Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Founding Pirates

The piracy of music and movies came about with the advent of technology and has been hurtful to both industries. Some might even say that it has discouraged the output of new films and music due to the lack of money to be made. Based on the Norton introduction to Volume B, it would appear as if our founding fathers had the same problems, but in a different way:

"A national copyright law became effective in the United States in 1790, but not until 1891 did U.S. writers get international copyright protection and foreign writers receive similar protection in the United States. For most of the century, American publishers routinely pirated English writers, paying nothing to Scott, Dickens, and other popular writers for works sold widely in inexpensive editions throughout the United States. American readers benefited from the situation, but the availability to publishers of texts that they did not have to purchase or pay royalties on made it perpetually difficult for U.S. writers to be paid for their work in their home country." (935)

Perhaps this is why everyone finds Volume A of the Norton so boring, because the copy-write laws weren't signed until after the civil war...

Is there any way we could learn from past mistakes in history based on this similar conundrum? The above problem was obviously solved with copy-write laws, but now that such laws already exist and are still being broken how can we possibly fix the problem? While the internet has made it easier for smaller artists to get exposed, they are still not making any money off of their myspace plays and even the ones that do get signed to labels aren't making enough to sustain themselves. The only two real solutions I can think of would be for labels to make music downloadable for free and make money off advertising or for the internet to be monitored. Both solutions seem ridiculous but something must be done to save the arts.


  1. Interesting questions, Andrew. Great title, too.

    Let me toss some links up here.

    Link the first! (The end of the article covers piracy matters.)

    Link the second! (There's a whole slew of articles here, but I think the one from March 22 is probably the best one.)

  2. Haha I can see why the article from the 22nd is your favorite... (really liked it by the way)

    I don't think that the advent of the "itunes age" has really hurt the relationship between artists and listeners (well except maybe metallica...), my main concern is what it all exactly means for the future of music. Let's say I'm an aspiring musician (or aspiring pre-civil war writer), my chances are low enough to "hit it big" and actually make money in the field, but it turns out thats irrelevant because there is no longer any money to be made! In Rainbows (and now I guess the $9 king of limbs) are great advances towards a solution, but that implies that your band can afford to either buy an insane amount of studio time or, in radiohead's case (im only guessing here) they own a studio.

    If the copywrite laws were never put into place after the civil war, how many great American writers do you think never would have even attempted to write because of the lack of money to be made? I realize many of them weren't widely read until after they died, will this be the case for the music industry? I don't know, just interesting thoughts. I know artists generally aren't in it for the money but if they all starve to death what will we listen to?

  3. Thanks for the support, Andrew. I blog over there with some regularity. These days, though, I'm putting the finishing touches on an edited collection/anthology project and therefore don't have too much spare time to write--or to write much.

    Anyhooo, I'm by no means an expert on copyright laws or intellectual property. However, tThe bloggers at Crooked Timber tend to talk about those issues, so I've linked to a series of posts that are tagged as "intellectual property." Read through them at your leisure.

    As far as In Rainbows goes, I don't think the benefits of that model would apply to bands with lesser cache than Radiohead--at least we haven't yet had enough time to see if those benefits would, in fact, trickle down.