TED Conversations

Simon Tam

Founder and Bassist, The Slants LLC

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What Do You Think About the $8 Billion iPod?

Rob Reid's presentation was recently featured on Ted.com and , "unveils Copyright Math (TM), a remarkable new field of study based on actual numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists."

The music industry and observers, including Professor Ken Sanney from Central Michigan University are now weighing in on the debate.

Sanney argues that "Complex issues that are oversimplified and distorted for comedic value are enjoyable and even valuable in providing us with a respite from serious deliberation on such things. But, if these oversimplifications and distortions are presented as truthful representations of facts -- that are just delivered in a funny way -- they risk undermining serious discussions that can create workable solutions. This TED Talk is simply a comedic straw man ... not an idea worth spreading! "

For his full blog on why and an explanation of the copyright laws which weren't fully discussed in Reid's talk, visit here: http://musiclaw-copyright.blogspot.com/2012/03/copyright-math-is-joke.html

What do you think? Is the oversimplification of complex issues breaking down communication barriers or creating new ones? Does either side have a fair assessment of this particular issue?


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  • Mar 27 2012: Once something is purchased, it should belong to the buyer. Copyright law seeks to prevent this simple situation from becoming reality. Taking software: the licensing on a package is deemed to have been agreed with, before it is even read. You cannot read the license agreement until after the package is opened, thereby 'agreeing' with its terms. I believe that contract law would state as a a tenet, that where the parties to the agreement don't have equal access to the making of the agreement, that the contract is unenforceable in law.

    Oversimplifying an issue may not suit the experts in that particular field but it may also bring an awareness of the issues to those who know little of the area under scrutiny. In other words, it may encourage them to learn more about the issues. In my view that is not a barrier to communication but a positive encouragement to engage with the issues.

    As for sides and fair assessments... sides implies antagonistic viewpoints and neither side will want to concede, with the usual consequence that obfuscation is usual and partial truths or hidden issues complete the picture as to why discussions may fail to realise a better future.
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      Mar 27 2012: Hi Jeff,

      I'd have to disagree with you on the idea of "belonging" when it comes to music. Before making any purchases on any digital service provider (such as iTunes, Amazon, etc.), the terms and conditions are listed clearly before the purchased. Buying music isn't like buying a car or piece of property, it is considered an individual license and does not extend the rights of ownership. Copyright law doesn't dabble in ownership, simply the right to protect intellectual properties (be it music, photography, art, or ideas). CD's include warnings on the outside of the package now as well, stating that law prohibits unlawful duplication, etc and that it is copyright protected (same with books, and even software lists minimum copyright language on the box, though the terms aren't completely detailed out as you mentioned).

      What I've found with the oversimplification of issues, and especially recently with the SOPA issue, is that people rarely explore the issues in any depth or without bias. Instead, it's a practice that sociologists call "rational ignorance;" that it's too overwhelming to learn everything about everything so we sort pockets of data, even with inherent bias or lack of depth, and move on. It's the rare sort - or those with a passion about a subject - that really dive deeper into the issue.
      • Mar 28 2012: I would invite you to check out the TED talk on SOPA and PIPA:

        It would seem to me that you are doing a bit of what you talk about in that last paragraph... Understandable considering the shitty situation you went through.
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          Mar 31 2012: Karl, this is the same video that I linked to in the topic description (under related talks).
      • Mar 31 2012: Simon, I would be interested in hearing your take about what Johanna Blakley has to say about fashion's copyright free culture and why or why not it could apply to music.

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          Mar 31 2012: Hi, I'd love to. I'll check it out later today, thank you for sharing!
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          Apr 1 2012: Hi Ryan,

          I loved the presentation (huge fashion fan myself) though I found that the general premise - oppressive copyright laws prevent innovation in other industries (such as music, software, film, etc.) flawed because it was based on several assumptions/misinterpretations of copyright law.

