After a bit of a break, I’m back to continue reporting on the results of my survey, “Perception and attitude of musicians toward copyright”. The previous post talked about the level of familiarity of respondents with the Music Modernization Act of 2018. This post and the following ones will discuss the respondents’ opinions about copyright.
“Perhaps it’s finally time for the recording industry to just admit that it went too far in pushing for everything to be covered by copyright and that everything must be licensed.”Mike Masnick
Artists not only have to worry about protecting their own copyrights, there is also the possibility that someone will come after them for allegedly copying their music. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens enough that some observers are concerned about the effect that judgments of copyright infringement will have on the creative industries.
In this commentary from Techdirt, Mike Masnick responds to the recent jury decision that Katy Perry’s song “Dark Horse” infringed Flame’s “Joyful Noise”. Masnick claims that although there might be similarities in the song, there are some beats and grooves so basic to music creation that they cannot be “owned” by one artist or company. Put another way, these beats and grooves are ideas that can be expressed in very limited ways. When an artist or company is successful in protecting their claimed copyright in one of these fundamental elements of music, the law has essentially given them ownership of the underlying idea. According to Masick (and many other copyright commentators), this creates a “chilling effect” for creators, especially when they have openly acknowledged their influences.
An example of this is the “Blurred Lines” case, in which Pharrell and Robin Thicke were accused of copying Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up”. A jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, Gaye’s children. The decision and award of damages was widely criticized. Musicologist and Berklee professor E. Michael Harrington called the decision “just crazy.” The verdict was upheld on appeal. While Pharrell and Thicke admitted to trying to replicate the groove and feel of the original song (and of Marvin Gaye and 1970s R&B in general), they denied copying any specific elements.
From the comments section of Masnick’s article, it looks like Techdirt readers agree with his assessment that the recording industry is shooting itself in the foot in trying to expand what copyright can or should cover.
In the recently-published Forbes article “Why Independent Musicians Are Becoming The Future Of The Music Industry“, MIDiA Research reports that independent artists generated over $643 million in the music industry in 2018, representing a 35% increase over 2017.
Last post I showed the demographics of the respondents to my survey “Perception and attitude of musicians toward copyright”. In this post I’m going to report on the responses to the specific questions about copyright, some of the significant correlations between variables in the results, and what these might mean.
Thank you to everyone who completed my survey “Perception and attitude of musicians toward copyright”. The results are in!
Over the next few posts will summarize some of the interesting findings and what they might mean for promoting awareness of copyright amongst people in the music industry. This is my first go at doing research into this subject, and looking back on it, there are some things I would do differently; I will point these out as I go along.
A copy of the original survey instrument can be found here.
Music copyright is complicated. (And on another note, the sky is blue.) The goal of my research and of this blog is to help make it accessible. One sure way of getting people to pay attention to complicated things is creating some short, funky videos.
Kathleen DeLaurenti of Johns Hopkins University (formerly of William & Mary) and her students have done just that. These videos are aimed towards students, but they are useful for anyone trying to get their head around copyright as it applies to musical works in the United States. Please watch!
The survey is now closed to new responses. Thank you to everyone who participated!
Watch this space for discussion of the results!