From copyrighting human genes and prohibiting generic production of potentially life-saving drugs, to the severe constraints against filmmakers and musicians, all of the material was educational and…disheartening. There is so much that has lit a fire under me.
The one shining light for me this week is Lawrence Lessig and his partnership in the Creative Commons. Not only is he fighting for a larger public domain, he has found a way to do something about it. The CC’s free licenses allow for creative flexibility by artists in the use of their original work, thereby allowing some breathing room once their work is put out for the world to see, hear, etc. Unfortunately, the government has not caught on the copyright law needs to be more “porous,” allowing credit where credit is due, but not strangle holding future creativity on the original idea.
And, without people like Professor Lessig, and hopefully many more in the future, I believe that are freedoms of expression© are, right now, being diminished every day. In the world of cultural criticism, I should be free to praise or criticize what I like, especially since corporate culture is now an indelible part of our daily lives. As the reading and film covered, I cannot legally criticize an individual, a corporation or use their logo on my web site. The artist who created, and then was sued for, the Barbie in a Blender exhibit is an example of how corporations dictate and control their image and products to the point where we can’t utilize them for expressing our thoughts about the world around us. Or we’re at least very afraid to because we don’t want to get sued. Well, I don’t care to see 500 McDonald’s commercials every time I watch TV, or 50 McDonald’s billboards on my way to work. Can I sue them for being obnoxious? No, but they can definitely sue me if I publish a blog with negative opinions of their corporation. This is not democratic and this is not free.
I could go on and on about this, but just one more point to make about how copyright stifles creativity, the one thing the law was originally written to protect. As the movie stated, there has been nothing entirely new since the invention of fire and it has been this way for eons. A fellow poster talked about the Kelly Clarkson/Beyonce song debate. This is not new, and neither ripped off from the other. There is a term called jazz contrafacts, which Wikipedia defines as “a musical composition built out of an already existing one, most often by using the original tune's chord progression as a basis for a new composition.” One cannot copyright a chord change and because of this, jazz musicians created a huge catalog of rich, vibrant, new and original music was created. The same happened, as Krenshaw described in his book, with Woody Guthrie, Marianne Moore, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, and thousands more. A rich public domain serves as the foundation for continuous new creative endeavors, and also denies the misappropriation of things that can’t be copyrighted in the first place. Case in point: in the Amen Break film, a UK company included the Amen Break in a software sampling kit and copyrighted it 2002. Well, that’s nice, but you can’t really copyright a drumbeat, just like you can’t copyright a chord change.
My husband and I are both musicians, and I believe that credit should be given when and where it is due. But if I write a song, the idea comes from somewhere. And since I haven’t been living in a cave I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of influences so who knows what will show up. And without file sharing and the Internet, the RIAA and a handful of corporations that control the music business would completely control the music that I could be exposed to. Record companies give contracts to artists that are marketable, and who will make them money. Telling me I cannot download a track from a great, unsigned band is forcing me to have bad taste, forcing me to limit my musical experience, and infringing on my free choice.
Like Mazzone’s reading last week stated, the government has got to do something to redistribute the power of choice back to the people, and re-amend the laws that were originally written to protect both the author’s idea and the ability of the public to synthesize that idea.