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Copycats

img  Tobias
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Certainly, the case against Copy Rights is an emotionally easy one. Just try getting some information out of the GEMA (the German association occupied with protecting musical rights) and treat yourself to 45 minutes of being sent from one department to the other and you’ll hear yourself pleading for the introduction of absolute freedom to copy and burn music at will. Some people would certainly agree and have already started using the internet to spread content of all sorts as a political rebellion against the system and as part of their campaign to make art available to everyone at no cost. While the big record companies and the divas of this world have definitely not done themselves a favour with their policy of arrogance towards the public and foul-play towards their artists, the abolition of copy rights is an intricate issue which requires sensible argumentation and a lot of thought. Which is why people such as the LCD Soundsystem and the folks behind Pirate Bay are doing their cause a bad favour.


Ill-advised: An unwanted “tribute”
James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem is one of the hottest acts in the world of Pop and Rock at the moment. Combining pumping guitars and the electronica of Georgio Moroder and other electro-pioneers, he has carved out a niche for himself somewhere between the cult of clubism and the lazy coolness of chill-out. As it turns out, his sound was heavily influenced by the German groups comfortably bunched together as Krautrock and by one of its figureheads, Manuel Göttsching (who, by the way, quite rightly refuses to be seen as part of this “movement”). For the album “45:33”, a commission by Sports clothing manufacturer Nike, he therefore seems to have copied the artwork of Göttsching’s classic “E2-E4” – or at least it only takes a quick glance at the two designs to see that there is more than just a faint reference (click here to have a look at them). Now, copying and citing other designs is not an unusual thing in the business, if it is done with a wink (as a sort of caricature) or with an acknowledgement. None of which is the case here. In fact, Murphy’s representative wiped away the allegations in a more or less ridiculous statement. Of course, all of this needn’t even matter, if the artist involved were fine with this rehash. But he isn’t. In fact, Göttsching (not a hardliner on Copy Rights by any standards) is pretty upset. Considering this has not prevented anyone on the side of the LCD Soundsystem to do anything about it (including avoiding a clarifying talk proposed by Manuel’s management) means that their so-called tribute is willingly hurting the ones they supposedly pay hommage to. Which hardly makes the case against Copy Righs any stronger.


Uneducated: A badly motivated Robin Hood act
While Murphy and Göttsching are set to have their meeting postponed until the courtoom. “The Pirate Bay” is growing in strength each day. This Swedish site has been at the centre of a veritable culture clash between their government and that of the USA, the latter calling for definitive steps to put an end to the Pirate’s activities. To quickly bring you up-to-date on this story without getting all too technological, “The Pirate Bay” is a serverpark allowing its visitors to download Copyrighted content for free, from entire chart albums to the complete list of Oscar-nominated movies. Because they don’t actually offer the content themselves and as all material is puzzled together from various sources, there are next to no judicial possibilities at the moment to do anything about this. As the world has to wait and watch for the time being, the members behind the site defend their efforts with two arguments:

  • Copyrights are only applicable to a tiny percentage of the music and movie markets anyway, the rest is distributed without them playing any role whatsoever.
  • Electronic files are not a scarce ressource, in fact they can be copied at no costs. Thus, according to classic economic theory, they should be free.


Both, of course, are terribly wrong. Yes, it is true, that for example in the music world a huge percentage of the music which is written is distributed without its authors being a member of any Copy Rights association. This, however, does not imply that these people want their music to be distributed freely. If a label presses 1.000 copies of a non-associated member, this creates costs which need to be covered. If sites like “The Pirate Bay” make them available to all by bypassing the record company, this means small-scale publications like this one could not be realised anymore. And need we mention that there is something like an “artistic integrity”, which means that you should maintain control over what happens with your work? Right.

The second point is even worse. First of all, it seems to suggest that there are no costs involved in creating music. This is wrong. Behind a great production, there are always studio fees, mastering and production costs and the abovementioned printing costs. With the border between the mainstream and the underground blurring, this is certainly not only hitting the Madonna’s and Britney Spear’s of this world, but rather those artists willing to invest their own money into getting the best possible result from a recording session (and there's more of them than you might think). And with Classical recordings, which by default have a higher set of fixed overheads is is stimying the growth of independent productions.

On top of that, the Pirates have obviously not been paying attention in their class of economic theory. After all, it may be true that electronic files are not scarce and should therefore be freely available. That, however, is hardly of any relevance. What is scarce is the creative potential needed to realise art. And it is hardly served by people believing they can use what others have created in any way they like and thereby depriving them of the chance to receive a monetary compensation. The big corporations are hardly the people we would like to defend, but as always, it will be them who will eventually profit from all of this, as others take the place of the old economy media enterprises. Whatever your stance on Copy Rights may be, these two events and developments of the last few months have hardly done anything to calm the debate down.

By Tobias Fischer


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