In an age where the lines of intellectual property can become blurred due to DIY Technology, what is acceptable and unacceptable when it comes to exercising artistic licence?
Today’s post is going to be less of a music-related one, in that I wanted to talk about something that’s been bubbling away in the back of my mind for a while now.
While I was on Tech Camp a few months back, one of the speakers bought up the question of intellectual property in relation to the recent accessibility of 3D printing. In a society whereby it’s becoming increasingly easier to create and re-create so much for ourselves, through new technological developments, how easy – or not so easy – it is to retain intellectual property over the things you create?
This piqued my interest, particularly because this has always been somewhat of a concern in the music industry with illegal downloading and the like. It was put to us that it’s no longer necessarily about how many albums an artist sells anymore, but rather, the quality of live performance as that’s something that can’t be copied; sure, you can watch a distorted video on YouTube that someone filmed on their phone, but it doesn’t compete with experiencing it first-hand.
So, in a world where advances in technology allow us to cut out the middle man and do things ourselves (albeit for a few thousand – 3D printing I’m looking at you here!) or share things like gig footage at the click of a button, where do the parameters of copyright begin and end?
I’m sure that we’ve all recorded our favourite song at a gig and put it on YouTube without a second thought – I know I have. Running this blog and going to review live shows, I feel it’s always a plus if you can include some video content in the piece. It breaks up the text, giving readers time to process the previous paragraph(s), and it also gives a glimpse into the night’s events – illustrating your point alongside the written content. It’s even been known to be encouraged, with some artists having said that they don’t care how you listen to their music, as long as you’re listening.
During the talk, another example put to us was that, if you see an object with a design on that you like and you then decide to re-create it in any way, who owns the intellectual property to that object/design – you? Or the original designer?
Well, simply put the original creator of a work – be that a song, an object, or anything in between – is the one who maintains the intellectual property of the piece. So, if you re-create or copy a registered work in any way, it still needs clearance by whoever produced the original that you took inspiration from. Likewise, in music, if someone mixes or covers a track with a different stance they are not the original artist, so they need to get the green-light before they can release it.
Of course, within any industry, everything is influenced by a predecessor to a certain extent, and in music with things like sampling, remixes and cover versions, there is room to incorporate that into your work. However, it’s important to know when inspiration crosses the line because it’s then that such influences can cause problems.
A recent example of this in the music industry saw Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke caught up in a court battle with Marvin Gaye’s family, over their 2013 hit ‘Blurred Lines’. It was ruled that the duo had copied Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got to Give it Up’ in the creation of the song, despite Williams’ claims to the contrary. This resulted in the pair having to credit Gaye on the track, as well as pay millions in damages.
So, is it just a case of knowing how to perfectly straddle the line between inspiration and theft? Is it okay to act on influence as long as you put your own spin on something? Is it ok to make a copy of an album and pass it to a friend as long as you’re not doing it in excess?
I think the majority of defining what is acceptable and unacceptable is largely down to common sense (namely, knowing that straight-up stealing is wrong) but sometimes it can become confusing as to whether you are encroaching on someone’s intellectual property or not. Ultimately I think as long as you’re respectful and acknowledge your influences, and don’t attempt to pass off another’s work as your own, you can’t go far wrong.