Posts

I was hanging out with my friend Charlie McEnerney last night and asked him about his interview with Larry Lessig.  Here is his post and a link to the complete interview from Well Rounded Radio.  Check it out.

In many music and entertainment circles, the name Lawrence Lessig needs no introduction, but for those who don’t know his work, here’s some background.

Lessig is a lawyer and activist whose interests are mostly in intellectual property, copyright, technology, and political reform. He’s has written five influential books, including Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000), The Future of Ideas (2001), Free Culture (2004), Code: Version 2.0 (2006), and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008).

Remix was just published in paperback in October 2009.

Over the past 10 years, Lessig has worked for both Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School. He is currently a lawyer at Harvard Law School and director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons. In 2008, Lessig launched the Change Congress campaign, now called Fix Congress First.

Lessig talks about Creative Commons during the interview, but in a nutshell it’s an organization with copyright tools that allows content creators to give various levels of freedom to others for them to remix and build upon the original work.

The idea behind remix culture is how an artist can take a work that a pervious artist has produced and build upon it to create something new. The term has become more commonplace in the last decade, but in fact the concept has been in use for decades, most notably in rap music starting 30 years ago.

Growing up in Queens, New York, I was lucky enough to hear the rap bands of the first era pretty early on (granted, thanks to bands like Blondie and The Clash and college radio putting Grandmaster Flash, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaattaa on my radar) which usually utilized sampling techniques when creating their music.

I have long been a fan of the groups who fine tuned the ideas behind audio sampling to perfection, in Long Island’s Public Enemy and De La Soul. I’ve always thought both groups pushed the ideas behind sampling in ways that few others did before or since, albeit in very different directions.

With Public Enemy’s 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and De La Soul’s 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising, at the moment it seemed like the idea of what music “is” was being reinvented.

But, after a series of lawsuits for a variety of musicians and labels, the art of sampling and remixing was largely hobbled, in either using others work with or without their consent.

Twenty years later, it is still mostly the domain of those willing to tread in dangerous waters or for artists who want to engage their own fans by allowing them to remix work as part of the growing participatory culture community. For remix artists who might be looking to push their ideas further, it’s unlikely they can put their work into the public without a sizable budget.

Having read all of Lessig’s work and seen two recent documentaries about the remix culture (Brett Gaylor’s RIP: A Remix Manifesto and Benjamin Franzen’s Copyright Criminals), I wanted to speak with Lessig about how current musicians could utilize Creative Commons and share with their own audience as well as look at how we music fans can better understand this era of shared creativity, which dramatically changes the idea of those performers vs. us in the audience.

In addition to these films and Lessig’s Remix book, some good reads on the subject include DJ Spooky’s book Sound Unbound (2008) and Matt Mason’s The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism (2009).

The show includes music from the earlier era of sampling as well as some recent examples of mainstream musicians offering up their work for remixing, including David Byrne and Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and Bjork.

I sat down with Lessig at his office at Harvard Law School to discuss:
* why it’s unlikely the current copyright system will change
* why Greg Gillis, also known as Girl Talk, has not been sued
* how Creative Commons works and how musicians can use it to engage their fans even more

Songs included in the interview include:
1) Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome (Welcome to the Terrordome) (in preview)
2) Grandmaster Flash: The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel
3) De La Soul: Me Myself and I (3 Feet High and Rising)
4) Public Enemy: Night of the Living Baseheads
5) DJ Moule: Black Sabotage remix of Beastie Boys‘s Sabotage
6) Radiohead: Reckoner (In Rainbows)
7) Nick Olivetti: Nasty Fish remix of Radiohead‘s Reckoner
8) David Byrne + Brian Eno: Help Me Somebody (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts)
9) Owl Garden: Secret Somebody remix of David Byrne + Brian Eno‘s Help Me Somebody
10) Mr. Briggs Hit me somebody remix of David Byrne + Brian Eno‘s Help Me Somebody
11) Girl Talk: No Pause (Feed the Animals)
12) Girl Talk: In Step (Feed the Animals)
13) Danger Mouse: Encore (The Gray Album)
14) The Album Leaf‘s remix of Nina Simone‘s Lilac Wine from Verve Remixed
15) Vind‘s remix of Bjork‘s Venus as a Boy
16) Fatboy Slim: Praise You (You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby)
17) Amplive‘s remix of Radiohead‘s Weird Fishes

Get the audio interview here.

A friend just sent over this post on how the newly elected Chairman of the Entertainment Retailers Association,  said that illegal P2P filesharing is the greatest challenge facing entertainment retailers and urged members to lobby Government for a crackdown on a problem he said “is bleeding our industry dry”.

