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Putting their bandwidth where their mouth is
August 3, 2007 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Good Copy Bad Copy is "a documentary about the current state of copyright and culture," featuring Danger Mouse, Lawrence Lessig, Dan Glickman of the MPAA and others. The film's creators are releasing it free of charge, via Bittorrent.
posted by jbickers (30 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love the part where the pretentious Brazillian guy is cooly lounging there, bragging about how the artists in Brazil just make the music for fun, then pass it on to street vendors, who make money off it. They're so advanced! They understand that the music is just an ad!

And then they show that guy working on the music itself, and the documentary starts being about these concert promoters, who are the real money-makers and superstars; the artists themselves "don't expect money" for their work. Well, that's just fucking great for them.

But it's supposed to be all right, because the concert promoters make tons of money setting up--whee!--huge, "fun" get-togethers with lots of people who herd and grind and hear the music! And how that guy who made that music gets by or supports himself is never addressed.

That is the perfect model because then the record companies, distributors, and so on can make money off of it and eliminate paying the artist all together--just like the Brazillian model! Since the companies own the copyright to the stuff sampled, they can work out the royalties among themselves.

A naive and disingenuous documentary, to say the least.
posted by interrobang at 10:26 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Amen, interrobang (comment not affiliated with any religion or deity).
posted by sleepy pete at 10:44 AM on August 3, 2007


And how that guy who made that music gets by or supports himself is never addressed.

But why is that even significant? Do musicians have to derive their income from their music?
posted by Doug at 10:47 AM on August 3, 2007


Hey, you're right! Why do we need a Poet Laureate, too?
posted by interrobang at 10:53 AM on August 3, 2007


lolpeoplewhowanttomaketheworldabetterplace
posted by DU at 11:07 AM on August 3, 2007


interrobang: I'm not really sure how that relates to what I was saying, but I suppose the fault is mine for asking rhetorical questions. My point is that there's no reason that works of art necessarily must result in monetary compensation for the artist. The idea that an artist MUST be paid in order to enjoy that artist's work is, to me, naive and disingenuous. I might, for example, make movies in my spare time, but I wouldn't expect that I should necessarily receive a paycheck because people view my movies. I can even imagine a situation in which I would be very happy for people to see my films, and yet I wouldn't expect to be paid for them. That doesn't mean, however, that I think there should never be compensation for artists. For example, I'm all for government sponsorship of the arts.
posted by Doug at 11:08 AM on August 3, 2007


Putting their bandwidth where their mouth is

You mean putting the bandwidth of whoever downloads the movie via bittorrent where their mouth is?
posted by anazgnos at 11:10 AM on August 3, 2007


The bottom line is that we, as a civilization, have expressed an interest in maximizing the amount of art and discovery that happens on our watch. The question is, does the current system achieve that goal, or is art and discovery happening in spite of, and not because of, the current rules? Would we have more art created and more discoveries made if we threw out the rules and let everyone sample everything?

At least in art, nothing happens in a vacuum, and we're forbidding people from building on anything that has been created in their own lifetime. I suspect that we'd get more creativity from the artists of our generation if we threw out the rules and let them reinterpret whatever the hell they want. Most artists want fame, the money is secondary.
posted by mullingitover at 11:30 AM on August 3, 2007


The idea that an artist MUST be paid in order to enjoy that artist's work is, to me, naive and disingenuous.

I don't think that any artist (well, okay, there are a lot of assholes out there) expects payment in return for enjoyment. I do think that there are a lot of artists whose output would be greatly improved were they not spending most of their time filing reports or making hamburgers.

I am not saying that artists deserve to be paid. I'm saying that the alternative model suggested by this documentary doesn't even address how the artists shown have the time and money to work; they're basically being leeched off of by concert promoters, which is a worse system than the one we have already.
posted by interrobang at 11:33 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I won't have a chance to see this until later this afternoon, so perhaps this is clarified in the documentary. I don't understand why interrobang writes,

"That is the perfect model because then the record companies, distributors, and so on can make money off of it and eliminate paying the artist all together--just like the Brazillian model! Since the companies own the copyright to the stuff sampled, they can work out the royalties among themselves."

