Constructing Narrative in the Contemporary Music Industries

Kenny Barr (University of Glasgow, UK)

Paying the Piper: Constructing Narrative in the Contemporary Music Industries

gi.pngABSTRACT: In the 21st century the digitalisation of every facet of the production, dissemination and consumption of popular music presents an immensely complex set of challenges and opportunities to creators, investors and consumers. Encompassing a diverse range of disciplinary and methodological approaches, this panel identifies and engages with a number of key narratives relating to ways in which popular music creators are rewarded for their musical labour in the digital age and the wider ramifications for consumers and investors. Each paper interrogates and critiques distinct aspects of these unifying central themes. The first paper scrutinises the issue of fair remuneration of musical performers in the digital sphere and the efficacy of stakeholder responses and interventions. The next paper presents an empirical challenge to the dominant binary narratives found in many academic critiques of copyright as a means of rewarding popular music creators. The third paper argues that the erosion of collective licensing in the digital age has potentially negative ramifications for the availability and affordability of music to the consumer. The final paper explores the contentious issue of ‘value’ in the world of music streaming and argues that a new paradigm for ascribing and gauging value is required.

Kenny’s core research question: How do primary creators experience copyright in the contemporary music industry?

Research methods: narrative-based interviews, plus hard data via surveys, plus industry data. [Read more…]

Public Interest in Collective Licensing #iaspm2017

Richard Osborne, University of Middlesex (UK)

‘Where is the Public Interest in Collective Licensing?’

Queen Anne

Queen Anne. Not even the implementation of a groundbreaking copyright act during her reign could cheer her up.

ABSTRACT: In 1841, Lord Macaulay argued that copyright ‘produces all the effects which … mankind attributes to monopoly … to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad’. Popular music has witnessed the reverse. The music industries’ most obvious monopolies are the collection societies. Collective licensing makes music abundant (blanket licence schemes, in particular, provide unfettered access to music) and it prices it democratically (all music costs the same). Collective licensing has shaped our musical environments. It is the reason why, in theory, any song can be broadcast or played in public premises. It is being weakened. Artists, labels and publishers are withdrawing from licensing schemes for streaming. Entrepreneurs are proposing blockchain systems that will do away with the need for collection societies. It is licensors and licensees who have dominated narratives about collective licensing. Questions of ‘public’ interest have been focused on how much businesses should pay and how much creators should receive. It is the argument of this paper that music consumers need to enter these debates. If collective licensing is eroded then music will become more expensive and scarce.

Richard’s favourite form of music, he says, is blanket licensing! He intends to advocate, today, for the needs of the public. Are [copyright] monopolies always inherently ‘evil’?

[Read more…]

Close to the Edge: investigating songwriting’s ‘plagiarism threshold’

Joe Bennett, Boston Conservatory at Berklee

[Presented at IASPM 2017, 26 June 2017]

Wicked.png

Stephen Schwartz’s score for ‘Wicked’ quotes 7 pitches from ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’… but does it infringe a copyright?

Here is the abstract, with references, for the academic paper I presented at the IASPM 2017 conference in Kassel, Germany. At the moment it’s just abstract, slides and references. If it ever turns into a full paper I’ll upload it to this website with the rest.

Abstract: The songwriter Stephen Schwartz once described his ‘Unlimited Theme’ (from ‘Wicked’) as a musical joke, using as it does the first seven pitches from ‘Over The Rainbow’.Schwartz believed that by limiting the number of copied pitches, he was evading an accusation of plagiarism. Schwartz’s belief in a legally defined plagiarism threshold represents a common misconception among musicians; there is a similarly widespread myth that copyright law permits a specific number of seconds of audio sampling (this has explicitly been contradicted in US case law). But borrowing and adaptation is a common form of creativity, and there is a real risk that if creators misidentify the line between influence and plagiarism, they might either inhibit their own creative freedoms, or inadvertently infringe copyright. This paper discusses the mythical plagiarism threshold, using examples from copyright case law, interviews with creators, and comparative analysis of musically similar works to explore the question “how much is too much”?

