Creative copyright thinking

As someone who spends much time exploring concepts and project ideas for clients I am keenly interested in copyright and intellectual property protection.

Some type of new roadmap is needed for copyright so that we can preserve hard won rights but not stifle the new developments flowing from the digital melting pot.

At the same time many of us have little sympathy for record companies who are still struggling with the challenges of digital distribution. However anyone who creates original content wants to be able to license it in some way and getting to a balance point is difficult.

With digital mixing capabilities available to almost everyone with a computer and a little free time it is no wonder we have ended up with often bizzare but funny new combinations of subject matter like babies dancing to Prince songs as noted by McConnell & Huba

“The age of the citizen marketer does not mean blind obedience. Fan sites banded together to form a protest site: PrinceFansUnited.com, or PFU. Yes, Prince fans formed a site to protest Prince. Strange, certainly. But they argue, correctly, that the Prince-inspired content they create is within the laws regarding freedom of speech and fair use. They want Prince to reconsider his position. If not, they say, they’ll defend their position in court.

If that wasn’t enough, things took a turn for the weirder on Nov. 8 when Prince sent the protesters a song called “PFUnk”. In it, Prince calls fans “punks” and “turncoats.” Sample lyric: “The only reason u say my name Is 2 get ur 15 secs of fame.” (Lyrics here). Either way, there’s a lot of FU going on.

To top all of that off like a purple cherry, the objects of his derision say “PFUnk” is one of Prince’s best songs in years”

Note: That new Prince song appears to have been taken down off the official site but should be able to be tracked down. A copy is still over here. The PFU site also notes

“We are working towards a position where mutually-acceptable guidelines can be agreed upon for unofficial fan sites”

I listened to it a few times and it is impossible to say whether Prince is wanting to protect copyright or just stir the controversy for other purposes. Also I suspect that thousands of listeners have local copies as well.

On a related note; Russell Brown writes that the music companies have largely abandoned DRM because of Apple’s success in controlling the market rather than technical reasons.

“But it wasn’t consumer problems that turned the majors: it was more the fact that DRM – which they had hoped would allow them to control their markets – had in fact become a tool for others to manipulate markets in ways that stripped the record companies of power…Jobs was dictating terms to the industry. And DRM gave him the power.”

So it looks like we are heading for a time when digital content will be free of DRM but there still needs to be a way to use that as a platform for the new.

Creative Commons is now 5 years old and perhaps this is one model that might work.

Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from “All Rights Reserved” to “Some Rights Reserved.”

There is a new video over at TED on Lawrence Lessig and how the law is strangling creativity. Some of the examples on that video will date very fast but you can fast forward. Noric Dilanchian suggests that the creative commons concept is somewhat oversold but offers a more definitive view on what is involved especially for Australia.

To get an idea of how fast some of this area has changed there is an earlier piece of musical history on the amen break beat called “Can I Get An Amen?, 2004″ a 17min+ performance piece by Nate Harrison

It has now had close to 1m views on Yoh Tube at this location. The video explains the history of a 6 second drum loop called the amen break which is an extremely recognizable from many of the times it has been sampled by other music producers.

New Zealand and Creative Commons is the place to go to keep up with local developments. Each country seems to have interpreted the concept differently depending on local laws and that is how it should be.

Both the Lessig arguments and the Harrison music history make the case for being able to build on earlier works to create new combinations.

Creative commons may not be the full answer but it does provide some form of roadmap that can be tweaked to local conditions.