If this model minimizes or eliminates copyright, how is the company's ownership of copyright to their benefit? Doesn't the performer have the most leverage in negotiating pay for a live performance? Without copyright the artists lose the passive income they would have made from the sale of their work but is that the only argument in its favor?

And how is it disingenuous? What are they glossing over if they claim that art will be produced for fun? Given that they prefer a system where there are no laws to protect the economic interests of the creators, it is consistent not to worry about the artist's income. Why should they? It's the artist's business.

It seems technology has largely made the issue moot. I don't see how widespread copying of media can be controlled except through the most draconian measures. Doesn't mean Congress won't try, the government hasn't exactly shown itself to be shy in extending the reach of law enforcement. But again, at what benefit?

And no, we certainly don't _need_ a Poet Laureate. If the office was never filled, it wouldn't make a difference. America would get along just fine without the 'production' that comes from such an appointment.
posted by BigSky at 11:40 AM on August 3, 2007


Eh, no one cares what a Libertarian thinks about the arts.
posted by interrobang at 11:41 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I do think that there are a lot of artists whose output would be greatly improved were they not spending most of their time filing reports or making hamburgers.

Even if they don't make enough off their music to quit their day job, at least making enough money to plow back into music creation would be beneficial to both the artists and the fans. A race to the free-music-for-everyone bottom just makes everyone lose.
posted by cmonkey at 11:48 AM on August 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


What I mean is, as a Libertarian, you probably can't tell the difference between art and advertising, since you want to give control of everything over to large corporations who you trust to serve the public good. If people can't pay for art, fuck 'em, right? And if people can't afford to make art, fuck 'em, too, huh?
posted by interrobang at 11:48 AM on August 3, 2007


"What I mean is, as a Libertarian, you probably can't tell the difference between art and advertising, since you want to give control of everything over to large corporations who you trust to serve the public good. If people can't pay for art, fuck 'em, right? And if people can't afford to make art, fuck 'em, too, huh?"

Actually I don't want to give control of everything over to large corporations. My preference is for small business owners to prosper. But all of that is a different conversation.

I'm certainly opposed to most if not all public funding for the arts despite many great works having been created only be virtue of state funding. Still, there is plenty of room to create with materials that are cheap and accessible to the vast majority. And isn't this discussion more about copyright than public funding? Those who are determined to write or paint or compose won't be stopped by lack of sales. Their output may shrink from having to find another job but there are many who spend their leisure hours in some sort of creative pursuit and want it seen. A lack of copyright won't hurt the performers that much. Many of them will get more exposure from wider distribution and will then have more touring opportunities. It is the writers, photographers and film makers who will be most at risk of loss of livelihood.
posted by BigSky at 12:08 PM on August 3, 2007


A lack of copyright won't hurt the performers that much.

I'm trying not to get caught up in this, but it's hard not to.

First, a lack of copyright is usually great for people like Danger Mouse, but what about the scenario of a small label having to sue another small label because they stole a song and put new lyrics on top of it? 99 Records and the band Liquid Liquid sued Sugar Hill over the song White Lines because it lifted the song "Caverns" from Liquid Liquid and placed a rap about cocaine on the top of it, only a few years after the original was released. "White Lines" is still popular when it comes to old-school rap, Liquid Liquid not so much. In fact, other than a few music geeks, who in the hell even knows this story? The outcome of the case was that both record companies had to close because of debt. Should copyright not work in this case?

Since copyright isn't going to change any time soon in the US, and will in fact only become more strict thanks to items like the Sonny Bono Act, the larger corporations and those with money enough to see the lawsuits through will win every time. This is discouraging, and something has to change, and maybe it will slowly, but the idea of copyright should not be done away with entirely.

