Sunday, September 18, 2011

"The Grey Album" is not so Black and White.

On first thought about copyright laws, it seems difficult to blame the music industry entirely for raising trouble about the legality of certain sample/mash-up projects. After all, the industry is concerned about their well-being, and this is very much dependent upon the profit they receive from the "traditional" manner of distributing music: selling it to consumers who pay to receive it. If obtaining music were still as simple as buying and selling cd's, there would not be much of a problem. The music industry would simply sell what it owns, turn over a cut of the intake to the recording artist, and retain a profit for themselves. The economic drive behind copyright laws is certainly present; by preserving the media content for their use and distribution, the music industry is ensuring its continued success and profit as sole provider of this content to the public.

Similarly, the music industry has a logical argument; they have cultivated a relationship with an artist who, in turn, trusts them with the distribution of their media and receives a nice cut of all the profits. It seems to be a win-win situation for the artist and the industry producers. Copyright laws seem to protect this system; if something belongs to one, another must ask permission before they take it or use it. Any college student with a roommate, or even a kindergartner with a marker, understands the basic premise of sharing. When working with a more complicated content like music, where the nature of the "ownership" can easily be taken away by copying, copyright laws make sense to hold off prohibited copying or sharing.

The side of producers might be the clearest point in the entire debate about sampling and mash-ups. Unfortunately, the music industry as a whole is not so simple. Like Danger Mouse proved in the debacle over "The Grey Album," life isn't always so black and white (the pun is definitely intended). This controversy about "The Grey Album" is certainly a strong example of the tension between record producers, or those who own the rights to the music, and artists who want to make a new creation with pre-existing materials. As it comes down to it, I believe that DJ Danger Mouse technically violated copyright codes, but he also actively complied with EMI's cease and desist orders.


Picture HERE

The real issue in this situation came from the public who already had access to media content that they loved, and could spread it around the world without ceasing. To them, the album wasn't just the center of a particular lawsuit, but was representative of the freedom to creatively act in the music industry and continue to enjoy the gift of music left by The Beatles.

In the video spotlighting the issue of copyrighting as related to "Girl Talk," DJ Spooky made a powerful point about the use of media as creating the culture we live in. In a paraphrase, DJ Spooky noted that society "will use the media around us," as we live in a "media cloud." Whether we like it or not, we are exposed to this content and it will come into play in the way we live our lives and express ourselves. According to Spooky, "we create a culture from media, and so their has to be an exchange," between producers and consumers. There must be a place for this kind of artistic, cultural creation to come to fruition. If artists are truly creating music for the purpose of fulfilling a passion and contributing to the cultural scene we create, the use of that content shouldn't be limited to solely making a profit for a producer.

There is clearly no excuse for maliciously stealing another's work and using it to further one's own name or wealth. Also, the rights of producers need to be considered and not stomped upon. However, in the case of "The Grey Album" and so many others in the genre of samples/mash-ups, intentions are not to be malicious, but to further the original contribution of the artist in a way that adds to the culture of our time. It is time for a reconsideration of the intentions and legitimacy of copyright laws, so the media industry can arrive at a place where the rights of all artists and producers are heard.

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