All the pundits have been yapping about the ease by which a person can make new works in the digital age. Combined with the ease of digital distribution all of this boils down to some sort of pure idea creation, we in the music biz do not necessarily make any physical product any more. Of course a gig is a gig, one has to haul ass and equipment over to the venue – but the music itself is immaterial when performed – it’s heard in the moment and it exists only in memories afterwards.

But what then is valuable? Experiences? How much of a gig experience is down to music, how much is extraneous like people attending, the surroundings and so forth? Is your basic rock gig primarily an aesthetic experience, or is it a social function, like let’s say a nice excuse for drinking a bit too much?

All the musos have been trying to decipher what post-Napster world means, who gets mindshare and on what grounds? When there is no physical product to be moved, we’ve been recast in to a service industry. What service do we peddle then? Is music an end in itself so that the music you listen to is the product, or are we more like a theater or a circus where the experience is the product? Who gets to decide on the content of the experience – the audience or the musicians? Is the audience wanting a readymade experience or should they be involved in choosing the content of the event?

The big question is: against what services do we compete? If we compete against digital contents in their totality the live music experience is going to have a really tough time. To play against all the good music of the world is a pretty daunting prospect. The web which has infinite storage and retrievability makes it all the more daunting.

I’d like to think that improvisation would be a unique selling point for the gigs, the sense of excitement and spontaneous creation. In a world where almost everybody are having almost every song ever recorded in their fingertips 24×7 makes this realtime creation-improvisation a point where the song doesn’t exist digitally and is thus for the moment it’s created a scarce good (even though if somebody records it and puts in on web it becomes a commodity almost instantly). For a few minutes though you are having a unique thing to sell. This should be good news for all improvising musicians…

Yet we have not seen an explosion in improvising artists who would be having a large following…

I don’t get it. I mean digital contents.

I bought a Kindle. The device is a pleasure in itself, easy on the eyes in many ways. The speed by which the books are delivered is also nice, because it’s instant.

The thing is that the books are copy-protected (if bought from Amazon, O’Reilly and Pragmatic Bookshelf are DRM-free). I might have a right to transfer the DRM’d contents to a new Kindle, but that’s up to Amazon. As far as I know I can’t transfer my e-books to an iPad or to another device. And that is simply not right.

I have bought those books, paid full price. It should be my decision on which gadget I read them on.

Copy protection has an obvious consequence: the value of my device goes up – because I’m locked to the device. I really don’t like the idea of my device going up in value. Think about it: let’s say that your iPod had 3000 copy-protected songs. If you paid full price for that your device would be worth 3000€, should you be not able to transfer those songs to another player. Who would want to carry around 3000€? I mean really? But hey… Of course you can transfer the stuff, because you can play mp3’s on any mp3 player in the world.

What if the device would be stolen? What if the device would break up? Where is my library then?

Your library is yours. I want my book library to be mine. I don’t want to ”license” content. The copy of the book is mine. DRM is simply fucked up, as it makes value where there should be none.

At least the DRM should be so that the license is mine and I should be able to use the stuff on any device, regardless of the manufacturer and I should be able to make backups of the stuff. I should also be able to change the device at will.

That’s one of the reasons I’m digging Spotify. I can have access on my mobile, my computers, my whatever. The license is for me, not the platform. The makers of the music are compensated somewhat, I don’t know if fairly but still.

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!