My Sweet Lord, Copyrights Are So fine!

Submitted by Adam D. Ketchum on Sunday, 10/24/2010, at 5:15 PM

    In the United States, we have an obsession with property.  This obsession can be traced back to our foundations.  The founding fathers, (Jefferson is a great example) were very much influenced by political theorist John Locke.  As anyone who has read Locke’s treatises can tell you, Locke envisions government’s primary purpose is securing the property of its citizens.  The means by which government does this is fairly obvious in cases of physical property.  If you steal from someone, you are held criminally liable.  The question is what happens you aren’t taking anything physical?  What happens when you take a concept or idea?  This area isn’t as clear.
    When the concept of idea is a work of creativity or the intellect, we guard the fruits of our labor with a copyright.  This way, not only do we ensure that we are gaining recognition for our efforts, we are also ensuring that we will receive compensation whenever someone else profits from the work we’ve done.  This all seems like an idea that is obviously to everyone’s advantage.  Those who’ve done the hard work get rewarded, while those appropriators and thieves get punished.  The problem is that there are many gray areas in the land of copyrighting.
    The example that has been thrown around recently, is that of the adaptation of a hindewhu performance by jazz artist Herbie Hancock, and the later sampling of this adaptation by Madonna.  In this case, Herbie Hancock took a traditional Congo musical form called hidewhu and reproduced it for his successful song “Watermelon Man”.  The original performer of the hidewhu was not given credit for the inspiration, nor was she even informed of the album.  It’s highly likely that she doesn’t even know who Herbie Hancock is.  On the other hand, when Madonna sampled Hancock’s song “Watermelon Man”, she made it clear where the sample had come from.
    One would expect this sort of behavior from a capitalist system with stringent copyright laws.  With Hancock’s adaptation, you don’t have an individual who legally owns the intellectual property taken.  There is no need to credit someone else’s property if it does not legally exist.  In the case of Madonna’s sampling, you have someone who has a legal claim to the property that was utilized.  There would be a lot of legal ramifications if she had failed to give credit to Hancock.  She clearly took a piece of Hancock’s work and used it for her own purposes.  Both Hancock and Madonna are doing what is in their best interest, commercially and creatively.
    This seems to make perfect sense.  When one gains inspiration from a source, there is no need to directly credit that source.  If, for example, I am inspired by the sound of crickets chirping and as a result of that inspiration, compose a song, it would be silly to credit the crickets.  They are merely doing what they would do otherwise, and I am merely gaining a spark of creativity from their actions.  There was no labor whose fruits must be defended, and I produced nothing that wasn’t the results of my own labor.  In the same way I was inspired by chirping, Hancock was inspired by the call and response whistling and yelping of hindewhu.  This is a far cry from the direct lifting that is found in sampling.
    If we believe that when I am sampling a song that is legally recognized as the product of another individual I give credit to that individual, and when I am just drawing inspiration from a song, I have no need to give credit, then that does little to explain a law suit involving the former Beatles guitarist George Harrison and 1960’s Doo-wop group The Chiffons.
    After the break up of The Beatles, all of the members went on the have solo careers.  The first single of Harrison’s solo career was the song “My Sweet Lord”, his tribute to the Hindu god Krishna.  The song is very pleasant.  It has Harrison’s trademark guitar solos and contains lyrical content that is deeply personal.  The melody is catchy and nice to listen to.  It is this melody that got Harrison into trouble.


    After the release of the single, people began to allege that the melody of “My Sweet Lord” was directly lifted from the 1963 song “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons.  Harrison was sued, and the courts decided in favor of the plaintiff.  The decision was appealed, but the appellate court upheld the original decision.  Harrison, regarded as one of the most creative minds in popular music at the time, was now legally guilty of plagiarism


    Listening to the songs separately one shouldn’t have any trouble hearing the similarities.  It is the same tune.  There is no getting around it.  However, in case there are those who have their doubts, there is the following recording someone put together of the two tracks overdubbed.  Clearly, the tune is the same (on a side note, one might want to check out a recording by an artist named Jonathan King, who recorded “He’s So Fine” in the manner of “My Sweet Lord”.  It may be of further interest to note that King wasn’t sued for this action).


    So why was Harrison sued, and Hancock was not?  The answer is of course, copyright law.  Hancock didn’t adapt anything that was copyrighted, while Harrison either by ignorance or willfully, took the tune of “He’s So Fine” and used it for his own.  Copyrighting serves only those who have the means to use it to protect their work.  This is great if you live in a modern capitalist society which regards music and other pieces of intellectual property as something worthy of legal protection.  It’s not so great if you were recorded in the jungles of the Congo, and have no ability to protect your work, or to retaliate against those who have appropriated it.
    To summate, we have inconsistencies in our copyright laws.  These inconsistencies serve those who have the means to take advantage of the United State’s copyright laws.  Those with the means to do that are often those in a position of power and privilege.  Thus we are able to see that copyright laws serve those in power, and disregard the needs or rights of those in weaker positions of power relationships.  
    So how do we deal with these inconsistencies?  One thought is the development of the copyleft system.  This would allow the distribution and adaptation of works without the risk of violating a copyright.  This also assumes that no one directly profits from the work, however, and would likely be met with resistance from the property obsessed United States.  It would however even the playing field.  You would no longer have one group of people (those with ties to the music industry) who have the benefits of the copyright law while another group of people (those living in the Congo for example) who are only taken advantage of.

Technology, Accessibility and Copyright.

Submitted by Kyrha Lever Ruff on Sunday, 10/24/2010, at 5:04 PM

Every time I thought about copywriting, sharing and sampling this week I found that the roots of the controversy could always relate back to the influence of technology. Whereas intellectual Property is an ideology of the late Twentieth Century which “reserves property– like rights in information, so that creators may extract its economic value”, digital technology has introduced a new level of controversy into copyright policy, one in which people now rely on easy access and high speed internet access to get and create what they want. So if they now have access to applications that go against the copyright law, is it necessarily their fault if they use them anyway? My answer is no. The expansion of technological innovation leads to a growing internet, a vast network of consumers, more programs being created to share info and music and then more loop-holes in copyright law. The loop-holes crop up because Internet–based technologies have the potential to increase exposure to diversity, decrease costs of products for the public and improve the subjective experience for music consumers. If I relate copyrighting to stealing vs. sharing, I would assume that most people would like to think of it as “sharing”…we are sharing music with other people through programs that allow us to do so in an easy and efficient way. On the whole, technology is accessibility.

