I love SoundCloud. I love it for being an exceptionally easy way to share my music with people all over the world. I love the community aspect, especially the Disquiet Junto. I have all of my students host their portfolios there. But like a lot of the electronic musicians who form the heart of the SoundCloud userbase, I’m running into some problems with copyright.
Recently, I needed to unwind from a stressful morning, so I fired up Ableton, put in some Super Mario Bros mp3s and James Brown breaks, and went to town. I uploaded the results to my SoundCloud page, as usual, but got one of their increasingly frequent copyright notices.
I’ve uploaded a lot of material to SoundCloud that violates copyright law in various ways, and for the most part, no one has made any objection. I’ve occasionally used some long intact samples that triggered takedown notices, but my remixes and mashups are usually transformative enough to slip through the filter. Lately, however, I’m finding that SoundCloud has dramatically stepped up its copyright enforcement. A few months ago, I could have posted my Super Mario Bros/James Brown mashup without any trouble. Not any more.
The best way to get a professional recording artist angry is to say that everybody has a right to download their music for free. The outrage is well-motivated. Recording music at the pro level is expensive, in time as well as money. Just because it’s easy to pirate music, why have we as a society all of a sudden decided that it’s acceptable? Shoplifting is easy too, and we don’t condone that. My musician friends sometimes feel like the world has gone crazy, that in the blink of an eye their work went from being valuable to worthless. How could this change have happened so fast?
I have a theory, and if you’re a musician, or you aspire to be one, you won’t like it: people are right to expect music to be free.
Last year, I spoke on a panel about sampling with a few academics and copyright lawyers. One of the panelists was Martin Schwimmer, a partner in a law firm practicing trademark and copyright law. A big part of his job is going after copyright infringers. Schwimmer assured the audience that no one will ever sue Girl Talk, regardless of the legal merits, because in terms of real-world consequences, it’s a lose-lose proposition.
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As part of New York Social Media Week, I attended a panel entitled “The Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy of Social Media as Music’s Savior.” It was first thing in the morning, which really asks a lot from the music hipsters. I would normally have just live-tweeted this thing, but the wi-fi in the place was too weak, and besides, I figured it deserved a blog post. So here’s the more coherent, edited version of what I planned to post on Twitter. Since the event was dominated by Kanye West from the title on down, I’ll be featuring Twitter-centric pictures of him.