News site Slyck reported yesterday that 6 major-ish Canadian recording labels have abandoned the CRIA for their incongruent philosophies of fair use and piracy. Unlike CRIA, these labels are proponents of DRM-free digital music and argue in favour of peer-to-peer file sharing as a vehicle for marketing and try-before-you-buy. While the CRIA spreads its greedy gospel of illegal file swapping, Nettwerk Records has conversely opted to foot the legal bill in defence of an American file swapper who “stole” one of the label’s songs.
A recent hubbub ensued between CRIA and Ottawa law professor Michael Geist over the true meaning of the numbers published by a research agency allegedly in cahoots with the recording industry. In summary, CRIA argues that immeasurable losses in music sales can be attributed to theft by Canadians aged 18 to 29, while Geist retorts that this same demographic is the second largest purchaser of music. (thereby strengthening the argument that music downloads result in sales)
There are obvious arguments supporting both sides of this issue, but as a hobbyist musician I have unique take on this whole situation.
I produce techno DJ mixes, and once upon a time I composed original music. From the get-go I’ve offered my compositions to the world for free, at my expense. Sometimes I deem my composition unfit for publication, or I record a practice session; otherwise I upload the file to my high speed web host or burn copies for friends.
Let’s first take a look at how my music is put together.
My original compositions are, in essence, original in arrangement only. Although I created many audio samples and instruments with my own 2 hands (also my voice, a recording, a MIDI keyboard, and\or some software), the majority of my instruments are sampled directly from commercial CDs or from other homemade open-source music. Basically, each of my songs potentially constitutes tens of thousands of dollars in copyright infringement in its raw elements alone (not even to mention my unauthorized and misnamed remix of Send Me An Angel). I like to think its my generous distribution more than my insignificant obscurity that has saved me from litigation.
Is what I’ve done really illegal? Yeah, almost definitely. Would any court convict me? Unlikely. Although I’ve made something irrefutably unique and personal with tools, regardless of their suspicious origins, artists (like DJ Jazzy Jeff) have been convicted for doing the same. No, my body remains on the free side of bars because I don’t make money from my music.
But is the same argument true of my DJ mixes? I take a bunch of songs and play them in order, overlapping the beginnings and ends to make a nonstop cohesive realtime composition. Many of my tracks are ripped from CD, many are downloaded from my peers. I’ve practised for years to be a good DJ and my mixing style, track selection, samples, effects, and edits are all examples my own personal flare. Yet, the basic building block of a DJ mix is a bunch of commercial songs.
Do I put myself at greater risk by hosting an 80-minute MP3 containing many commercial songs than I do by hosting a 3-minute song made of commercial samples? Is my DJ mix really mine? Is this situation any different from composing music with commercial samples? After all, the original songs can’t be extracted from a DJ mix any more than an entire song can be reconstructed from a few samples.
Whatever the answer, I pay for it. And so do you, fellow Canadians. For 15 years the CRIA fought to enact a levy on recordable media to compensate the industry for piracy. It’s surprising that it happened at all, so therefore not as much of a shock that it took 15 years to convince the Canadian government that every citizen with a dual-tape recorder or CD burner was a criminal. After all, after a decade and a half even I might be convinced that blank CDs have no use but duplicating music. Hell, I might even be persuaded, as was the government, that this insane tariff should be in the ballpark of 50% the sale price.
Of course, it’s not so cut-and-dry. How many Canadians burn data backups, photographs, documents, lectures, audio books, and home videos onto CDs every single day? Is it appropriate for these people to admit their criminal guilt by paying recording artists? How many CD burns fail, rendering the disc useless? Do we get our tariff back in these cases?
Better yet, a question with a less obvious answer – is it fair for me to pay this levy when I burn one of my own DJ mixes or songs? Does this arrangement sway in favour of one party or another? Do the Canadian artists (if any) that I’ve “ripped off” see much or any of the tariff I pay?
Apparently the aforementioned 6 record labels side with Canadians in finding this scheme unfair. Nobody trusts an organization that taxes us for theft and then criticizes the taxed service for being a sink hole.
So, mysteriously, the CRIA been lobbying for the past 7 years to renege on this tariff in favour of more restrictive distribution. This is good news for legitimate users of recordable media and bad news for consumers. If (and when) CRIA’s proposals pass you can expect DRM-heavy content from coast to coast, restricting purchasers from making legal backups and quashing the very Canadian ideal of sharing culture with friends. For now the CRIA fights an uphill battle to convince judges that peer-to-peer file swapping is different from library lending (the main argument defending our right to trade music), but with noisy southern neighbours and especially with a Conservative government we can expect the winds to change sooner or later.
When I find the right office to complain to I’ll share it. Until then, vote with your bucks. Support your local artists, but REALLY support them. Support them by seeing their shows. Support them by telling your friends about them. Support them by trading their music. Most of all, support them by enjoying and appreciating their compositions. Support the art, boycott the business, sez I.
And in the mean time, please support me by enjoying my music and sharing it with your friends, free of charge.
My original music:
My techno DJ mixes: