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Steal This Music

Steal This Music: How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity

Joanna Demers
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Steal This Music
    Book Description:

    Is music property? Under what circumstances can music be stolen? Such questions lie at the heart of Joanna Demers's timely look at how overzealous intellectual property (IP) litigation both stifles and stimulates musical creativity. A musicologist, industry consultant, and musician, Demers dissects works that have brought IP issues into the mainstream culture, such as DJ Danger Mouse's "Grey Album" and Mike Batt's homage-gone-wrong to John Cage's silent composition "4'33." Demers also discusses such artists as Ice Cube, DJ Spooky, and John Oswald, whose creativity is sparked by their defiant circumvention of licensing and copyright issues. Demers is concerned about the fate of transformative appropriation-the creative process by which artists and composers borrow from, and respond to, other musical works. In the United States, only two elements of music are eligible for copyright protection: the master recording and the composition (lyrics and melody) itself. Harmony, rhythm, timbre, and other qualities that make a piece distinctive are virtually unregulated. This two-tiered system had long facilitated transformative appropriation while prohibiting blatant forms of theft. The advent of digital file sharing and the specter of global piracy changed everything, says Demers. Now, record labels and publishers are broadening the scope of IP "infringement" to include allusive borrowing in all forms: sampling, celebrity impersonation-even Girl Scout campfire sing-alongs. Paying exorbitant licensing fees or risking even harsher penalties for unauthorized borrowing have become the only options for some musicians. Others, however, creatively sidestep not only the law but also the very infrastructure of the music industry. Moving easily between techno and classical, between corporate boardrooms and basement recording studios, Demers gives us new ways to look at the tension between IP law, musical meaning and appropriation, and artistic freedom.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3075-4
    Subjects: Music, Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Rosemary Coombe
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-10)

    On July 15, 2003, an MTV Online article announced that the heavy metal supergroup Metallica had filed a lawsuit against a Canadian group named Unfaith. According to author Joe D’Angelo, Metallica accused Unfaith of using E chords followed by F chords without permission, a harmonic progression that Metallica claimed to have trademarked. MTV posted a link to Metallica’s Web site, in which bandleader Lars Ulrich defended the suit as justifiable protection of the band’s distinctive sound. The D’Angelo article received more than two hundred thousand hits within the first two days of its posting and became a hot topic of...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Music as Intellectual Property
    (pp. 11-30)

    If you went to an American movie theater in 2003, chances are you saw one of four public service announcements produced by the organization Respect Copyrights, all of which begin with the caption, “Who makes movies?” One of these films features Manny Perry, a stuntman who describes the dangers involved in filming an action sequence. We see a car chase from the thriller Enemy of the State. The camera then returns to Manny’s weathered but kindly face as he likens free downloading of a movie to stealing a candy bar. The screen then shows three consecutive captions: “Manny Perry makes...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Arrangements and Musical Allusion
    (pp. 31-70)

    The voice of Elvis Presley is perhaps the most contested acoustic phenomenon in modern culture. Despite abundant proof that Elvis happened onto rock ’n’ roll well after its inception, popular histories still credit him with single-handedly inventing rock ’n’ roll and popularizing it with white audiences who may never have had contact with black music. For legions of fans, Elvis’s voice brought about a cultural and musical revolution, breaking down racial and sexual barriers and inciting adolescents to rebel against their elders. Yet to his detractors, who accuse him of passing off black musical forms as his own, Elvis’s voice...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Duplication
    (pp. 71-110)

    Walter Benjamin, ruminating on the rise of mass reproduction, observes that facsimiles lack the “aura” that once characterized art: “That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. […] One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”¹ Benjamin defines aura as the inapproachability, uniqueness, and sense of authenticity that an old painting or recording possesses. A work possessing aura makes us shiver with the feeling that we are confronting art intimately associated with past rituals or customs. We experience the absence of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Shadow of the Law
    (pp. 111-146)

    The narrator of W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz (2001) portrays the monstrous, recently built Bibliothèque Nationale as an edifice whose architecture discourages, if not renders impossible, the free flow of knowledge: “we began a long, whispered conversation in the Haut-de-jardin reading room, which was gradually emptying now, about the dissolution, in line with the inexorable spread of processed data, of our capacity to remember, and about the collapse, l’effondrement […] of the Bibliothèque Nationale which is already under way. The new library building, which in both its entire layout and its near-ludicrous internal regulation seeks to exclude the reader as a...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 147-158)
    (pp. 159-170)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 171-178)