Monday, January 23, 2006

Full Album Friday 5 (Monday Edition): Illegal Art

Casey Dorrell

Ah, the thorny issue of copyrights and music . . .

Of course the Napster battles of the late 90's seem of a entirely different era - the organization now co-opted by the people that once served it lawsuits. Yet, as the ubiquitous file-sharing kitty fades into corporate obscurity, the RIAA continues its tireless (and ultimately losing) crusade to sue everyone. And people continue to be offended by that. Why? Probably because the RIAA has the PR skills of monkey, and not one of those nice tux-wearing ones either. More the dirty feces-throwing variety. They just aren't that savvy when it comes to winning public support. Hint: Don't sue old ladies but if you can't follow this advice, at least make sure they're not dead. Yet, the claim that people are somehow justified in illegally trading music is, well, unjustified.

Here's a popular defense of music pilfering: The major record labels are corrupt and don't give any money to the artists anyhow. There's two problems with this argument. First, it only applies to major label artists. Go find some indie bands. A lot of them are getting the majority of what you pay for their CDs. And a lot of them are really good (try two of my favourites: The Like Young or Voxtrot). Second, even if the bands are only getting 2% of the profits from their CD sales, unless you're sending them money for what you download, they're still better off when you buy. I haven't taken any math since high school, but I'm pretty sure any positive number is above zero. And I'm also pretty sure that when it comes to money, being above zero is preferable.

Another one: I wouldn't buy any music anyhow, so they're not out anything. That might be true. When there's nothing tangible, no physical matter being transmitted, it's hard to argue against this. Still, if you're listening to it a lot, you might think about paying for it.

Yet another: File-sharing helps the bands gain exposure, it doesn't hurt them. One thing wrong with the argument is that we all know a lot of people are only downloading, and not buying. Gaining exposure to someone that will never pay you might be personally gratifying I guess, but it's hardly useful. The other problem with this argument is that most people downloading full albums aren't doing so haphazardly. They've searched out the album. They know what they're looking for, it's not new to them.

When do I think it's justifiable to download "illegal" music? When you're downloading it with the intent of eventually buying it, or to see if you want to buy it. That's generally what the downloads on this site, and others like it, are about. We give you samples, and hope you decide to buy something because of it. If it's commercially available I try to limit how much I put up for download. If it's not, then I don't have a problem with sharing it in its entirety. When music isn't commercially available, then it should be public domain regardless of the wishes of the band - at least where concert recordings are concerned. I really don't see an argument against this. With that said, we do always respect the wishes of bands when they are express, but only out of courtesy, and fear of lawsuits.

Artists have the moral right to demand money for their music. But at some point, it stops being their music. Almost all sampling ought to fall outside the realm of copyright infringement. The same should also apply for stealing riffs, stealing some amount of lyrics, or just generally aping someone else's sound. Copyright should exist only to make sure people get paid for what they've done, in its original form. If someone then takes that creation and completely perverts it, uses it in a different context, then the copyright should no longer apply. A new creation has been made. There is absolutely no chance that sampling or just being obscenely derivative is taking away money from the original source. In the case of sampling, it's either going to make no difference or it will encourage people to search out the source material. In the case of simply copying someone else's sound, too bad for the original band - all music is derivative.

Elastica Waves Pink Flag

Case in point: the seminal post-punk band, Wire, and the 90's alternative band, Elastica. Wire were never a huge commercial success but they were very influential. Both R.E.M. and Minor Threat cover the band, and there's a definite Wire lineage in current indie bands like Bloc Party. They also influenced Elastica. In fact, the band liked Wire's 1977 song, "Three Girl Rhumba" so much that they decided to take use the song as the intro for their hit, "Connection". They decided against sampling but the result is about the same. The members of Wire thought so too. They also thought a lot of other Elastica songs sounded like Wire, especially the song "Line Up" with its startling similarity to Wire's "I am the Fly". So, in 1995, they sued Elastica for copyright infringement and the case was settled out of court. Yet, I'm left wondering how, exactly, Elastica's lack of originality harmed Wire.

Remember the upset over Jack White's use of Citizen Kane lines as lyrics in "The Union Forever"? Sure the entire song is made from aping Citizen Kane, and clearly could not exist without the movie, but it's ingenious. I'm at a lose to explain how the White Stripes could be adversely affecting whoever owns the Citizen Kane rights. Citizen Kane isn't even a movie, it's culture.