This past week, I wondered, how did all these sharing and free downloading websites get there? Who “allowed” them to be created? Why aren’t the large production agencies suing them first, before they target the average consumer for copyright infringement? Why aren’t they being stopped before they become too accessible? Even having just arrived at college about two months ago, I have already been introduced to 3 new computer programs that have enabled me to download music for free in less than a minute and have it transferred straight into my iTunes library.

However I recently discovered that in the last decade or so, as the spectrum of musical “creativity” and sampling across the Internet has become easier, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has begun to target the distributers. As of July 2006, the RIAA had brought lawsuits against more than 20,000 people in the United States suspected of distributing copyrighted works. Distributing not consuming or downloading. Who is the culprit here, the distributer or the consumer or both? If the information is accessible, in so many different ways, through so many different on-line downloads, then why wouldn’t it be ok to take advantage of it?

To be honest, I weigh in to what is accessible. With more and more technology making interpersonal communication faster and easier I feel like we have grown more and more lazy…making it so the biggest problem with copyright law is that many people simply do not know and do not want to take the time to learn that what they are doing is illegal because of the many exceptions that can come with the research.

Whereas copyright used to cover property rights for books only, it now covers a wide range of works, including maps, dramatic works, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures and computer programs. Therefore, the reason why so many documents have copyright laws now is because of the issue is that “anyone can do it?” Anyone and everyone can get access to the same basic tools to create a piece of work, giving them a greater chance of creating something “unoriginal” or similar to someone else’s…hello, “great minds think alike”.

So what is the solution in the long run on protecting and educating the public about copyright infringement?  Tighter technological restrictions on content availability or stricter legal mechanisms would be counterproductive because while copyright law would be taken in to account, technological creativity would probably plumit.

 

Although the Copyright Law of the United States is online, it is like putting the “Warning” label on cigarette box in barely legible fine print. Just because it is there, does not mean people are going to take the time to look for it.

Yet after reading a few of the FAQ’s of copyright laws, in the U.S. I came across one regulation that was rather vague. These days, almost all things are copyrighted the moment they are written, and no copyright notice is required. This was true in the past, but today almost all major nations follow the Berne copyright convention (which I had never heard of until this week, what does that tell you?). For example, “in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not.”

The correct form for a notice is:

            "Copyright [dates] by [author/owner]"

You can use C in a circle © instead of "Copyright" but "(C)" has never been given legal force. The phrase "All Rights Reserved" used to be required in some nations but is now not legally needed most places. In some countries it may help preserve some of the "moral rights" of the original owners.

I was slightly irritated after reading this however…“everything created privately and originally is copyrighted…whether it has a notice or not?” So if it does not have a notice, I as a consumer should know anyway that I cannot “create” something new out of it without getting sued?

 

Sometimes people consciously disobey the law claiming that they are not afraid of getting caught. And in terms of copyright infringement I believe people are truly unafraid of getting caught because they are unconscious of what they are doing that is actually illegal. Then of course there is always the comforting notion that if so many people “are doing it” without consequences it becomes less dangerous, less wrong. Are we as a society simply ignorant of the laws under which we live, or are we simply using what has been given to us with the technology that we have grown up with making it crucial for the corporations who want to enforce the laws to inform us of their through products that we can access.

Skirmishes in Intellectual Property

Submitted by Rohan Mazumdar on Sunday, 10/24/2010, at 1:40 PM

“You can’t argue your creativity when it’s based on other people’s stuff.”

I imagine that that one statement from Marybeth Peters, the Registrar of Copyrights, says it all. Not that it provides the conclusive answer to questions of musical property, but it does manage to perfectly summarize the current debate over copyright.

What ‘stuff’ are we talking about? There doesn’t seem to be any kind of consensus on the actual constituents of an original musical idea, and that underlies a lot of the problems we’ve seen. If a guitar duo pops out ‘Hotel California’ in a bar somewhere without paying royalty, they’re liable to prosecution. But what if they reverse the chord progression, and smatter together words from ten other popular songs they’ve heard. Is there a moment in the playing of the music that the Asylum Label can jump at and say “Ok, we’ve got ‘em.”?

If the duo manages to move beyond the bar towards a certain degree of fame, then in all probability, yes. Even though the Eagles may have attained all their training and inspiration from a certain tradition, to which they are naturally indebted for all their musical concepts, the degree to which adaptation of their own work can occur is highly ambiguous. It is that ambiguity which leads the discussion of copyright away from issues of balance and artist-consumer interactions, and towards a power game of money and politics. Intellectual property rights – as a means of encouraging creative activity – is essentially a free-market, capitalist notion. Now, I’m all for artists being allowed to have livelihoods, but here’s a drawback of market-based activity – it’s not exactly forward looking. Record labels aren’t that interested in the potential musical avenues they have closed off fifty years from now.

This is where well-framed laws, which can capture changing definitions of musical creation, and can enforce a balance between (say, for convenience’s sake) the copyright and copyleft, come to the fore. Computing an ‘index of originality’ would be hard, but encouraging greater publication of what the sonic roots of any given track are would do much for allowing for adaptation. At the same time, this could help less represented artistic ideas to achieve greater recognition. I have no doubt the BaBenzele would have benefited – even if only in spirit – had Herbie Hancock been made to account for Watermelon Man’s musical origins more than with an offhand “It’s just a brothers kind of thing.”

