Thoughts after reading Lessig’s Remix

The short version of this is: the book is great, provocative and you should read and contemplate it, a lot. To say it in a bit longer way: Lessig talks about copyright against the backdrop of sharing (non-monetary) and commercial (monetary) economies. Lessig proposes that copyright should be taken into a new inquiry, because the present copyright law (in USA, at least) makes almost everyone a criminal if they use digital works and make working copies of them – let alone share them on peer-to-peer networks.

Copyright is not something that should be taken lightly. Most of my peers get a part or all of their living from the royalties and license payments mandated by copyright legislation. However, as Lessig says, when copyright is being used to silence critics and to stifle free speech, we are going to a control society of unforeseen proportions. This is clearly not desirable. The other undesirable thing is that if components of your work contain copyrighted intellectual property you must clear it all against copyright holders, many of whom are nowhere to be found – this is clearly a more of a problem in visual arts such as cinemas and photography.

Lessig suggests that copyright should be developed so that copyright would control commercial ventures and not that much non-monetary uses of copyrighted works. If a derivative work is free for everyone to use it should not lessen the value of the original work – more attention is more value. Piracy – selling your work without your permission is however a wrong, because that is money taken from you involuntarily. Sharing is not stealing if the original copy if left intact and instantly reproducible. Patents and such will still be enforced to the max under this line of thinking, because no-one will do large scale stuff without monetary compensation in the physical world.

Where does this leave us, the musicians?

Well, I see a lot of places where the present copyright law is undesirable. Let’s say that I’d like to put up my transcription of your song for no monetary compensation whatsoever. Under the present law this is not authorized. So no transcription of your song, even if you’d actually like it. This is clearly a hindrance on music education and artist appreciation! There’s no better way to appreciate great works of music than trying to understand, transcribe and play them for yourself. It also produces true understanding of the difficulties artists face in trying to learn their craft! So as far as education goes the remix and the transcription (and yes, I’m talking about the millions of Guitar Pro files out there) are really vehicles for cultural transference. This is how we do culture, by standing on the shoulders of giants. I really don’t want put up “in the style of” exercises if the real thing is available.

Finland does not have the abomination of sellable copyrights, here the creator always retains what we call moral rights to his works. This fact has not however been a great protection for the Finnish musician, there has always been someone else taking his cut before the artist. So if an artist wants to put up his works for free copying this should be his right – again we are thinking here of sowing your seeds to the wind and community formation, fandom. This does not mean that for-profit organizations should be allowed to disseminate the work for free (such as radio broadcasting). If you share it for free without a monetary (even ad or other 3rd party pays -type) gain that should be ok. For-profits need to still remunerate!