Ask The Readers: What Are Musician’s Rights?

image from g-ecx.images-amazon.comThe other day, a commenter on the blog wrote this: “Digital content creators should have the right to control how their content is consumed. Whether they want to be financially compensated or wish to give it away for free should be their choice—not the users or The Pirate Bay.” That digital content creators should have the right to control how their content is consumed and distributed isn’t something I’d argue against, in most circumstances. This serves as a platform to talk about musicians rights, perceived or otherwise. What rights do you think that musicians should have? How can we create digital culture that respects them?*

*Your views will be collected from the comments and turned into a post.

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  1. We have the right to grow up and realize we need to create our own opportunities.
    We have the right to be constantly reminded nobody owes us anything.
    We have the right to put in work and create our own future.

  2. This is a great sentiment, but unfortunately when you talk about digital products you are talking about free products. Not that they should be free, just they they ARE free. Performance art (as opposed to sculpting, etc.) has always been free. You could make money if you charged for a seat or a at the door. When a type of performance art was captured (filmed or recorded) you charged for the delivery device (vinyl, cassette, cd, dvd) never for the actual music. To misunderstand this and rage against it is the beginning of a very long and hard (and ultimately failed) journey. We could strive to change the way people think. But to change that mind set, that behavior (as if it were even possible) would ultimately kill our ability to promote ourselves in the digital age. Or worse, just create opportunity for more innovative musicians to render us dinosaurs. Better to spend our time and energy thinking up new things to sell and services to provide to people that enjoy the free digital music… because when something doesn’t cost anything to copy and distribute (from an economic standpoint) it’s free. The only way to control something that can be digitized is to never share it.

  3. Yes, digital creators should have control on how their content is consumed. By the way, the best way to ensure this might be not to give his rights to publishers/labels etc… 😉

  4. Re: Jeff MacDougall said
    “This is a great sentiment, but unfortunately when you talk about digital products you are talking about free products. Not that they should be free, just they they ARE free.”
    I guess you are addressing everyone who creates music, makes and finances a movie, sells photography, writes a book etc..
    Not necessarily so:
    It all depends on the will of governments to recognize the value of digital content and it’s creators.
    As long as you have Russian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Iranian, Indian etc… websites and SERVERS freely distributing infringing copyrights and governments who are actively participating for profit, you’ll have FREE.
    Shutdown Russian Facebook clone vkontakte’s servers, suspend vkontakte’s domain name and watch MULVE disappear.I don’t think MULVE has any intention of sharing revenue from those banner adds.
    Piratebay’s servers and banner adds $$ are now located in Germany.
    Try uploading child porn, government secrets, pro AlQaeda chatter and watch how fast you get a knock on the door, your domain frozen and your server confiscated.

  5. Rights are from the 20th century, from before the repeal of Glass-Steagall, from the time before our government was raffled off by the super-banks that repeal created… before the dark times, before The Empire.
    SRSLY, I have no rights. I do have some abilities & I will continue to try to sustain myself financially with them. Fucked if I’m telling you freaks about it though…too many multinational employees lurking.

  6. RE: wheatus
    Nice to know you don’t care about your rights. I guess you won’t mind if I lay claim to the writer/publisher rights of your songs and keep the licensing fees should I get a bite.
    I just got $20,000.00 for the chorus to one of my songs from an advertiser.

  7. Tricky has touched on one of my points with his report that he just made a nice sale of rights to an advertiser.
    Copyright can only be effectively enforced against businesses. Businesses are few in number, and they are operating in the public arena. In the long-ago days, only businesses owned the machines that made copies.
    But copyright does not work as a law for controlling the general public. The last 50 years of technological development (“Home Taping Is Killing Music”) should have convinced everyone of that.

  8. As a low-level techie, it was sometime in the late 1980s when I realized that before long the files specified in the operation “copy a: b:” were going to be big enough to represent music. When that happened, copyright for ordinary users was going to be over. Because no government was ever going to be able to control “copy a: b:” — it was too fundamental.
    At their most basic level, the personal computer and the Internet are tools for copying and distributing files. Everyone has access to these tools. The creation of Mulve, buggy as it is, should tip people off — file sharing is easy, it is what the computers and the networks are for.
    What the commenter is really asking: How can I enforce the rights I had in the physical-copy world, in the digital world? The answer is, you can’t. The whole point of “digital” is to smash the restrictions of the physical-copy world.
    And then Kyle writes, “How can we create digital culture that respects those rights?” The inherent nature of digital culture is that it rejects those rights. Hear it, copy it, mash it up if you wish, pass it on — that is digital culture, in a nutshell.
    But if one persisted in that line of thought, then one would have to turn off the open internet and herd everyone back into the walled gardens of AOL and CompuServe, where most content had to be approved by publishers.

  9. Yes Tricky. I was indeed addressing all those people. Not that you can’t, with a little creativity, charge for digital products. I think you can. You just can’t expect that people will always buy them unless they have a reason to WANT to. And I’m sorry, but you are just wrong about the governments ability to stop any of it because they “value” it or it’s creators. The government is able to knock down someone’s door regarding child porn, government secrets, pro AlQaeda chatter, etc. because 98% of society supports them in doing so. The same just isn’t true with things that don’t endanger the safety of a nations people (like sharing music files)
    It’s called economics because it’s an ecosystem. It follows a set of rules just like in nature. You can put a damn up… but if it isn’t maintained or built big enough or properly, etc. water WILL go around it-over it-though it-under it. You can’t “threaten” the water that it will be in trouble if it doesn’t stop at your damn.
    The point is, there just isn’t a reasonable expectation that digital files can be controlled unless you are able to take back people’s freedoms… and even that might not be enough.
    You want to make money? Make something that can’t be digitally copied and sell that.
    It’s worth noting that I am a musician. I’m not a copyleft-ist. I think that if a business wants to use my music to sell their product, they should pay me. That to me is what copyright should be about. But if you are trying to get an individual to pay for something that costs nothing to make (the copy, not the original) you need to sweeten the deal, not tell, what could be a fan, that they are thieves and that they “owe” you. I mean, you have every right to do that. I just don’t think it’s the smart move.