What’s so troublesome about music, though? Technically, the same arguments could cover writing, choreography and the fine arts. And for the most part, they do. It’s in the very recent (by copyright history standards) deviation of music making from its traditional forms that the main battle is taking place. Frankly, in spite of my usual left-leaning, progressive sensitivities, I can see why GirlTalk should have a hard time doing what he does. More than anything in the grey area of musical acquisition, the actual recordings of songs are clearly someone’s ‘stuff’. While I have no doubt that what he is doing is creative and interesting, it is only the advent of the Auditions and Sonic Forges of the world that allow him to do that. The analog equivalent is that of him learning multiple instruments or synthesizers, which, for those currently in power in the music industry, is the way to make music. It’s unfortunate that those defining musical mores are the same as those driving copyright legislation, but the chinks in their armour created by GirlTalk, his predecessors and his peers indicate the presence of a growing counter-movement, whose progress I’m keen to follow.

Copyright and Originality

Submitted by Charles A. Pratt on Sunday, 10/24/2010, at 1:05 PM

            With musical copyright and creativity at the forefront of many pop-cultural debates, the search for an all-encompassing law has become almost mythical.  In an ideal world, property right laws would promote creativity and innovation while protecting the property of former artists.  The conflicting nature of these ideas results in a world of subjectivity.  Due to the conditionality of musical borrowing on a case by case basis, a large grey area makes it nearly impossible to address copyright infringement on a broadened scale.  Society is left with a dilemma that combines a balance of the moral use of artistic borrowing with the possibility of artistic exploration and expansion.  Realistically, it seems as if we cannot have both in their entirety. To do so would require massive amounts of resources that would potentially inhibit an artist’s actual focus on musical production.  A prime example is the inquiry Feld makes into the moral nature of Herbie Hancock’s borrowing of a particular Pygmy sound structure.  When questioned about this, Hancock brushes off the notion that the “borrowing” act was somehow wrong and calls it “a brothers kind of thing”.  While most wouldn’t agree with this type of justification, it is easy to come to the realization that credit is not always given where it’s due.  If this were the case, artists would be more preoccupied with the process of crediting their inspirers rather than creating the music many enjoy on a basic level. 

            As with music, most creations on a scientific or technological level do not start with the idea of one person.  For example, Mark Zuckerburg’s inspiration for Facebook came from an idea proposed by two fellow students to start a site called the “Harvard Connection”.  He then proceeded to expand upon this idea without the knowledge of his inspirers.  After the site became a global hit, the two students received credit in the form of a court settlement.  Like many musical infringement cases, any type of settlement is largely dependent on the resources of the accuser or offended party and the general fiscal success of the production.  Zuckerberg’s model of innovation seems to counter the method of gaining consent before production.  Similar to this example, Arewa takes a stance on a copyright culture that would encourage a liability rule which would permit infringement with post determination of compensation.  He believes that since borrowing is more difficult under the property rule, the liability clause would promote more creativity.  If our goal as a society is to foster a world of more innovation, then perhaps the best thing to do would be to develop this method of post determination settlement.  Blatant acts of infringement would still be avoided by adherence to general laws, but artistic expressions would have more freedom in exploration.

            Since “borrowing” is solidified in musical culture, one can come to the assumption that very few productions are actually original.  A great example of this thought is the analysis of a soloist during an improvisation.  Since an artist’s many influences combine to motivate the sound structure of the improvisation, when does the artist actually become an individual?  For this reason, former artists will not always be able to receive credit, and the application of copyright laws will continue to be conditional.  Consequently, the determining factor of our musical culture will rely on morality. 

What's the point of Copyright?

Submitted by Nikki M. Takemori on Sunday, 10/24/2010, at 12:42 PM

Take a listen to this song called “Ichou (Ginkgo Leaves)” by a Japanese artist.

Sound familiar? If not, listen closely to the very beginning, the melody.

If you guessed Canon in D Major or Pachelbel’s Canon, you guess correctly, for this artist (Yuusuke) took the classical music’s melody as his own theme for the pop song. Released just last year, this song earned him some high rankings and popularity on music ranking charts. It’s a catchy tune and it sticks into the listener’s head.

But wait. Isn’t that stealing? It must be ok as long as Yuusuke credits that the melody of his song is not of his original work. If you buy Yuusuke’s CD for “Ichou” and look at the back cover, the composing credits go to… Yuusuke and Daisuke “D.I.” Imai? What happened to Pachelbel? What happened to copyright?

It turns out that (depending on the country) copyright has a lifespan, and after a certain amount of time it dies away. (Go here to see a list of countries and their copyright lifespan.) In Japan, copyright lasts for 50 years after the death of the creator. Pachelbel passed away in 1706, well over 300 years ago, meaning Yusuke would not be tormented with copyright issues. Some may argue that the canon was first published or “rediscovered” (for it had been forgotten for quite a while) in 1919, yet that is still 90 years ago, way past the 50 year copyright span. Legally, Yusuke is doing nothing wrong (he even states in music shows that he used Pachelbel’s Canon for “Ichou.”) How about his creativity?

Would listeners love “Ichou” because of its familiarity and popularity from the original, or would there be criticizers bashing him for being unoriginal? If Yuusuke is blamed for uncreativity for his song “Ichou,” then that would mean many other songs from the past that were (and still are) dearly loved would also have to be criticized for “theft.” To give an idea, take a listen to Green Day’s “Basket Case.” The bass is inspired by the canon. Another very famous song would be Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever),” a song adored by many during graduation season. Look at this list to find other songs inspired by canon – at one glance you can tell that Pachelbel’s canon has a very favorable sound to artists and listeners.

However if you compare “Ichou,” “Basket Case” and “Graduation,” they have a completely different feel while having the same backbone tune. The happiness in “Ichou” contrasts with the punk feel of “Basket Case” and the melancholy yet peaceful mood of “Graduation.” So there is still creativity within these inspired songs; it was just the matter of how creative.

The three songs mentioned above are considered to be on the “third layer” of the copyright cake: the first being the author or the creator of the original piece, the second being the performance of the original piece (which doesn’t necessarily mean that the performance reflects exactly what the author wanted to portray, it’s an interpretation of what the performers believed the author wanted to express), then the third being the recording companies inspired by performances, ultimately creating new interpretations from them.

