Commons people: music in a digital age

Saturday 20 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Garden Room

From the legend of Robert Johnson trading his soul with the Devil through to censor-baiting ‘gangsta’ rap, musicians have traditionally held the role of rebellious outlaws pushing legal and cultural boundaries. Yet since the rise of internet and file-sharing sites such as Napster, it is music fans and consumers who increasingly find themselves hauled before the courts, sometimes at the behest of their musical icons. The controversy over the website Pirate Bay, with prosecutions and multi-million dollar lawsuits giving rise to an international political movement in the form of the Pirate Party, is merely the most high-profile cause celebre highlighting the difficulties of managing intellectual property in a digital age. Numerous government reviews and legislation (including the notorious Digital Economy Act in the UK and SOPA/PIPA in the US) indicate a general dissatisfaction on all sides with copyright, but little agreement or common ground.

For popular music, the sides are as intensely fought as they are blurry. The suppression of art-works such as famous Beatles/Jay-Z mash-up The Grey Album due to lack of permissions is held as outright censorship, with some questioning whether genres such as hip-hop could ever have reached the mainstream in today’s climate. The irony that live music and concerts are thriving in the internet age is held as an example of industry hypocrisy and short-termism, while the success of iTunes and Spotify implies the average consumer is happy to pay for their music in some form. Yet artists and musicians can be understandably more protective of copyright when ensuring they receive fair attribution and remuneration for original work which others can profit from or from preventing its use in contexts they don’t approve of.

In a world where the production as well as distribution of music is becoming easier and cheaper, is copyright simply a device to keep an antiquated record industry in business? Or in shouting about ‘freedom’, are anti-social file-sharers just trying to excuse and rationalise stealing goods which do not belong to them? In over a decade since Napster was forced to close, has there been much progress in adapting to the new digital frontiers?

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Helienne Lindvall
award-winning professional songwriter; musician; music and media columnist, Guardian

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Andrew Orlowski
executive editor, Register; assistant producer, All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

John Waters
Irish newspaper columnist; author, Jiving at the Crossroads and Was It For This? Why Ireland Lost the Plot

Jacob Reynolds
consultant, SHM Productions

Produced by
Jacob Reynolds consultant, SHM Productions
Recommended readings
Musicians win copyright extension to 70 years

Artists including Sir Cliff Richard had argued they would lose royalties, but will now gain protection until at least 2033

Josh Halliday, Guardian, 12 September 2012

How to fix the broken internet economy: START HERE

Tech and copyright – it's time to work together

Andrew Orlowski, Register, 13 July 2012

Behind the music: Changing copyright laws won't solve everything

Vince Cable claims changing copyright laws could bring an £8bn boost to the British economy. But even when the changes make sense, it's hard to imagine them generating so much money

Helienne Lindvall, Guardian, 19 June 2012

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered.

Fairly compensating musicians is not a problem that is up to governments and large corporations to solve. Rather, fairness for musicians is a problem that requires each of us to individually look at our own actions, values and choices and try to anticipate the consequences of our choices.

David Lowery, Trichordist, 18 June 2012

Other Ways to Think About the Copyright Debate

Do we, as a society, value our artists and the arts as a whole? Do we appreciate them enough to support them so that the arts can continue to grow and that artistic expressions of ideas can be protected? Or do we believe that all artistic works should be free, no matter the cost, even if that cost includes the actual content creators themselves?

Simon Tam, Music Think Tank, 11 April 2012

'Don't break the internet': How an idiot's slogan stole your privacy...

For 15 years internet companies have been waging a war against any kind of laws that establish properties and permissions for digital things. Every attempt to do so has been bitterly fought. It's the one constant in Silicon Valley's battles against the copyright industries.

Andrew Orlowski, Register, 9 April 2012

Cory Doctorow on copyright and piracy: 'Every pirate wants to be an admiral' - video

Blogger and activist Cory Doctorow argues that all new media – from sheet music to cable TV – is accused of piracy by the mainstream ... until it becomes the mainstream

Guardian, 30 May 2011

This digital utopianism is glorified piracy

The chattering classes’ passion for free file-sharing and disdain for creators’ rights is a betrayal of art and its practitioners.

Andrew Orlowski, spiked, 9 October 2008

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