Ownership is one of the most treasured concepts of modern western society as we know it. We struggle and scrimp and save and fight to lay claim to land, businesses, gadgets, cars etc. And in turn, the things we own take care of us by earning money or making our lives safer or more comfortable.
Musicians and lyricists in olden days were able to keep ownership of their material due to the lack of printed copies of their work. Access was also limited because of rampant illiteracy and poverty. But this is the twenty-first century. Digital media and the Internet have not only made it possible to make a seemingly unlimited number of copies of lyrics, notes and performances, but to distribute it across the world in an instant as well. Here, within Rifflet’s online community, the creative commons licensing system helps people maintain ownership of material they post while still affording them the benefits of sharing ideas in a vast online community.
Problem solved, right? Well what about the people who find their work on the internet without their permission? Anyone can take audio or video of someone with a smartphone and post it to the net on the spot. Many venues have now banned the use of camera phones and digital cameras for certain performances to control the distribution of media.
In some cases, giving permission for one entity to use your intellectual property does not prevent it from being picked up by someone else. One American Idol audition by a General Platt has become an overnight Internet meme sensation with numerous remixes. Jimmy Fallon performed and posted a version of General Platt’s song within a day of the original song airing. So who owns the song? And who has the right to make money off of performing it? I’m pretty sure that General Platt signed away the rights to his original performance when he auditioned for American Idol. Does Simon own ‘Pants on the Ground’ now? Does General Platt deserve royalties? These are the questions that concern me with music and ownership these days.
Historically, minority cultures have found themselves robbed of valuable cultural material. Dominant societal forces such as white artists and corporations appropriate other peoples’ work and commercialize it for their own monetary gain. This can’t be right. How do we call people out on this and make sure that everyone receives their proper recognition and compensation for their own artwork, especially in an ever expanding and hungry global ‘marketplace’?
I don’t have the answer right now, but I suggest we start by adopting the Creative Commons perspective for all media across all channels. If we always allow people to decide what others can and can’t do with their intellectual property, we’ll always have respected the rights of ownership, making our long revered modern, western concept safe for everyone to enjoy. (If that’s what we want.)