Yuusuke only used the melody of Pachelbel’s Canon for his song, unlike Japanese pop singer Ayaka Hirahara, who uses whole phrases or even the songs for her music. She takes classical music as her background music and adds her own lyrics to them. Her most famous “cover song” of classical music was her first single, “Jupiter.” It is, in fact, Gustav Holst’s Jupiter from “The Planets,” specifically the slow, gallant and powerful section of Jupiter.

 

To hear the “original” version, check it out starting at 2:55.

 

Hirahara loves her classical music; she recently released a new song called “Greensleeves.” Yup, if you guessed that she used the “Greensleeves” as her inspiration, she did. In fact, she did a complete cover song of “Greensleeves,” as you can hear here.

 

Her two recent albums are dedicated to cover songs of classical music, titled “my Classics!” and “my Classics2!” Antonín Dvořák’s “From the New World,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s church cantata “Sleepers Wake” are some examples incorporated into Hirahara’s albums. Luckily for Hirahara, as with Yuusuke, all of the classical music she worked with is done and over with the copyright limit, so on legal terms she is not stealing. Going back to the copyright cake, Hirahara could be representing the jelly between the second and third layer. She does release songs through a recording company (therefore she and the company receives money for any purchases of her classical music “remixes.”) Yet at the same time, she take part in the second layer, for she is performing  the piece as it was written – there are musical arrangements made to the composition of the original, however she maintains the mood of what the composer probably wanted (compared to Green Day’s punk feel.)

Personally, I think she is still creative with Hirahara’s work, for she was the first Japanese pop singer to incorporate a good number of classical music back into the modern scene. It’s the recycling of music and ideas that attract listeners to Hirahara. All the music in this world, if you think about it, is the recycling of old music, being inspired by previous sounds and incorporating them into one’s own work. Copyright has brainwashed the listener’s perception of borrowing ideas and turned them into skeptical listeners, criticizing artists if they hear a similar chord or melody. It is interesting to see how listeners accept classical music integrated into popular culture since “the copyright on the classical music is gone” and therefore it is allowed to be the source of inspiration. Copyright, then, is pretty meaningless. It exists only for people to get money and to slow the process of music recycling. Copyright itself is the candle on the cake, having a limited lifespan yet a powerful presence for if one touches it, it hurts and causes problems.

Illegality in the Eye of the Beholder

Submitted by Jenna Iden on Sunday, 10/24/2010, at 2:52 AM

Copyright serves those who care enough to copyright. For the sake of my argument, I'll pretend money isn't a factor; money is usually the main factor. But, in this money-less discussion of copyright, let's say copyright plays a grand ethical purpose. It, after all, seeks to give credit where credit is due.

And is that so bad?

Copyright law is strange, mercurial. With most other laws, you speed down a residential street and you have two potential outcomes: 1) you know it's against the law and get caught or 2) you know it's against the law and speed on uninterrupted. Either way, you were fully aware of the illegality of your actions. With copyright law, there aren't just two options. Sure, you can 1) get caught or 2) get away with it, but those two outcomes spawn a hundred "what if"s. What if you didn't know it was illegal? What if a major corporation takes legal action against you? What if you don't have the money to settle? What do you think of copyright law now?

I believe most of the concern is whether the primary source likes how you went about making your secondary creation.

Take, for example, will.i.am's song (with John Legend) "Yes We Can" from the 2008 presidential race. He took a recording of one of Barack Obama's speeches and added music, rhythm, and celebrities to eventually rack up over 22 million views on Youtube. He sampled Obama without permission. He contorted the speech's original purpose -- a concession speech to Hillary Clinton after a lost New England primary -- and made his own music. And the Obama campaign loved it.

Sure, any publicity is good publicity, but the campaign certainly didn't rally behind ObamaGirl as the Youtube sensation to elect the next president. John Legend and will.i.am (and a tragically underused choir) were even invited to perform their song live at the Democratic National Convention. Did they shy away from their illegal sampling in the presence of the man they sampled? Not at all. They used the same spliced Obama recording they put on the Internet. Their copyright infringement was used for good, not evil.

Now let's gaze into the face of evil:

Disgusting right? Yes, this terrible choral thug Eric Whitacre broke copyright law. This choral arrangement of Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" is highly illegal. If it sounds familiar, then perhaps you've listened to one of Whitacre's most famous works, "Sleep." They are, of course, the exact same song. Whitacre arranged Frost's words, premiered the piece at a Minnesotan choral festival, and immediately received letters begging for a publication of the arrangement...along with one cease and desist request from Frost's heirs. The Youtube recording above is the only existing recording of Whitacre's piece performed with its intended words. Yet the Frost heirs have allowed other musicians to set this exact same poem to music. In fact, I sang an arrangement in high school and didn't think twice about the legality of singing a poet's words. Still, Whitacre used the words without permission and Frost's estate, perhaps vindictively, refused to yield; Whitacre stole Frost's intellectual property and by no means was Frost's estate going to condone his actions.

Frost's poem is copyrighted and can be controlled, even if it's not in the best interest of the intellectual community at large. Scroll through some of the comments on the Youtube video above and you'll see a hundred renditions of "a loss for the choral world" and "waste of beautiful musicianship." Copyright law holds and, while will.i.am gains considerable acclaim from his theft, Whitacre loses his battle. They both to justice to the original, but copyright only applies to one.

So now the question is left to you: Whitacre couldn't use Frost's words without permission...can we?

The first line from an Amherst college song, "Three Gifts": Whose woods these are I think I know... (from Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening")

Genius Borrows Nobly

Submitted by Phoebe Smolin on Saturday, 10/23/2010, at 2:04 PM

According to copyright laws, I am a criminal. Have I hurt anyone? No (well, aside from breaking a few hearts, but that's part of growing up). Have I cheated my way into or out of anything? Not at all. Have I stolen anything? Technically no, but my perception of stealing is different from what modern copyright law says it is. In my Junior Year of high school, one of the most-talked about issues in my AP Art History class was appropriation-- the borrowing of pre-existing works of art to convey a different image. Some of the most influential works of art of our time has used elements from things that have come before. You know that guy, Picasso? One of his most famous and revolutionary works, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), was inspired by African sculptures. And how about Marcel Duchamp? Well, his Dadaist message wouldn't have been quite as loud without the blatant use of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa in L.H.O.O.Q. (1919). When these paintings were done, however, their borrowing was considered "original" and a breakthrough. In other words, they couldn't get sued for thousands of dollars for minimizing the profit of a huge production, record, or art distribution company.

