Today’s “Soundcheck Smackdown” tackles perhaps the most challenging question facing the arts in the digital age: how much does the artist “own” their art? We’ve talked a fair amount over the years about copyright, file-sharing, pirated music… it’s clear that the rise of digital music media has caused a huge downturn in the recording industry and that the music world is still trying to figure out a way for musicians to create their art, contribute it to society, and still be able to make something from it.
It’s also clear that no one has quite figured it out yet. Perhaps that’s because this is a “long run” type of thing. The idea that art is bigger than the person who creates it, that art belongs to us all, is an old idea; but the idea that the artist is important and creativity needs to be supported is also old.
Now, copyright laws, designed to make sure that authors of great works of art do not starve while others profit from their work, have gotten so restrictive, and so long-term, that songs, paintings, and the like are turning into property – into “intellectual property.” And sure, artists do have to be supported, and have a right to make a living from their art. But art has always taken inspiration from what’s come before, and with everything tightly locked down in a thicket of publishing, licensing, and other forms of rights management, it becomes harder for artists who don’t have deep pockets and/or a butt-kicking legal team to do what art has always done – borrow and yes, steal, from the other arts.
This is still a work in progress; the technology we’re talking about is what, 20 years old? But taking the long view, say 500 or 1000 years from now, part of me wonders if people won’t look back at the copyright laws of the 20th and early 21st centuries and say, what were they all thinking back then?
Tell us: how do we balance artists’ rights with the idea of the “greater good”?