found drama

get oblique

free culture, copyright, and left

by Rob Friesel

So what spawned my meditation on this was an article by Lessig in the current issue of Wired but that article doesn’t seem to be online. However, Lessig does have this post available for background and reference etc.

The short version? It costs a ridiculous amont of money to secure a license to sing, record, and make available (for free) a copy of “Happy Birthday To You.” In short (from the Wired article:

For $800 a year, we’d have the rights to sing “Happy Birthyday” on the Web, but not podcast it.

Maybe they were too lenient with their Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license?

And so the thought that started to form that had not yet occurred to me in all this time – – all this rumination over copyright extension and all that yak…: Who or what is the RIAA et al. really trying to defend with these laws? Where’s the moral/ethical high ground? The “it’s all about money” argument is one thing but what’s really going on here? And from the flip of the argument, where’s the moral/ethical high ground in making Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together” public domain? (Are people really going to celebrate that song’s bicentennial?)

The copyright protection is starting to seem to me to be more about protecting a given performance of a piece than it is about the piece itself. The “Happy Birthday” phenomenon is just an extension of that – – the perverse revenge of the law nerds. (Since we all know the kids we picked on in high school didn’t go on to be software engineers or journalists or even librarians, they went on to be attorneys.) This isn’t about whether or not you can give away copies “Walden” or sing “Happy Birthday”. Not really. It’s about the fact that there’s a bunch of folks who still feel they can squeeze pennies out of you for “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” – – and none of them are named “Dylan”.

This thought process isn’t fully formed but it’s starting to help me make sense of this mess. I just keep thinking: What’s the value in locking down “Happy Birthday”? But at the same time, is our culture going to suffer if “Pimpin’ All Over The World” doesn’t get opened up to public domain?

currently playing: PTP “Rubber Glove Seduction” > Clutch “Texan Book Of The Dead” > The Prodigy “Firestarter” > Curve “Chinese Burn (Forbidden Future Vocal Extension)”

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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