
    What about a bit more self-policing instead? Too many musicians are encouraged or pressured to steal ideas from others; what is the industry doing about that, huh?

    What I am about to tell you sounds whacko however the truth sometimes just sounds that incredible. Between 1983 and 1986, I lived on 256 Vanderbilt Ave (#4L), Brooklyn, NY. I’d just graduated from Pratt Institute with a Master’s in Communications Design. Experimental music demos I made while I lived on Vanderbilt were copied by unidentified persons. Somehow, these persons contacted Sony Music and other big labels and they got hold of my material.

    I later heard, after my return in 1986 to Ghana, in hit songs from the U.S., lots of melodies I’d written–note-for-note. Guilty the most was LaFace Records and quite a few artists with Sony Music (Babyface, Boyz II Men – “End of the Road”, TLC – “Waterfalls”, Mariah Carey – “One Sweet Day”, Tony Rich, etc). I’d sung most of my material in nonsense lyrics and ad-lib; I was experimenting and didn’t worry to much about lyrical content. I even experimented with criss-cross drumbeat rhythms (from the Frafra and Dagare tribes), which found its way into and became mainstream R&B rhythmic material, courtesy of LaFace Records/Sony Music and others. There were silly, “radio drama” intros to songs that I concocted that Tony Rich used extensively as did several other guys. By sheer volume, I don’t think it is pure coincidence.

    A Ghanaian (now a U.S. citizen), currently working at Brandywine Assets Management (NJ) may know how my demos got to Sony Music. It is rumoured he worked there briefly. He was at Pratt Institute with me and often remarked that my songs had the potential to be blockbuster hits. I’ve been unable to contact him for an explanation. He wouldn’t reply my e-mail.

    Much later I heard other bits of my work, also note-for-note, in songs by Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, R. Kelly and Kirk Franklin’s work (”You’re Not Alone”; the van Passels lied; “My Heart Will Go On”; “I Believe I Can Fly”;”Lean On Me”, etc). I really don’t know how all those guys got hold of my stuff?

    Nobody believes me when I tell them this story. It’s simply unbelievable. But I have proof. I have over 40 hours of music I composed on old TDK and Sony cassettes. Technically, the magnetic tape recordings can easily be assessed as having been made in the mid-’80s. Further, any musicologist can listen to the tracks and tell from my musical signature (a kind of compositional fingerprinting) that their compositions even with the re-arrangements are a direct rip off. (My ideas may seem eclectic but that’s where my ideas were pushing me at the time).

    I’ve tried for over 15 years to get just anybody to listen to this fantastic story. I’ve hesitated pushing it too far because this all sounds a bit too kooky I guess. I’d always wanted a good investigative journalist and some brilliant lawyers to uncover the truth but couldn’t get anyone interested…and I don’t have the money either. Whatever it is, I don’t think all those ideas of mine being duplicated elsewhere is pure coincidence.

    Disregard the fact that I’m an African. I grew up listening to the best music of the ’60s and ’70s. I played in several bands as keyboard player and later as a bass player/ guitarist. And though self-taught I know I was pretty creative and original.

    Is anyone listening? The music industry should also focus on how to maintain the creative integrity of artists. That’s going to be difficult but it must be encouraged. Sure there’s tons of pressure and contracts and deals and all that and artists have to come up with something fantastic every now and then. But ripping off other people’s material is low, cheap, wrong and downright evil. Money drives the whole thing as I can see and that’s all right. But there’s the need for some fundamental change to how we get that money. Values may not mean much to business people but to me as an artist, hey, it’s important!

    When your creative juices stop flowing, what is fair is shifting gear, moving on to new partnerships or abandoning ship. Plagiarising other people’s material cannot credibly sustain any ‘talented’ artists’ career.

    The music industry giants should watch how sincere the artists they’ve signed up are and what their A&R guys are doing with all the solicited and unsolicited material. ‘And,’ as Shakespeare said, ‘there’s the rub,’

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