Download pdf of slides (or click image below)

Slides

References:

  • Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 383 F.3d 390 (6th Cir. 2004)’. Harvard Law Review 118 (4): 1355–62. doi:10.2307/4093384.
  • Cronin, Charles Patrick Desmond. 2017. ‘Seeing Is Believing: The Ongoing Significance of Symbolic Representations of Musical Works in Copyright Infringement Disputes’. Social Science Research Network. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2967590.
  • Demers, Joanna. 2006. Steal This Music – How Intellectual Property Law Affects Musical Creativity. Athens : University of Georgia Press,.
  • Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991)
  • Schwartz, Stephen. 2004. Wicked’s Musical Themes Interview by Carol de Giere. http://www.musicalschwartz.com/wicked-musical-themes.htm.
  • Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton 212 F.3d 477. 2000 477. 9th Cir.

 

Wayfair, you’ve got just the soundalikes I need

Friends, musicians and soundmen (and women) – lend me your ears. Here are some Wayfair TV commercials in a playlist – let me know (Twitter @joebennettmusic) what songs you think they’re using as a template for the music. Disclosure – this is for academic research, not copyright/client work.

[Health warning – these ads have a level of cheesy catchiness that may be difficult to cure once acquired.]

 

[ABSTRACT] Appropriation and Copyrightability in Music Copyright

I Hate These Blurred Lines: Wrongful Appropriation and Copyrightability in Music Copyright

Academic/copyright post: here’s an abstract (pdf) of a paper that I’ll be presenting with Prof Wendy Gordon next week at Boston University Law School.

James Newton

Flautist and composer James Newton, whose work ‘Choir’ was sampled by the Beastie Boys in’ ‘Pass The Mic’.

This is based in part on an earlier paper that we presented at the Art of Record Production Conference in Aalborg, Denmark in December 2016, a draft of which is embedded below with voiceover and music examples. As this is an academic paper about music copyright, it contains musical excerpts from the original audio recording. My first attempt to embed the video resulted in an automatic takedown (academic fair use YouTube dispute is in progress), so I’m trying again with a Screencast embed. Because the video represents commentary and (not for profit) academic research, I’m continuing to claim fair use. Let’s see how long the audio survives!

Abstract: We have two concerns with music infringement trials: The first concern is the process by which juries decide questions of whether a defendant copied too much from a plaintiff’s work. (This is the inquiry sometimes known as “wrongful appropriation” or “substantial similarity”.) This paper discusses the challenges of methodology in forensic musicology, and the musical and psychological difficulties of applying the ‘substantial similarity’ test fairly and objectively. (Bonadio, 2016; Gordon, 2015). We present an analysis of three disputes, with comparative audio examples – The Isley Brothers/Michael Bolton (2001); Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams/Marvin Gaye (2015); and Randy California/Led Zeppelin (2016).
Our second concern addresses copyright classifications, in particular, the contested relationship between the creative decisions that give rise to copyrights in “musical works” (compositions) and the creative decisions that give rise to “sound recordings” (sounds as rendered). We suggest that overlap between the two is common and should be better recognized. To illustrate the potential compositional contributions of performers and sound engineers, we utilize audio examples from Newton v. Diamond and other disputes.

[Read more…]

Berklee’s Fair Music report

music20in20the20digital20ageMy first full session today at the CMS conference is presented by Berklee faculty members Peter Alhadeff and Luiz Augusto Buff. They are, today, analysing and critiquing Berklee’s Fair Music Report.

Peter begins with some caveats; he comments that the report deals particularly with the recording industry (and does not cover other music industries – e.g. live music and music education).  Second, he notes the support from Kobalt Music, whom he notes are a very particular type of publisher, with a particular interest in digital and many very large-scale song catalogues in their portfolios. [Read more…]

What exactly did ‘Stairway to Heaven’ copy from ‘Taurus’?

And my Spirit is crying…

As mentioned in a previous post, the question of whether Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven (1971) copies a part of Spirit’s Taurus (1968) may soon be settled.

Representatives of the late Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) are claiming that the four-bar introduction section of Stairway To Heaven copies a substantial part of his 1968 instrumental composition Taurus.

Judge Gary Klausner stated that a jury should be used, because the matter in question is necessarily subjective: “while it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure […] What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works”.

So let’s compare the works – how similar are they?  [Read more…]