Monday, February 6, 2012

Those Grey Areas in Copyright Law

As quoted in Duckworth's article, Jonathon Zittrain of Harvard law states that "copyright law was written with a particular form of industry in mind." However, new technologies have severely changed and challenged the music industry.  As mass quantities of people now enjoy digitalized versions of their favorite music, the industry has had a difficult time ensuring that their intellectual property is protected.

Duckworth points to an interesting case study of this very issue in his article, The Grey Album.  Copyrights exist for the purpose of protecting an artist's economic and artistic or intellectual interests.  Laws surrounding these protections have greatly changed over the last decades in favor of copyright extension (The Disney Corporation has been a huge contributor to these changes; for more information on the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act," click here).  Though copyright law has been extended greatly, it has not been edited as technologies have transformed how people get their media, especially music.

When Danger Mouse released "The Grey Album," mixing Jay-Z's "Black Album" and The Beatle's "White Album," he was violating copyright laws for The Beatle's music, according to its owner, EMI.  The company insisted that there are ways in which Danger Mouse could have retained the rights to samples, and simply ignored the law.  While he may have ignored the legalities of gaining the rights to utilize The Beatle's music, copyright laws do not set a fee for obtaining these rights.  The owners can name any price they wish for these samples, thus effectively restraining the creative spirit of artists.  Though in the strictest sense Danger Mouse was in violation of copyright law, he should not have been.

The solution to "The Grey Album" problem is to resolve the grey areas in copyright law.  Instead of simply extending copyright law to "protect the mouse," we should reexamine what and how intellectual property should be protected.  Since the digitalization of music encourages sampling and remixing, new legislation should be put into place that regulates the cost of these samples.  This way, the intellectual or artistic interests as well as the economic interests of artists would be protected, while also allowing artistic freedom.

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