Many of them will get more exposure from wider distribution and will then have more touring opportunities.

How are you going to make money on a tour in order to get you to the next town if you're doing it for fun and all of the money goes to the promoter?

It is the writers, photographers and film makers who will be most at risk of loss of livelihood

True, but culture within any given society that only those with an inheritance or trust fund or money of some sort to sustain them will cause art, music, photographry, and film to be an elitist pursuit, homogenized even more than it seems to be now. So, if you want to see more trust fund babies with guitars and synths, have at it.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:39 PM on August 3, 2007


Or trust funders with new paints, cameras, and whatever as well. Sorry, I was thinking about music too much there.
posted by sleepy pete at 12:44 PM on August 3, 2007


A lack of copyright won't hurt the performers that much. Many of them will get more exposure from wider distribution and will then have more touring opportunities.

Even if the concert promoter doesn't collect all of the money and run, in order to take advantage of "touring opportunities", every member of the band needs to have a job they can take two or three weeks off from (or quit entirely). The band needs to either have a van available, or make the upfront investment into purchasing a van. They need to have capital on hand in order to eat while on the road. Then they need to actually book the shows, which is tough if your band, popular and exposed on the internet though it may be, is located on the west coast and you're trying to book a show in a city that you've never visited in the midwest. Then the band goes on tour and spends money on gas and food and lodging, once they're sick of sleeping in truck stops or begging the show promoter to let them sleep on his floor. And considering what a small slice of the door bands get (this is even worse if it's a house show relying on donations), most bands end up losing money on tour. That doesn't even take into account the upfront costs of producing merchandise to sell while on tour.

Sure, they might have fun on a road trip, and it's cool if you're Wilco or your band wants to live on the road, but "touring opportunities" aren't a magic bullet.
posted by cmonkey at 12:45 PM on August 3, 2007


Two cents, from a musician who isn't making any money (ie me):

I have written at least an album's worth of solid children's music (as well as a big pile of not-so-solid stuff for children and adults), and enjoyed every minute of it. I wrote the kid's music for my kids, and the adult music for my own pleasure. That's all the motivation I needed.

However, the production quality of my recordings of said music is mediocre at best, because I personally have no compelling reason to make it better than it is; it's just archival. The real fun is in the writing and playing and singing, except in those situations where the production work is the fun part (and, accordingly, those recordings are the ones that have terrific production quality.)

Would I love to release a CD and have everyone in the world buy it and send me piles of money? Sure! I'm not an idiot. It'd be like winning the lottery, except I had to put a little more work into it. Arguably the odds of it happening are the same. Still, at some point I'll complete an album, because it will give me pleasure to reach that point.

I will then release that CD and, in the same fashion as the adsense ads I'm running on a website of mine that I operate for fun, I'll generate almost no income whatsoever (I believe Google owes me about $1.87 after a month of running ads.) But it won't have taken any effort that hadn't already paid me in pleasure. Which isn't as dirty as it sounds, unfortunately.

There are lots of musicians that are highly motivated to become rich and famous, and many of them are talented as well; but there are lots of other musicians who are highly motivated to have a good time instead, and many of them are talented as well. They just don't have a big marketing push behind them to get themselves into your consciousness.

So the current industry approach is ideal for customers who want their music to come to them, as it were, and don't mind paying for the privilege.

For those of us who enjoy making music and don't have concern for profits (but do want to share our creations with the world, even at a net loss) are at best indifferent to the current industry approach, and at worst at odds with it -- if we cover someone else's song, or sample it, or remix it, we can't share it with anyone except a few close friends without jumping through the copyright hoops.

Even if the music we make and distribute is original, we have to worry that if it made it into the public eye somehow (ie got the attention of the record companies) we could be in trouble if it too closely resembled someone else's work -- and how many amateur musicians can afford to hire a musicologist to do the research for our songs?