As a reflection on the nature of copyrights for creative works, Stay Free! Magazine with the activist group, Downhill Battle, created the illegal-art exhibit. The exhibit has audio, video, visual, and written components. The audio portion is comprised of a music compilation that explores the nature of copyright in music and each song is available for download with text explaining the inclusion. And, yes, the Elastica song "Connection" is included. I don't entirely agree with Down Hill Battle, a group dedicated to promoting file-sharing and the downfall of the major labels, but I do agree with the implied sentiment of this exhibit.

The songs are eclectic in style but include some great tracks. Most notably Evolution Control Committee's brilliant "Rocked by Rape," made from splicing together a variety of Dan Rather's newscasts and the music from ACDC's "Back in Black". The band flooded napster with mislabeled copies leaving people looking for Beck or Nirvana outtakes with something a bit different. I was one of those people back in 1999 and for that, I'm glad. It also introduced be to Negativland, the kings of sampled music who, of course, are also on the compilation with their classic song, "U2". There's also less expected tracks, such as unreleased tracks by Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.

Below I've selected my favourites. Go to the site to read the commentary and get the rest of the songs.

Elastica - Connection
Wire - Three Girl Rhumba*
White Stripes - The Union Forever*
Beastie Boys - Rock Hard
Xper Xr. - Wu-Chu-Tung
Evolution Control Committee - Rocked By Rape
Negativland - U2 (Special Edit)
John Oswald - Black
Public Enemy - Psycho of Greed
*Not on Illegal Arts Compilation

Illegal-Art Exhibit Compilation

Full Album Friday 4 (Sunday Edition): American Edit
Full Album Friday 3 (Saturday Edition): Thrush Hermit - Nobody Famous
Full Album Friday 2 (Saturday Edition): The 8Bits of Christmas
Full Album Friday 1 (Saturday Edition): Sufjan Christmas

Comments on "Full Album Friday 5 (Monday Edition): Illegal Art"


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (23/1/06 2:04 pm) : 

someday, someday, at least one in every 400 people will comment.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (23/1/06 4:17 pm) : 

oh poor Mocking music doesn't have enough commenters...



Blogger michele said ... (23/1/06 5:05 pm) : 

Hi casey....maybe you would have more comments if you were more mainstream. I'm in music and i never heard of some of the people you talk about.


Blogger michele said ... (23/1/06 5:53 pm) : 

Here's another reason for re editing...lets get real most people don't scroll down to read your whole blog.Hell it's rare when i do it.Re edit keep the comments...what's wrong with that?
and they are reading something new.
especially being new to blog explosion. We are mere mortals
can't be brilliant everyday..
even leno and lettermen have writers..they aren't that smart without writers.


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (23/1/06 6:49 pm) : 

Yes, it is depressing how out of touch you are with current music given that you sell vinyl for a living - I think that's the point you were trying to make.
Most of the bands you haven't heard of, everyone else has. Others, you're right, most people don't know about. That's kind of the idea. People who genuinely like music, like discovering new music. People that don't, just talk about how great vinyl records from the 70s were.

And re-editing posts is just stupid. It'd make sense if we posted crap like yourself, but we generally have substance on our site.


Blogger michele said ... (23/1/06 7:03 pm) : 

Oh really i don't thinki post crap. I post relevant info people care about. Obsure bands?
People don't care about that.
Heavy metal-zeppelin rules
r&b marvin gaye-luther rules
hip hop-mary j &beyonce rules
rap-kanye west-jay-z rules
counrty- tim mcgraw faith hill rules
all of those are established artist
you talk about people who are 1 hit probably dug
ka ka goo goo
and tainted's all about a career not 1 good record.


Blogger michele said ... (23/1/06 7:15 pm) : 

You know casey i been thinking>
Your blog reminds me of a james brown record...talking loud and saying nothing,like a dull knife you just ain't cutt'in.
Now that was a song.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (23/1/06 11:17 pm) : 

Wow you not playing fair.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (24/1/06 12:52 am) : 

michele, i happen to care about obscure bands and i know a hell of a lot of other people that do too. its better than the crap you listed.


Blogger Calum Marsh said ... (24/1/06 1:05 am) : 

You'll notice that this very post mentions Beck, Nirvana, Public Enemy, and The Beastie Boys. Yeah, nobody's ever heard of them.


Anonymous Carl said ... (24/1/06 8:34 pm) : 

wow and I thought the comments would be about the fantastic post and mp3 samplage....two (or is that five?) words:

STFU Michele!!!

I haven't heard Connection by Elastica in a long time, great song and great post. I love your blog, and didn't realise you lot were Canadian...that would explain the sense of humour :D


Blogger mel said ... (25/1/06 2:04 am) : 

Wow, I didn't expect these comments to be so dirty either. I'm pretty biased (see freelance mockers) but I think this site presents a fine balance between bands that everyone knows and introducing a lot of new acts that are worth a listen. This kind of balance is exactly what I look for in a music source.