So, when did borrowing turn into a crime? When corporations began to speak louder than the creators, themselves? These giant companies that are run purely by the smell of money dictate what is considered "original" in this world. Doesn't that seem a little bit contradictory to you? Shouldn't the artists be calling the shots like they used to? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the 18th century German writer once asked, "What can we call our own except energy, strength and will?" (please don't sue me for quoting that). Goethe vocalized something that has been true for ages: everything on this earth borrows from something else. That is simply the nature of all things. Paint was borrowed from berries, drum beats are influenced by our heart beats, my terrible, static-filled 8th grade punk band was influenced by the Ramones. Instead of thinking of borrowing as stealing, as these copyright laws have tempered us to do, I believe that it’s important to think of borrowing not as insensitive stealing, but as an appreciation for history and the acknowledgement of a collective memory. Think about it: when you listen to a song that uses a sample of a song from decades ago, how do you feel? Do you get angry and think that a musician is being unlawful and unoriginal? Usually not. You probably smile because it’s nice to hear an old song embedded in something new. One of my favorite examples is this song by Jay-Z, that uses the 1984 Alphaville song to put the idea of being young into an entirely new context.

 

In an interview with Lawrence Lessig, fair use extraordinaire, he says, “There’ a vast amount of content that is locked up by copyright now for no purpose at all. It’s just locked up now because the system has become lazy about distinguishing content that needs an exclusive right and content that doesn’t.” Music has become more about the distributors than the music itself. In an age where the newer generations spend more time in front of computers than in front of pages, wouldn’t it make sense to allow fair use so as to encourage creativity where it could very well disappear? In a recent article written by Lawrence Lessig he says that, “a requirement of permission first is a certain way to kill amateur creativity.” Copyright laws are outdated. They don’t take into account the necessity for artistic borrowing, instead they allow corporations to cower in fear of losing money any way they can. Even Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple, endorses the interoperable market in his famous 2007 article “Thoughts on Music".

He, too, says that itunes is at the mercy of the record companies. Music, in this sense, has become property.

What record companies are now doing with music echoes what the colonizers did when founding this country. It’s as if copyright is the modern, twisted Manifest Destiny—those in power believe they’re entitled to the rights to music they didn’t even make—music they most likely don’t really know how to listen to. In the movie RIP: A Remix Manifesto, Marybeth Peters, the register of copyrights is featured. She mentions that she doesn’t own a computer and that she has never downloaded anything off of the internet. This is who is in charge of media exchange. The ways in which copyrights are enforced completely counter the reason why music (or any kind of art) should be made in the first place. People make music to share it. People make art to convey powerful messages to the world through unconventional means. People make music for fun, for, what’s that word again? Oh yeah. Happiness. The capitalist system has destroyed the ability for art to be something for everyone. Music is now something that is owned. As Steve Jobs puts it, “there is no theory of protecting content other than keeping secrets.” It’s become a vicious game rather than an equal exchange.

So, between Disney suing an elementary school for painting Mickey on one of their walls without permission (they did it just to make students happy, not to exploit the Disney empire), and the Paris Hiltons suing Hallmark for using her trademarked phrase, “that’s hot” on a birthday card, copyright has become more of a ploy for domination that for preservation of creative works. Not only that, but it has taken power from those who live in the margins of the world, but who are equally as inspired as those in the mainstream. The point is that the way people use inspiration now is different, in some respect, than it was decades ago. Music, whether it uses a direct sample or a segment of a drum beat from another song, is still made for people to enjoy it. Would this acapella group from the University of Oregon be sued for their hilarious version of Lady Gaga’s, “Bad Romance?”

I hope not. Originality is not disappearing, despite what the copyright laws are telling us. We have always borrowed from eachother. As David Shields says in his article,"art is a conversation between and among artists, not a patent office.” That’s the beauty of our culture. Of course, it occasionally gets misused, but more often than not, people are aware of where influence comes from. It’s one thing to steal, and it’s another thing to recycle. We live in an age where things are constantly new, and the old gets ousted so quickly that we forget to remember it. Sampling is a way for us to remember, and it is also a way for us to learn from each other as well as interact with people you may not usually interact with. I leave you with a music video for Bob Dylan’s song, “When the Deal Goes Down,” which uses lines from a Henry Timrod poem. Bob Dylan loves Timrod, a Civil War poet, so much that he wanted to expose his listeners to him. In this world, everybody steals, or as Bob Dylan says, “we all wear the same thorny crown.” If artistic borrowing is still supposed to be a secret, then go ahead, whisper as loudly and as often as you can.

Vuvuzela Concert

Submitted by Risa Nakamura on Tuesday, 10/19/2010, at 2:16 AM

If I could have a symphony orchestra play one song just for me, I would have them play Boléro by Joseph-Maurice Ravel, my all-time-favourite classical music piece.

Last night, I was watching YouTube videos in which various orchestras play Boléro. After watching  a couple of videos of the same song for hours, I found this very unique music video called "Vuvuzela Concert".

Here is Boléro played on the vuvuzelas.

Deep Forest vs. Diplo

Submitted by Wangene Hall on Sunday, 10/17/2010, at 7:50 PM

 

“London, quiet down, I need to make a sound!” M.I.A proclaims loudly in her song, “Bucky Done Gun”. It seems like a direct example of Music 2.0; she is making a really strong statement about her need to be heard, unfiltered by ideals about the propriety of world music. Through my extensive research on M.I.A, and our recent discussions, I have concluded that the much publicized tensions between her and her record label reflect the transition from World Music 1.0 to World Music 2.0.