I think the trick is to find a situation wherein those artists that seek profits can obtain them without being taken advantage of, where record companies can exist as long as they can find customers for the products they sell, and amateur musicians can make and distribute as much "fun" music as they like, so long as it is not a for-profit endeavor.

While you all work that out, I'm going to go and see if I can find a way to play metal on my ukulele.
posted by davejay at 12:56 PM on August 3, 2007


they're basically being leeched off of by concert promoters, which is a worse system than the one we have already.

Worse, or differently bad?

I haven't had a chance to watch this yet so I'm largely extracting things from a lower-torso orifice on the specifics of this, but it seems like a simplistic assumption that it's worse because these artists are faring poorly. The unfortunate reality of life is that there's a lot of people faring poorly in exchange for their hard work, not just in music.

Discussing the quality of that system (or our system) simply by looking at who directly profits and who directly fails to profit ignores the reality that our laws aren't just about individual protection but about maximizing society's value as well. The whole point of the social contract is that we surrender some rights to - theoretically - gain more rights as a collective.

The US system of copyright is structured in such a way that it benefits the creator/owner FAR more than society. To society's detriment, I would contend, and certainly in a way notably more extreme than we protect inventions with patent protection. The Brazillian musicians may fare poorly but I don't see how we can have a conversation about our system or theirs and focus exclusively on whether or not the original creator makes money. The interest of society needs to be discussed as well and at the moment we don't consider it at all.
posted by phearlez at 1:08 PM on August 3, 2007


The US system of copyright is structured in such a way that it benefits the creator/owner FAR more than society.

Fixed that for you.
posted by wendell at 1:19 PM on August 3, 2007


Your snark is understandable but let's not pretend that anyone's putting a gun to the heads of people who sign over their ownership rights.
posted by phearlez at 2:34 PM on August 3, 2007


True, but culture within any given society that only those with an inheritance or trust fund or money of some sort to sustain them will cause art, music, photographry, and film to be an elitist pursuit, homogenized even more than it seems to be now. So, if you want to see more trust fund babies with guitars and synths, have at it.

Oh, bullshit. There are entire genres that operate on the following model: Underground bands record into their own computer (or a rented local studio) using their own instruments, then a small record label pays $1000 to print 500 CDs of their album and gives the band 50 or 100 of them, which they sell to fans through the mail and at shows. If the album becomes popular enough to sell out, the small label might reprint it; wash, rinse, repeat. Everyone wins. Bootleg releases even pop up now and again, but can't defeat the simplicity and low cost of self-releasing.

Music meant for widespread public consumption is further from being an elitist pursuit now than it has been in centuries. At $1000 for the cost of printing 500 CDs, assuming the band is a four-piece, each member only needs to throw in $250. Over the course of the year it might take to write and record the album, that's within the reach of even the poorest band. And given the state of digital film cameras, internet distribution, vanity publishers, etc., it's equally easy for writers, filmmakers, and artists to create, distribute, and profit from their own art without copyright or middlemen.

Right now, corporations get the lion's share of the benefits of most art, not the artists, so I don't see where a lack of copyright is really going to hurt most of the people making art in this country. They're already not "making it", and IMHO corporate control of copyright is half the reason why.
posted by vorfeed at 3:44 PM on August 3, 2007


cmonkey and sleepy pete,

I wasn't mentioning live performance in order to put forward the idea that somehow copyright shouldn't matter to the artists. Of course it matters to them and changing it would have a real economic impact. Ending copyright would prevent a significant number of artists from supporting themselves through their art. But I do think that as a group, performing artists would be the least affected.

And I also agree that there are serious obstacles in the path of any performing group, especially during their start up. Art has requires leisure and the wealthy will always make up a disproportionately large segment of artists.