And I never thought I'd see the day that Beyonce and Tim McGraw came up on this blog with the word "rules" next to their name, in a serious tone. Wow.


Blogger pdm said ... (30/1/06 12:50 am) : 

I know it's been 5 days since the last post, so ain't no one gonna read this.... But, Dear Mocking Music, if you're posting songs for download, spare us the lectures about stealing. I'm an American living in a foreign country; I don't know personally one other human being who daily peruses music blogs like I do (the only way I can acquire any new tunes while I'm over here); I don't know how or why the average American indie kid uses these blogs. But for you guys to say "go out and buy this" or to post the obligatory link to amazon.... What lame gestures. You post music; we love you for it; we download and listen and love and are very gracious for all of your acts of love. But do you seriously expect us to only download the songs we're actually planning on purchasing? No. Of course you don't. Other sites like my favorite Aquarium Drunkard don't actually expect us to go over to Amazon and buy the cd, either. Like I say, it's an obligatory gesture, and that I understand. But I don't think you need to treat us to an entire post about how if we download the songs music blogs post we're somehow bad people unless we go buy the record. That's just plain silliness. And so is the length of this comment.


Anonymous Casey said ... (30/1/06 1:02 am) : 

Comments get emailed to us, don't worry about commenting in old posts. And this post still gets a fair amount of hits so others will likely see it.

I expected this response sooner actually. There's some huge gaping holes in my logic given that I run this site, I realize that. Still, my argument stays the same. I don't expect people to only keep mp3s of things they're going to buy. That'd be ridiculous. I have tons of mp3s of songs which I have no intention of ever buying. With that said, I do buy several albums a week. I think if you have a full album and listen to it frequently, it's not lame to feel obligated to pay for that. If you have a few mp3s from an artist, then it's different.

As far as treating an entire post to telling people to buy what they download from sites like this, I didn't. Most of the post pertains to p2p programs, and the rest pertains to sampling in music. I actually argued against bands limiting fans from sharing live and unreleased material. Maybe it is lame, but I do expect people to pay for music. Especially indepedent music.


Anonymous Casey said ... (30/1/06 1:04 am) : 

hah, just reread the one paragraph which I presume you're refering to as my entire post. You're right, that was pretty lame.

I stand by the rest of it.


Blogger pdm said ... (31/1/06 9:56 am) : 

I hope I didn't come off as a total jerk, Mocking Music. And I'm not advocating complete music anarchy. Young bands need to eat; older artists deserve royalties. I just don't understand who Music Blogs are appeasing by linking to Amazon. Are you guys doing it because others do it, that's the norm? Or have bands actually told you that they appreciate blogs linking like that? I understand why you do it -- I just think it's completely unnecessary. Has anyone ever listened to a song, said right there and then "oh christ i GOTTA buy this" and promptly went to Amazon via a music blog? -- I'm sure I sound like an ass. I've discovered a lot of great music over the past 4 months from sites like yours; I've joined eMusic; I've legally paid for stuff on iTunes; I've had family ship cd's overe to me. In the States I spend all my money on booze and music. I support the artist. I just think links to Amazon are lame.


Blogger Casey Dorrell said ... (31/1/06 12:10 pm) : 

Ah, well, if we're focusing solely on the amazon link . . . then, I agree with you. It's unlikely that anyone's ever bought a CD that quickly. The possible exception being when it's a band they've already known about and been contemplating buying (also not very likely).

Still, they're there for two reasons: One, like you said, it's more of a gesture than a functional act. Second, a lot of people use amazon and allmusic for checking out user reviews and "people who bought this bought...".

As far as the second point, it's the same reason we always make the first time a band name is mentioned in a post a link to that band's site. Occasionally people will click it, 95% of the time they don't. I guess that's less lame because it doesn't overtly advocate buying anything?

(and no, you didn't come off as an ass, try harder. This is Mocking Music, we encourage narcissism and self-importance and you're not doing your part! :)


Anonymous Draper said ... (31/1/06 11:28 pm) : 

HOORAY FOR PIRACY!!! (The DMCA has nothing on us scaliwags!). Yarrr.


Blogger pdm said ... (2/2/06 11:09 am) : 

You wouldn't dare accuse me of nonnarcissism and a lack of self-centeredness if you'd ever bothered to look at MY blog....

I get what you say about reading reviews on Amazon. I've spent many a rainy, inebreiated afternoon doing that. ...Never bought anything from Amazon, but sometimes its fun to read words written by pretentious music fans outside of the music blogosphere.

Nice married couple post.


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