Music 1.0 focuses on music as a profit making entitity. World music, in previous iterations, has been an easily classifiable, marketable subgenre of music for and about ‘the other.’ World music in its formative sense belonged to an ‘authentic primitive’, underling the way music became a cover for the post-Colonials ideas about power dynamics. The Colonial power was previously the mediator of the Native experience, controlling them socio-politically, and culturally, by selectively choosing what facets of their humanity could be acknowledged. Although, world music was not consciously trying to restrict perspectives of the non-Western world to stereotypes or simplified images, the classification itself did so.

In Deep Forest’s track, “Pygmy Lullaby” the music of Afunakwa becomes incorporated into this faceless, indistinct world-sounding track. The desire to play on this “authentic” native experience plays up the constructed nature of the genre. Instead of being a track where we can connect with Afunakwa’s musical expression, we are given an interpretation that dissociates us from her.

Diplo, however, demonstrates that world music 2.0 is a way to bring the listener closer to the artist. With M.I.A’s “Paper Planes”, her experience is encapsulated in music and video in a way that allows us to connect to something she wants to convey. Diplo and M.I.A take away that filter of proper mediation. M.I.A is insisting that you listen to what she’s saying and what she’d like to get across. She holds the power to revise her image, to the extent that we remain open to her message.

Diplo, while dubious in his actual levels of participations in her album project, does consistently represent culturally associated genres in a way that doesn’t discredit their integrity. The music is allowed to convey itself. As technology takes us closer to our own self-created realities, we move away from corporately controlled perceptions created to make a “people” marketable. World music 2.0 is from anywhere in the world, it is the music of expression, not the music of strictly defined “place”. People’s realities cannot be encapsulated in quaint phrases, or limited definitions. Music simply shows how the breakdown of barriers facilitates the flow of free information, an exchange process that brings us closer to communicating ourselves fully. 

I recognize that sound!

Submitted by Kyrha Lever Ruff on Monday, 10/11/2010, at 3:44 PM

Most of my criticism of world music is closely related to Frith’s quote, “The impact of international pop may be as important for the preservation of musical traditions as for their destruction”. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether, mixing sounds, taking a piece of this and that from somewhere else actually makes the sonic result yours.

Its like a sonic puzzle that leads to different messages when it is finished. As I learn more and more about how one artist’s piece can relate to another’s, I begin to wonder where the cut off is…when is the sound too similar so that it would be considered taken or stolen? Just the other day my friend and I were listening to a playlist and a song came on with the same beginning instrumental as “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Vere. About 15 seconds into the song however, Jason Derulo’s voice burst defiantly through the speakers as it was really his hit single “Riding Solo”.

The food court discussion led me to wonder, is music getting that much closer, and similar to our food? Are parts of the music industry becoming just as “lazy” as the food industry so our music is steadily becoming “mass produced” just to sell, sell, sell? With the help of new technology, new websites, new ways to package, exchange and experience music I feel like the more we advance in tech, the more constraints are placed around the creative throat of melodic style. We are torn between the chance to expand the relationship between musicians across boarders and a diminishing shrinking effect of individuality, raw, undubbed material.However as Bailey says on global ghettotech, “if we look beyond the music’s characteristic of being ‘radically synthetic’ and see it as being radically reflective of contemporary geopolitics, then things become decidedly more interesting.” Any music that follows rules of a musical scale is limited by the ability to use a small number of notes. The 7 note diatonic scale is the foundation of the European musical tradition. For this reason, accidental or ‘unconscious’ musical plagiarism is possible

World music can incorporate distinctive non-Western scales, modes and/or musical inflections, and often features distinctive traditional ethnic instruments. I actually enjoyed the WNYC podcast of “citizens of the world” because it sounded familiar.

In the WNYC podcast, Wayne Marshall asks, “what are they [the members of the Pangea Project] really looking to do with this?” I feel like it brings out an awareness. It leads people out of their cultural box, and I say “lead” and not take or force because that’s what technology does, because everything in the media has links that lead somewhere else, right on the sidebar. I feel like it mostly relates back to familiarity, particularly in regards to sonic and visual effects. In M.I.A.’s video “Paper Planes” we both saw and heard references to familiar terms like UPS, KGB, prepaid wireless of which gestured to a kind of worldly methods of transport and connection, even visually in her video, the images flowed very quickly emphasizing the idea of rapid movement across cultures, across the world. "Paper Planes" was probably the best shot that M.I.A. had of entering the pop mainstream in any significant way without stamping out any of the confounding, ambiguous political subtexts that her music carries. "Paper Planes" is a light and airy and bewitchingly happy song, but it rides on a Clash sample and has a chorus that's all gunshot noises and cash-register chings and a chorus of amped-up kids singing a double-dutch refrain about taking your money. 

MIA - Explicit Artist

Submitted by Matthew H. Hartzler on Sunday, 10/10/2010, at 11:20 PM

I found myself after class asking the main question. Why is Deep Forest bad and why isn’t MIA? MIA and Deep Forest both sample and “steal” from various sources. They both create a sound that consists of other individual sounds. Yet, Deep Forest takes the burden for the problems of “World Music”.

The essential difference between the two is MIA’s ability to produce viscerally intoxicating commentary and Deep Forest’s clear lack of it. Deep forest samples the Solomon Island lullaby, but it makes no attempt to have an artistic message on the song. The sample also doesn’t add anything to the overall meaning of the track. It is there clearly as just fluff that sounds good to the ear. As we heard and saw in “Paper Planes” and “Bucky Done Gun”, MIA’s commentary is often brusque and harsh, which in these cases were the American gangster and money culture. She also pairs the “Paper Planes” track with an equally strong video, which adds to her anti-consumer-culture mantra already established. Yet, they both take pieces from other groups as discussed on Wednesday.

MIA is a true artist. She bonds her medium with the messages that pierce through in a method unrivaled by others. Off of her new album Maya, “Born Free” is a prime archetype for her pointed artistic messages. The lyrics contain abrupt concepts in the song, despite a title that could be an American country rock hit around the Fourth of July.

