Saturday, September 25, 2010

Culture, Inc.

I would like to focus my blog post on the McLeod (2007) chapter 4 entitled "Culture, Inc." Much like Kathy's response to the mashup videos and CC information, I just ate McLeod's writing and points right up! Intellectual property is something that I frequently struggle with, and continue to do so, but I have never considered it in the arena of musical performance. A listener of hip-hop myself, the notion of sampling has never occured to me as something that involves copyright because I love it so much when artists do it. Everything we know today as great originals are more than likely ust another portion of this intricate tapestry of interconnected pop culture. The familiar cultural references made in the great originals of hip-hop, which I do think they still are, is this form of music's major draw, giving me a sense of deep personal connection to the artist. Plus, not to mention that sampling has never appeared to me as stealing simply because I assume that by the time it hits the airwaves, the producers and anyone else involved with the song(s) production has already figured out any points of contention.

Thinking of copyright, intellectual property, and music reminded me of last year when Kelly Clarkson's song "Already Gone" was accused of being a rip off from Beyonce's new hit at the time, "Halo." Here is an article that gives an idea of what happened, but basically, the two songs use almost identical chord progressions and people criticized Ms. Clarkson for "stealing" the idea. Turns out the writer gave the same track to both artists, who then went on to write and produce two totally different songs, yet the who situation was under fire for a period of time because of the defamation that it brought on Ms. Clarkson's musical authenticity. I find this horribly unfortunate because both songs were unique pieces of music that - although they used the same progressions - were not done in poor form. If I were to write a song about single ladies with sweet dreams about being crazy in love (granted these are textual, not musical), would I too be framed as an artistic thief, when the work I produce is a standalone piece?

Intellectual, I mean, property... has a unique dualism in that it seeks to encourage original thought and creativity while at the same time suffocating independent work of the cultural influences surrounding it. Going back to the example of hip-hop provided by McLeod (2007), ideas and art and text and everything we see today - even advertisements - is part and parcel to the dialogue of the world in which we live. McLeod (2007) writes, "Referencing pop culture helps us define our identities and cultural preferences. It also provides us with a kind of grammar and syntax that structures our everyday talk." The freedom of expression (I LOVED that he has a registered trademark for that phrase in the book) no longer feels free, especially when we're expected to bind our fierce loyalties to brands and images, yet are cut short when we try to turn around and use them in a benefit for ourselves. The whole idea that the more highly recognizable you are = the more targetable you are = the more control you have over your image just seems to be a recipe for disaster in the world of information as we know it. Question: why didn't everyone on Facebook who recently jumped on the bandwagon of posting a photo of their celebrity doppleganger as their profile pic get sued? Or Facebook itself? Is it considered "personal" fair use, which then why do satirical domain names for personal websites get threatened by multi-billion dollar corporations? (i.e.; 17-year-old Canadian Mike Rowe).

I just really found McLeod's arguments compelling and would encourage you to check out chapter 4, if you have the chance. A lot of food for thought with regard to information policy, as he also touches on DMCA and the digital world's changing information environment. And to second Kathy's excitement, I'm a huge Creative Commons fan (I mostly use Wikimedia Commons for the images on my other blog and for work sometimes) and am even considering contributing to it. Are individuals creating a community of information sharing enough to overhaul the rigidity of copyright laws? :)


  1. I also enjoyed McLeod's point about creating a vocabulary upon which we can grow as a society by sharing our ideas and creativity. Yet, the same idea that the more targetable and the more ownership you have if you have more recognition (a larger name/company, etc.), can also be reversed. A no-name artist could have worked on a track for his album for months in his basement, perfecting the harmonies, building up to the perfect chorus, and wouldn't want all of his hard work to be thrown out the window because someone else is claiming credit for his work. I could just see some large record company stealing a lyric from Joe Carwash and it wouldn't hit the newsstands. Copyright is a good thing in that it protects the creator during the creative process. I also really enjoy having the choice to share your work on sites like Creative Commons. I'm glad that we looked at this website, as I didn't know such a wonderful thing existed.
    So while people are crying out all information should be free, shouldn't creators (who may be trying to earn a livelihood from their efforts) have the freedom to share their work or choose to keep it privately owned? Maybe there isn't any real discussion or debate here, but despite knowing the downside of copyright, I still think the rigidity of copyright has a place in protecting and enhancing the creative process.

  2. I love your statement, "Intellectual, I mean, property... has a unique dualism in that it seeks to encourage original thought and creativity while at the same time suffocating independent work of the cultural influences surrounding it." You've really hit the nail on the head. Time and time again in McLeod's books are examples of copyright getting in the way of creative expression. Yet do I think a copyright-less world would be better? No, because an absence of copyright would have the same limiting affect (who wants to put in all the hard work of creating something when someone else can just rip it off). I think the solution is finding a happy medium. Our society needs to be less sue-happy (in general, but also as it relates to copyright) and enforce copyright in blatant, malicious infringement cases. Not when a tiny, independent band uses lyrics from a song without knowing it....

  3. Really enjoying your postings and comments, everyone. I'm glad you found Mcleod's book enjoyable, too. His writing is accessible and he makes his points in very straightforward ways.

    Mel, I think your point is definitely out there, too, in that artists need and want to eat, earn a living, gain attribution for their output and so on. This why Creative Commons has sprung up, for example. What Mcleod and others (such as our old friend Siva Vaidhyanathan, who is also very active in these discussions) have pointed out is that, in most cases, authors and creators are not in control of their output, anyway. Large companies tend to control the artistic output. These scholars would argue for a return of that control into the hands of the creators and for there to be balance among the creators, artists and distributors and copyright holders, who are often in two different camps.