kNOw Future Inc.

law, technology and cinema, washed down with wine

Taking out Contracts on Creators?

The organisers of the Oil of the 21st Century have a text, both poetic and inexorably accurate, where they point out that when the content industry claims to be protecting artists, they are increasingly (!) referring to dead authors:

“Human history is the history of copying, and the entirely defensive and desperate attempt to stall its advancement by the means of Intellectual Property – the proposition to ressurect the dead as rights holders and turn the living into their licensees – only indicates how profoundly recent advancements in copying technology, the adaptability and scalability they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, are about to change the order of things. …… The spectre that is haunting Intellectual Proprietors world-wide is no longer just the much-lamented “death of the author”, but the becoming-producer and becoming-distributor of the capitalist consumer.”

For ‘intellectual property’, read copyright, which extends past the death of the author, often for an additional seventy years. When the copyright industry seeks another extension to the scope and duration of exclusive rights, they are attempting to increase the licensing value of their archives rather than help the proverbial garret-dweller in the fight to pay rent, fill the stomach and buy pencils.

The point is a good one, but is ripe for additional amendment- there are after all a few artists still breathing. Successful artists and cultural creators do not need to join the deceased in order to get killed off so far as a fair share of revenue from their work, and control over its fate, is concerned. When Tony Soprano orders an OBE* contract on someone, he of course means it metaphorically – Tony is a man with clear ideas as to what lawyers are useful for, and that does not encompass the operational aspect of settling scores or negotiating with hitmen. The movie, music and software industry do, however, take out creators in a very literal way, through the use of contracts.

Principal weapons in this vile practice of elimination are the work for hire clause in both cinema and software, and unfair accounting practices in music. The former case turns the limited company created for a film production into the effective author for legal purposes, whilst the latter ensures that the risk of failure is carried by the musician. Courtney Love made no bones about the villainous nature of record contracts as some readers may remember, and the Recording Artists Coalition regularly make similar points. One doesn’t hear as many complaints about the work-for-hire clause, partially becasue the material situation in the industry is dealt with through the various industry labour negotiations. One thing is sure however, the immediately interested party as far as film copyright is concerned is rarely the director or the actor. Just a small thing to bear in mind next time you listen to Dan Glickman and other industry representatives.

*One Behind the Ear, a dark Irish pun on the UK honours system.

August 15, 2007 - Posted by | /, cinema, copyright, law, music

1 Comment »

  1. Downloaders may be guilty as hell but A&R people are often worse than demons. For far too long artists have been ripping off material from small-time wannabes.
    What about a bit more self-policing instead? Too many musicians are encouraged or pressured to steal ideas from others; what is the industry doing about that, huh?

    What I am about to tell you sounds whacko however the truth sometimes just sounds that incredible. Between 1983 and 1986, I lived on 256 Vanderbilt Ave (#4L), Brooklyn, NY. I’d just graduated from Pratt Institute with a Master’s in Communications Design. Experimental music demos I made while I lived on Vanderbilt were copied by unidentified persons. Somehow, these persons contacted Sony Music and other big labels and they got hold of my material.

    I later heard, after my return in 1986 to Ghana, in hit songs from the U.S., lots of melodies I’d written–note-for-note. Guilty the most was LaFace Records and quite a few artists with Sony Music (Babyface, Boyz II Men – “End of the Road”, TLC – “Waterfalls”, Mariah Carey – “One Sweet Day”, Tony Rich, etc). I’d sung most of my material in nonsense lyrics and ad-lib; I was experimenting and didn’t worry to much about lyrical content. I even experimented with criss-cross drumbeat rhythms (from the Frafra and Dagare tribes), which found its way into and became mainstream R&B rhythmic material, courtesy of LaFace Records/Sony Music and others. There were silly, “radio drama” intros to songs that I concocted that Tony Rich used extensively as did several other guys. By sheer volume, I don’t think it is pure coincidence.

    A Ghanaian (now a U.S. citizen), currently working at Brandywine Assets Management (NJ) may know how my demos got to Sony Music. It is rumoured he worked there briefly. He was at Pratt Institute with me and often remarked that my songs had the potential to be blockbuster hits. I’ve been unable to contact him for an explanation. He wouldn’t reply my e-mail.

    Much later I heard other bits of my work, also note-for-note, in songs by Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, R. Kelly and Kirk Franklin’s work (”You’re Not Alone”; the van Passels lied; “My Heart Will Go On”; “I Believe I Can Fly”;”Lean On Me”, etc). I really don’t know how all those guys got hold of my stuff?

    Nobody believes me when I tell them this story. It’s simply unbelievable. But I have proof. I have over 40 hours of music I composed on old TDK and Sony cassettes. Technically, the magnetic tape recordings can easily be assessed as having been made in the mid-’80s. Further, any musicologist can listen to the tracks and tell from my musical signature (a kind of compositional fingerprinting) that their compositions even with the re-arrangements are a direct rip off. (My ideas may seem eclectic but that’s where my ideas were pushing me at the time).

    I’ve tried for over 15 years to get just anybody to listen to this fantastic story. I’ve hesitated pushing it too far because this all sounds a bit too kooky I guess. I’d always wanted a good investigative journalist and some brilliant lawyers to uncover the truth but couldn’t get anyone interested…and I don’t have the money either. Whatever it is, I don’t think all those ideas of mine being duplicated elsewhere is pure coincidence.

    Disregard the fact that I’m an African. I grew up listening to the best music of the ’60s and ’70s. I played in several bands as keyboard player and later as a bass player/ guitarist. And though self-taught I know I was pretty creative and original.

    Is anyone listening? The music industry should also focus on how to maintain the creative integrity of artists. That’s going to be difficult but it must be encouraged. Sure there’s tons of pressure and contracts and deals and all that and artists have to come up with something fantastic every now and then. But ripping off other people’s material is low, cheap, wrong and downright evil. Money drives the whole thing as I can see and that’s all right. But there’s the need for some fundamental change to how we get that money. Values may not mean much to business people but to me as an artist, hey, it’s important!

    When your creative juices stop flowing, what is fair is shifting gear, moving on to new partnerships or abandoning ship. Plagiarising other people’s material cannot credibly sustain any ‘talented’ artists’ career.

    The music industry giants should watch how sincere the artists they’ve signed up are and what their A&R guys are doing with all the solicited and unsolicited material. ‘And,’ as Shakespeare said, ‘there’s the rub,’

    Comment by penez | January 19, 2009 | Reply


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