David Byrne and Cory Doctorow Talk About Copyright, Money, Technology and Art

On Sept. 19th, 2012 Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and author Cory Doctorow engaged in a public conversation (held in Toronto's Harbourfront Centre) about technology, culture and copyright law.

As described in the Sept. 20th, 2012 Torontoist, the conversation "was funny, educational, and wide-ranging."

"Early in his career, Byrne said, he would sample a drum beat or a riff from another song, write an entire song around the sample, then not include it in the final recording. He added that sampling can act as the musical equivalent of quotation marks. Doctorow pointed out that two of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed hip-hop records of the 1980s—Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique—would have each cost roughly $12 million to make given today’s rules surrounding sample clearance. “In the world of modern music, there are no songs with more than one or two samples, because no one wants to pay for that,” Doctorow said. “So, there’s a genre of music that, if it exists now, exists entirely outside the law."

Byrne also shared a conversation he'd had with his 22-year-old daughter about copyright law and how she would live her life after he was gone - explaining that revenue from his work would go on supporting her long after he was ­dead. While she might be OK with an inherited fortune, Byrne thought this stream of revenue (which, under current US copyright law, will last for 70 years after his death) was mostly a bad thing: Both for the art of music (for example, his record company might not let new artists sample, remix and create derivative works at prices they could afford - so new music would be discouraged) and for his daughter's happiness (e.g., her motivation might be sapped - why take risks and know the joy of making your own mark in the world, when you're already quite comfortable?).

"As an artist, Byrne said that he has had his own problems with digital rights management. Following the Sony/BMG rootkit scandal—which saw thousands of CDs recalled after the built-in DRM software rendered computers vulnerable to viruses and malware—he asked his label to make sure there was no DRM software on an upcoming release. They were less than obliging. “I’ve run up against this a couple of times,” Byrne said. “I was in the process of negotiating a record contract at the time, and I went in to the subsidiary of Warner Brothers and said, ‘I’m adding a clause into my contract that you’ll never put DRM on my record.’ And they said ‘Oh, oh, oh…’ The record was done, and the negotiation went on for a year. The record just sat on the shelf. It was very frustrating for me.”"

Cory Doctorow observed "that the entire history of recorded music has consisted of innovators being accused of piracy by the music industry establishment. “When recording came along, the [sheet music] composers, who had been the only industrial entities with regards to music, thought the people making recordings were thieves,” he said. “Every pirate eventually wants to be the admiral.”"

Thanks to Selling Your Film Without Selling Your Soul for the link.

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