My main concern is what do we have to give up in order to make copyright law enforceable, and is that tradeoff worth it? Possibility.
posted by BigSky at 3:52 PM on August 3, 2007


vorfeed, that's not bullshit. I know very well there are bands who record their own music and, sometimes, even put out their own music, skipping a label entirely. As a matter of fact I know many, many people who do this personally--some of them rather intimately. But, seriously, how many of those people are you going to read about in Pitchfork (takes influence--moreso than you would think) or even Rolling Stone, how many are you going to see touring small college towns (takes money, time, and transportation), and how many of those people will actually sell out the entire 500 copies of the disc/album? Probably not many.

That said, bless the people who can pull it off. I did it for a long time (touring band, etc.) and had great fun, but I also went into debt each time we did something. Everyone in the band did.

Do I have tons of 7" records from bands that were friends and contemporaries? Yes. Any of them make it big? Not really. Have production costs been low enough to place the actuality of creating a work of art into the hands of those who don't have a lot of money? Yes, for years. Do many people give a fuck? Nope.

It's a marxist argument to be sure, but I don't believe it's bullshit and I don't believe it's naive to say that if you want everything for free, not cheap, it can cause damage to culture. Even if corporate copyright was no longer around, you'd having something in it's place. When a sound becomes too hip and ends up in the NYT, a corporation (or hell, a larger "indie" label funded by a corporation) will snap it up, commercialize it, flip it, rub it down, and make money.

on preview: I'm out the door, BigSky, but that possibility linked is really scary in a lot of ways. I'm not saying copyright laws aren't horrible, but I don't believe they're going to get any better than they are at the moment. And if my attempt to pirate copyrighted items lands me in jail, that's fucked up. Does anyone know what happened to the people accused of pirating music who didn't have a computer?
posted by sleepy pete at 4:14 PM on August 3, 2007


There's no way to police that without enacting martial law or something. I suppose it's only a matter of time before they make getting out of bed either taxable or illegal or both. That'll be fine with me. I'll just stay in bed. Unless they tax that too. Heck, they probably already do.
posted by ZachsMind at 5:39 PM on August 3, 2007


Boy, this conversation went in a direction I didn't expect (which in retrospect was naive of me). What I found most interesting about the documentary is that it is an original work whose creators chose to use Bittorrent as their primary means of distribution. I'm not aware of that being done before ... has it? (I'll confess to not being a Bittorrent scholar, so perhaps I missed something there.)
posted by jbickers at 6:15 PM on August 3, 2007


Sorry, jbickers, for the derail (although I stand by all of what I said above). I believe in the put-it-out-for-free-and-people-will-compensate system, which is why I'm going to give the makers of the documentary some money, but it's not a system for any sort of artist who wants to live by their art. I've stayed out of most copyright, art-should-be-free threads because it's too close to me at the moment and I believe it won't work and can never work given human nature (same reason true Marxism, or hell, true democracy, can never, ever work). I've resigned myself to this. I've personally made enough to keep a website running for 4 years, so I'm OK. Not being famous at all, but having one person say, "I really love X song" or "X photo really moved me" or "That thing that happened in X cartoon that you did" is worth it to me and, I'm guessing, many other people here. And it's happened to me, so... I guess I can die happy now?

And yeah, most copyrighting art or music threads are pretty contentious 'round here.

Nice post. Thanks.
posted by sleepy pete at 6:48 PM on August 3, 2007


"I believe in the put-it-out-for-free-and-people-will-compensate system..."

Wow. If that 'system' actually exists, I'm in even more debt than I thought I was.

*blink*
posted by ZachsMind at 7:39 PM on August 3, 2007


For example, I probably owe Scott Simons like, ten bucks. If you've never heard "Inflatable Amy" you just haven't lived. That was back when mp3.com actually had a soul, and Napster was a playa not a nardo.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:46 PM on August 3, 2007


I guess it exists for some. Especially those who understand DIY culture.

and I'll check out Scott Simons definitely, just on your recommendation alone!
posted by sleepy pete at 7:56 PM on August 3, 2007


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