“I throw this shit in your face when I see you, ‘cause I got something to say. I was born free (born free).”

In addition to the cutting lyrics, the single’s album art displays the 2009 Sri Lankan government’s killings of Tamil Tiger fighters. The track garnered instant and viral notoriety because of its being released simultaneously with corresponding video.

 

Warning: Highly Graphic Visuals

 

The true message of the video, according to director Romain Gavras, lies in the individual audience member’s interpretation, but that didn’t help the wildfire it created. After being taken off YouTube, then back on, then off, then on with an 18+ requirement, the controversial nature of the video defines MIA as an artist. She clearly enjoys pushing the standard envelope and packing it with he messages. The video contains allusions to everything from IRA slogans and Palestinian images to US Troops in Abu Ghraib, which makes anyone who views the graphic video think.

The starkly worded and composed video stands diametrically opposite to Deep Forest. MIA’s use of this “stolen” content is to mold and shape a new and different meaning. “Born Free” samples from the band Suicide’s “Ghost Rider”, but because she creates this inventive piece, it merits the sampling. Deep Forests blatant rip-off of the Solomon Island lullaby is seen a offensive not simply because of their destruction of the original, but because of their inability to create an creative message in the process of doing so.

Deep Forest and Jan Garbarek

Submitted by Risa Nakamura on Sunday, 10/10/2010, at 9:34 PM

As I listened to these three songs: “Rorogwela lullaby” sung by Afunakwa, “Sweet Lullaby” recorded for Deep Forest, and “Pygmy Lullaby” by Jan Garbarek, I wondered if I would have had different impressions of the songs if I had not listened to the original versions.

Deep Forest’s “Sweet Lullaby” and Jan Garbarek’s “Pygmy Lullaby” both use a melody line of “Rorogwela Lullaby.” These two songs are, in a broader sense, very similar in that both works were done based on the original, “Rorogwela.” However, the extent to which the original was changed greatly differs in “Sweet Lullaby” and “Pygmy Lullaby.”

When you listen to the original song, you will probably notice that the lullaby is sung by a woman in an unfamiliar language. In the Deep Forest version of the lullaby, although there are synthesizer accompaniments and other digital effects in it, you can still hear people singing the lyrics, including the woman herself. However, in Jan Garbarek’s version of the lullaby, you do not hear the lyrics, but instrumental plays. If you just listen to the track with no background information about the song, you may not consider it ‘world music.’ Garbarek’s lullaby could, in that sense, be just another form of easy-listening music.

Considering the fact that Jan Garbarek miscredited information on the original source of the melody, I think that Garbarek did not care where, how, by whom, and in what context the original lullaby was sung. It seemed as if the meaning of lyrics or even the fact that it was a lullaby did not matter to his music making at all, since it originated from the Third World. Garbarek, in that sense, was able to work on his own work in his own world, whether the work was sonically successfully done or not.

     Deep Forest’s lullaby is, however, completely different from Jan Garbarek’s in that they intended to make the original visible, hearable, and recognizable to the listeners. It is true that the Deep Forest’s lullaby sounds different because of the digital effects and various sounds in the music; however, you can still guess the shape of the original sounds of the woman, especially at the beginning and the end (in the music video) of the song, whereas Jan Garbarek’s lullaby did not attempt to emphasize the existence of the original.

     Here, if we apply what Steven Feld says in A Sweet Lullaby for World Music to analyzing these two lullabies, there will be both celebratory narratives and anxious narratives.  Jan Garbarek’s lullaby would be considered a celebratory narrative because he decided to use the original track of Afunakwa’s lullaby. Garbarek liked the melody, and created his music out of it. Thanks to technology, we can now peform experiments and enjoy various kinds of music. On the flip side, In labeling and crediting musicians, the music carries images which sometimes results in constructing negative stereotypes to the listeners and the viewers. Also, some of the individuals who used this lullaby to make new songs (and their producers) unfortunately ignored the people involved in the original track.

Baile!

Submitted by Katherine W. Cole on Sunday, 10/10/2010, at 9:01 PM

Deep Forest’s “Sweet Lullaby” seems pretty innocuous on the surface. Looking at Youtube comments on the version I listened to, I was struck by this one from “Oruper,” a user in Romania: “one of the most relaxing songs ever...it makes you think why all the hate in this world :(” It would be tempting to compose an angry retort about how this very song represents manipulation and exploitation. But the blissed-out atmosphere created by the rhythm section and choralized Afunakwa voice makes deconstructing this track a little like (misguided simile ahead!) punching a cloud. Punch we must, though, to get at the deeper implications of the global dynamics of this track.

I’m just going to say it, Jan Garbarek’s “Pygmy Lullaby” sounds like denstist-office music/muzak. That would make it bad enough, but with the points off for cultural insensitivity (the misunderstanding of the title, for example), this song just doesn’t do it for me. At least it fulfilled its function as a lullaby and put me to sleep.

M.I.A. and Diplo feel like a whole different can of worms to me. First of all, they are the only ones of the seven artists that I’d heard of before last week, which I don’t think is unrelated to this discussion. M.I.A. is certainly the most mainstream, even if she does push the envelope. While I’d like to think that our discussion about the significance of the transnational themes of the lyrics is the rule and not the exception, I think for a lot of people that song is just an excuse to put their hands in the air and shoot.

Deep Forest and Garbarek feel more World Music-y to me, probably because I’ve been conditioned to associate those signifying sounds (hand drums, foreign languages) with that particular genre. I had always thought of M.I.A.’s music as a bunch of catchy beats overshadowing nonsensical lyrics. The beat is the most salient element of baile funk as well.

I think the differences between World Music and ghettotech have a lot to do with intention. World Music is packaged and marketed as something that will broaden your cultural horizons. But questions about mediation can be problematic, which the WNYC piece addressed. Who, in the end, has control? Watching the “Citizens of the World” video, the dissection of which could take up a whole post in itself, the symbolism of these foreign musicians playing from the top of the world (aka the Capitol Music building) but dangerously near the edge seemed all too apt. I as a listener (and viewer) never felt like those musicians were in control. I know M.I.A. can make us think (while staying tongue-in-cheek), but ghettotech doesn’t seem to come with all that baggage since it’s meant primarily to make you dance. Which is one of the things I like about it. Is that so wrong?