Speaking at the association’s annual general meeting, Quirk said, “Too often the debate over illegal filesharing is portrayed as an ideological battle, but for us this is a commercial matter. Illegal filesharing is damaging our businesses, both physical and digital, on a daily basis, and the Government needs to tackle it swiftly and decisively in order to protect jobs, businesses and investment.

“First the filesharers targeted the music business and the Government did nothing. Now the filesharers have come again for TV and movies. Unless action is taken the filesharers will come for computer games, books, in fact anything which can be digitised and what will be at stake will be not just the entertainment industry but huge swathes of the UK economy. We need action now.”

Read more of this insanity here at Mi2N

Well now…

I was visiting with my Dad last weekend and thought of an interesting parallel between digital music and encyclopedias.

When I was a kid, my father had a summer job going door to door selling Comptons Encyclopedias.  He would carry a couple of these huge books under his arms and try and get the husband or wife to buy the complete Comptons collection for the kids.  This was big business and my dad made a healthy living during the summer.

Well, over the years the encyclopedia book business began to dry up.  To start it all off, Comptons put their entire encyclopedia library on a CD-ROM and sold it via a new company they formed, called Comptons New Media.  They put the CD-ROM in a chipboard box and sold it at Comp-USA,  Software Etc and other retailers for $200-$300.  It became big business for a while in the early 1990’s, and Comptons New Media flourished and was eventually purchased by the Tribune Co for a lot of dough.

It didn’t take long before some hackers cracked the CD-ROM and then pirated versions of the whole enchilada began making their way into stores and online outlets.  By now, of course, the multi-volume Comptons Encyclopedia Book business had gone the way of the dinosaur, and countless pavement pounding salespeople were no longer going door to door selling encyclopedias – and the entire book business basically went away.  Gone in a matter of a few years.  I think they still sell some to schools somewhere.

The same thing soon happened to Comptons New Media as digital competitors emerged, from Microsoft “Encarta” and others, and soon price competition and the internet gave way to this information moving online for free.

Now we have something called “Wikipedia”.

The information contained in the encyclopedias is still being researched and published and edited by now, tens of thousands of people who put it online in a living, dynamic format.  By and large, no one is getting directly paid to do this work, yet no-one can dispute the fact that society in general is benefiting from Wikipedia and other community-based information resources.  You might even notice that there is a lot more information being produced and updated and cross referenced than ever before.  This is all without the infrastructure of the past (ie Comptons) being in-place anymore, and almost no money changing hands.

Just like Comptons, the record industry digitized all of its assets and put the entire thing out there for the public to enjoy.  And just like Comptons the record industry in now suffering from price erosion, shifting formats and piracy.  They can try and hang in there and bash the problem away with legislation, or they could seriously consider other methods of delivery and renumeration, or they could sell off their remaining assets and shut down.  No matter what, the game they have played is over, caput.  Time to face the music and change.

There are no guarantees in business that things will remain the same.  Indeed, the only real constant is change and businesses that try and hold onto the past will be crushed by their own weight and failure to adapt, or in some cases, to just shut down.  Nothing is forever except change.  People should stop complaining about it and start working on creating a future that benefits us all.

Do I know exactly what that future is going to be?  Of course not.  I wish I could say with certainty but I can’t – for now.  But I think it will look a lot more like wikipedia than comptons encyclopedia sets.

Many people have asked me to explain the current status of royalty payments for online music.

A thorough discussion of this past year’s agreement on mechanical royalties was produced by my friends at the Future of Music Coalition.

There is also a good summary on the meeting of the Copyright Royalty Board this past fall here.

The royalties that songwriters receive from CD sales and digital downloads will remain the same, the same for both media and the same as the current rate: 9.1 cents per song. The rate for ringtones will increase to 24 cents a song, above even the 15 cents songwriters and publishers lobbied for.

However there is still great unease with the direction that things are headed on the part of online webcasting and streaming music services as they look into the reality of making payments at these levels. Pandora, NPR and others seeking a new structure want rates to be set as a percentage of total revenue, similar to how royalties are assessed for satellite radio or subscription music services. At the very least, they want a system that will favor webcasters big and small.

Webcasters are required to pay an escalating fee to copyright owners every time they play a song for a listener. This year, for instance, Web radio stations are supposed to pay 14 hundredths of a penny ($.0014) per song streamed, per listener; site operators figure that will cost them about 2.1 cents per user, per hour. That is a figure that most webcasters simply cannot afford to pay, since most sites are advertising supported and do not generate enough revenue to pay the license fees and operate their businesses. Read more from All things Digital here.

We will see what happens in the next month or so as things come to a head.

Watch a fascinating social commentary on the state of affairs in copyright and the internet.

See the whole hour long movie here.