Tuesday, April 19, 2011

you may ask yourself ... why copyright?

(image courtesy davidbyrne.com)

In the concert movie, Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wears a very large white suit on stage. That suit is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and stands as an iconic image of 80's rock.

David Byrne likes big suits; what's more, he's capable of launching big suits against folks who don't respect his copyright, folks like former Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. Crist apparently used the 1985 Talking Heads song "Road to Nowhere" in a 2010 Senate campaign ad. Byrne objected to the unpermitted use of his song, and made no bones about suing Crist for $1 million.

In a web-journal entry about the lawsuit, Byrne says:
"It turns out I am one of the few artists who has the bucks and (guts) to challenge such usage. Other artists may actually have the anger but not want to take the time and risk the legal bills."

As part of the undisclosed settlement to the lawsuit, Charlie Crist agreed to record an apology to David Byrne on YouTube. You can see it below:

Byrne's lawyer, Lawrence Iser, released this statement on resolution of the suit:
“If a politician wants to use a popular song to generate interest and excitement or popular appeal, he or she must obtain a license to use the song. There is no difference between selling cars or toothpaste and selling a political candidate, and the law doesn't provide a free pass to persons running for office. We are hopeful that given the recent examples of the cases filed by Jackson Browne, Don Henley, and now David Byrne, politicians will obtain all necessary licenses before doing this in the next election cycle.”

Byrne's brave stand against unauthorized use of his work illustrates two things, I think.

First of all -- as Byrne himself alluded to -- it's difficult for artists to police unauthorized use for themselves. Had Byrne not the wealth and resources to launch this lawsuit, the use may have gone unchallenged. Byrne had to retain counsel and travel to Tampa, Florida to make his stand, all of which costs more time and money than the average artist can spare.

Secondly, this lawsuit shows that protecting one's copyright is not always about money. While Byrne put a price on the infringement, his original objection was to the fact that his work was being distorted in the campaign advertising. Part of the reason artists expect secondary users to obtain a licence for use is so that they can examine the nature of the use and feel comfortable about it.

Crist did not give Byrne that opportunity. As his apology shows, he was wrong to do so.

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Crockett said...

To use someones work without any compensation, especially in a public setting, is of course wrong.
To use it in a manner that is objectionable to the creator even more so, as well as insulting.

See John, us 'free culture' folk can, and ofter are, supportive of artist's rights.

Conversely, using a work you have purchased for your own personal private use is in my opinion often justifiable.

The core question of 'copies having value' seems to be a key one. From the creator perspective, as you have stated, ALL copies have value. From a consumer perspective many consider buying their media a one time thing and to do with as they wish within the confines of their personal use. These are bookend potions, and the balance may be that *some* copies have value.

The actual contractual reality of the use of copies and licencing as opposed to the behavioral reality in today's culture, has created a disrespectful and unworkable environment. This needs to improve for everyone's benefit.

FakeJamesMoore said...

The Wikileaks cable concludes by noting that Canadian officials warned the American Goverment against placing Canada on Special 301 Priority Watch list (which would "give ammunition to Dr. Geist and his acolytes") ...

Wow John, I made it into wikileaks! Better polish up my tinfoil hat and hide the silverware.

Good to know our government is so concerned with American political optics.

John said...

I don't suppose the writer of the last comment cares at all about its complete irrelevance to anything discussed in my posting.

Nevertheless, thanks for stopping by. If you have further concerns about how the Canadian government functions I suggest you:

a) vote on Monday; and
b) contact the government directly.