Something New

Submitted by Theresa L. Kelley on Sunday, 10/10/2010, at 8:26 PM

The concept of world music still baffles me even after reading the literature written about this phenomenon and hearing the many examples of what it could possible be. I guess the desire to create a sound that blends and crosses borders is the obvious and necessary next step in the ongoing and never-ending search for something original. Strangely enough, I think that one of the only things that links the human race besides the fact that we are the same species is that we have an innate obsession with originality. This can be looked at simply in terms of evolution, if the growth and the changes that we all undergo everyday. This concept can be applied to music as well. Music is one of the most universal entities. Everyone has some form of music and though it may not be very productive for me to say this, I'm just gonna say it; every type of music is foreign to someone else so therefore everything is world music. I hate the the term world music and it's use in the classification of songs and so therefore I will apply it to everything. In their attempt to discover some interesting "never before heard" sound, artists are traveling around and taking in what ever there is to discover. This can sometimes be seen as a sort of exploitation of cultures in some cases. After hearing the original lullaby and then listening to Deep Forest's mix of it, I felt like somewhat of an intruder into the life and cultural practice of this woman. I'm not convinced that she ever wanted to be heard, let alone be in a case study in a class. Then there is the example of MIA, who travels and searches for new and interesting sounds and people to include in her music. I wonder about how much consent should be granted and if we do live in this new and developing world that acts on such a large scale, maybe it is time to let to go, and let all contribute to the cultural expansion and musical realization of the world. MIA uses in one of her tracks on Kala, the Wilcannia boys, who are a group of kids from a Sri Lankan village and they rap on the track and she later emulates their style and form for her verse.

I found the Nu Whirled Music podcast slightly redundant, but with some interesting points. The track "citizens of the world" seemed so ludicrously contrived that it was funny. It sounded like a track produced by the Disney channel trying to be global and multicultural and encourage awareness of other cultures because that is the thing to do these days! I think that the chances of that song becoming a global hit are very slim, and for that, I salute you world. The point that was made about the Internet not only facilitating the transfer of music but also fostering  the ability of creating and burroughing oneself in an individual niche was a very valid point. There is so much out there that can be discovered not only on the web, but in the villages and ghettos of the world that are avoiding or awaiting discovery. We will be waiting for them. We will always be waiting for something new. 

 

Global Ghettotech vs. Nu whirled Music

Submitted by Ofori-Kwafo Yaw Amponsah on Sunday, 10/10/2010, at 8:13 PM

In the WNYC podcast entitled “ Nu Whirled Music”, a journalist named Ethan Smith from the Wall Street Journal made a very interesting statement about the state of world music.  In his opinion it was obvious that the world was the same way it was 20-30 years ago. He felt there were not any remaining media channels, which allow a person to make a hit record in their own country let alone around the world. With the advent of the Internet the world has become a bit flatter in a way. This meaning people have access to a greater variety of musical influences, ideas and genres. With this new exposure, people also have the ability to dig into their own favorite niche and avoid many others.  I think this idea is the root of global ghettotech and ‘nu whirled music”.

            The music industry is a vast cornucopia of many varying music labels all seeking to create various forms of sellable music. I believe that global music has fallen to the wayside, because Americans can now get their international exposure fix via YouTube or the Starbucks checkout.  Foreign music has become narrowing niche in America simply because it has been pushed to the fringes of the music industry.  World music has just not become that interesting to the western cultures it is supposed to “educate” because of the Internet. The Internet makes finding “something different” relatively easy. Just Google, Bollywood music or Korean pop and you will be receiving innumerable hits. The Internet allows you to actively hear, see and critic this music from the comfort of your own home for free.

            “Global ghettotech” and “Num whirled music” both seek to achieve the same thing. They both hope to expose a new Western audience to foreign music. Sadly this audience is becoming more and more content with what it sees everyday as opposed to what is being actively created on a global scale. I am sadly apart of that western audience growing more musically content everyday.  I wake up and listen to a hip hop radio station or check up on the latest American musical blogs.  I only check out foreign stations or songs by the urging of a friend or family member. Sadly it is just extremely easy. Also, any exploration I do is mostly limited to a few minutes of browsing various sites (YouTube, hypem, etc, etc,) here and there.

            “Global Ghettotech” is a type of music that just catches and electrifies your senses. Artist such as M.I.A use various foreign samples and references to make their music attractive to western listeners. M.I.A walks the line between full-blown western artist and foreign bard. She references her Sri Lankan and English experiences, while intertwining various colloquialisms from around the world.  I think “Global Ghettotech” most sincerely portrays actual folk traditions in a newly creative way. Ghettotech bring relatively unheard beats and artists, rap styles singing styles, and styles of musical production into the mainstream. I thoroughly enjoy Ghettotech because it is musical refreshing. Also, ghettotech artists such as M.I.A and Diplo, seemingly make this music for the love of it. They appear to be trying to expose the world to a different musical experience for creativities sake, not for a paycheck.

            “Nu whirled music” in my opinion is trying to achieve the same exact thing as global ghettotech, merely for differing reasons. A perfect example of this is the group Pangea. Pangea is a collection of various foreign pop superstars and one lonely and relatively unknown New York based rock band. Their single Citizens of the World were created not for the purpose of helping the world or encouraging cultural interaction. It was more a forced collaboration of world musicians in very artificial way. Even when listening to the track on YouTube you can feel the insincerity in the music. I think this is the chief difference in Global ghettotech and Nu whirled music. Both music genres hope to expose a western audience to a new type of music and foreign cultural experience. Also, both genres create this music for the paycheck; it would be naive to think anything otherwise. But, Global ghettotech artists make their music with a tad more sincerity and love for their culture. You can feel that these artists want to create their music and share their culture with the world. On the other hand, Nu Whirled music as it is describe seems a feeble attempt at reviving the ever-closing genre of foreign music in western countries.