  10. Most people enjoy music in their lives, and venture to guess the folks reading these posts even more. If good music was more scarce because talented artists couldn’t make a living (large numbers of truly great artists would get “day jobs” if the reality of free through internet and mobile suddenly eliminated the flow of whatever diminishing royalties they see), many people for whom music is a fundamental life ingredient will be hurt.
    Innovators get compensated because users are willing to pay for the quality of such innovations in their lives. You use the internet, and appreciate the almost limitless possibilities it creates. You pay for service because it has a lot of value to you, and you are willing to pay the conglomerate who controls your pipe. Enough about cream rising to the top, and “really good” artists being able to make up for declining royalties with live and merch. Yes, the internet is a powerful tool, and there’s no shortage of DIY tools, but c’mon…it takes a village, not just a webmaster. And those people (many young, eager, intellegent, and still passionate about music)…the ones who are working 18-hour days, and loving it, to come up with new era campaigns, programs, and technical connections to enable the artist who will be your new favorite next year??
    It’s an ecosytem, indeed.

  11. I think musicians have a right to make a living wage. A lot of folks like to talk about the freedoms of consumers, the freedom of information, the freedoms of creativity, but musicians are largely a poverty class with no minimum wage, no union of any power, no health benefits and difficult working conditions with no standards. Where is their freedom of opportunity and why should it be governed or dictated by those who hold such little value for their work? We like to think of them as young individuals, but in many cases, they’re not as young as we think. Many of them have or want families.
    I’m not even addressing competition or paying your dues (entirely different, if related, ballgames), but how the economics are stacked against musicians both in old models and new ones. Finding other ways to earn money for a musician is a very old idea, not a new one, and proposing it as a valid or even innovative suggestion is patronizing and ignorant. Every musician I know already has another job. The story of recorded music parallels much of the industrial revolution wherein the quality of life for all sorts of people was dramatically improved. Laws provide the structure for any civilized society. Speeding might be a fact of driving, but so are speeding tickets. You can’t stop murder either, but we don’t just let it happen as a society. There are consequences. Musicians deserve to have their livelihoods protected the same way that women, children and minorities deserve to have their rights and livelihoods protected.
    Industry and business as a whole benefits from structure. The railing against labels is understandable given the exploitative history of the majors. But labels provide all sorts of professional support and expertise to musicians and many independent labels offer equitable profit sharing. Most individuals I’ve met in the industry (an unfortunate term with negative connotations, as it includes scores of small business owners and workers not to mention musicians themselves) are overworked, underpaid and incredibly invested, not to mention some of the more interesting and warmer people I’ve met. There is no doubt that musicians need to be savvy, but expecting anyone with talent to also be a great business owner is unrealistic. Simply swapping existing structure for vaguely realized market-driven new media analog is even worse. Integration between the two will likely yield the greatest boon for musicians themselves.
    Saying everything is free as an unchanging fact is like saying the 7 day work week is fact (it used to be) or that child labor is fact (it used to be) or that there’s no minimum wage (established first in New Zealand 17 years after Edison invented the phonograph). This is behavioral. A person (regardless of age or income) should ask himself if he sees himself as someone who takes without giving back (especially from someone/thing he purports to love), if that’s the person he wants to be. This is not a question for the musician. It’s a question for the citizen, for the consumer.

  12. We have to play plumbers and bus drivers so why is a musician any different? More and more unknown artists like myself are syncing their music to adverts to pay for the recording of their album. But using syncs as a way to fund artists puts too much power in the arms of the advertisers. We need to find a way to pay musicians for their recordings. Live gigs and syncs shouldn’t be the only way.

  13. You can try but I’m fairly certain EMI will have something to say about it….or maybe they won’t. Our catalog is one of their million dollar orphans. We recouped very quickly but it earned us NOTHING in terms of prioritization. You should see the 6 month e-mail runaround they just gave me when I tried to get them to sign off on the Rockband Harmonix license for a re-record.
    But…congrats on your license! Do you mind if I ask, is your catalog being admined by someone?
    Do you think there is any long term upside to being unpaid yet, respected?
    I’m not trying to trap you or anything I’m just checking to see how you feel about all this. And for the record, I believe the rights I have are an illusion, and that they are only as good as the relationships I can, or cannot foster. I can say that being socially awkward has never helped our relationships with multinational corporations. I have heard there was once a time when artistic personalities were given some leeway, but alas.
    PS…I am looking to sell my interest in our hit Teenage Dirtbag as well as the rest of our 38 song EMI catalog….if anyone is interested hit me here:
    Not kidding

  14. Typepad is so messed up for me…
    Katamusic – Why shouldn’t live gigs and syncs be the only way? Live gigs have been pretty close to THE way for musicians to get paid for oh, about 400 years now. The sales of recorded music have always been a bonus to me, as my focus is more on doing a great live show.
    If you have your stuff together, have merch, and have a great live show, you should be making decent money from live gigs. Syncs haven’t come through for me yet, but it’s just a matter of time.
    Personally, I love hearing that people have DL’d my stuff. Even if they delete it, chances are good they listened to it at least once, and if they hear my name again, they’ll remember it.
    Take it for what it is. my $.02.

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