          For example, musicians can legally sample other artists, either through gaining permission or through Creative Commons law. Major artists who create their own new works based on other songs include Kanye West, Daft Punk, and Girl Talk. People can "copy" and interpret in a legal way.

          Furthermore, the argument that the existence of copyright law represses ideas has 1) logical/philosophical inconsistencies and 2) countless examples that show otherwise. For example, authored works (books/articles/plays) are protected by copyright (includes both published and unpublished works) and millions of of works are produces every year that challenge new frontiers, have unique takes on other popular stories, etc. There are entire communities that write "fan fiction," dedicated to writing new stories based popular favorite ones (such as Harry Potter, Twilight, Dracula, etc.). The same can be said for film and music as well. All of those industries are constantly creating new trends.

          She also cites several items that she said can't be protected (such as open source programming) that in fact, are protected by things such as GNU Public License. While a single recipe can't be copyrighted (just as a single line of music can't), a collection of them can be (i.e, recipe books).

          While I believe that copyright laws are due for some updating, I don't believe their mere existence is preventing creativity to flourish in the areas that they serve to protect. As Sanney argues (in the article linked above), countries with little or no copyright protection in these areas have very little innovation at all, disproving Blakley's theory that removing laws would foster more creativity.
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          Apr 2 2012: Hi Ryan,

          I had a chance to think about this one some more. Thank you again for sharing it, it was a very interesting perspective and comparison. I also have several friends in the fashion design industry and wanted to gather their take on it too.

          What I found is that many independent fashion designers, just like many independent artists (myself included), don't think about copyright laws much (other than if we're involved with a case or have a major issue)...we mainly just want to create cool, new works. That's the main thing: to put our own artistic expression and flair on something.

          While the lack of copyrights in the fashion industry might help high-end fashion (or even discounted replicas), it does limit others who are more protective of their designs. For instance, it is why companies like Nike incorporate their logo (sometimes annoyingly so) all over their designs: to signify that yes, it's theirs (logo protected my trademark).

          The other thing about intellectual property law is that is also serves to protect the consumer, so you know you're getting a genuine artifact and not something else. For example, if everyone designed and sold "Coca Cola" cans of soda since the brand wasn't protected in any way, it'd be hard to distinguish one from the other. Just as if there was no way an artist can protect their particular expression of a song, it'd make it more difficult to distinguish in the marketplace. And on it goes.

          Anyway, I did find it enlightening and entertaining. It also provided me a great excuse to connect with old friends at Nike and designers in New York too :)
      • Apr 1 2012: Hi Simon,
        Thanks for your response.

        Ownership of the media containing a piece of music permits the person paying for the media to enjoy the piece whenever they choose. Attempts to restrict that enjoyment to one player are derived from days when a single media type usually meant a single piece of playing equipment. A record or tape playing device. If I buy my music digitally, I ought to be able to play it on as many digital playing devices as I own.

        This is not an act of piracy but my right to enjoy that for which I have paid. If I want to tell my friends or family about a particular movie or piece of music, or make a legitimate critique of the art and perhaps illustrate a talk with a certain piece of created artwork, it should be subject to a fair use clause. Much of the copyrighted material which appears on YouTube has been tagged with a fair use disclaimer and it promotes the free exchange of ideas and commentary.

        The copyright industry would deprive us from exchanging information with our fellow humans. It is driven by the less than savoury desire to make as much money from the public as possible, for as long as possible, supported by the full weight of the law. To pretend that it is about artists earning what is rightfully theirs is how the argument for copyright is usually presented. It says nothing about the greed of the parties who wish to enforce copyright more stringently.

        The proponents of copyright do not appear to want to discuss copyleft or similar initiatives. Without the ruinous charges made by copyright holders who produce say... books, pharmaceuticals, designs, movies, music, images and works of art; the enrichment of society would be an easier to achieve objective.

        William Morris has something to say about a society devoid of art and I find myself in agreement with his viewpoint.

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          Apr 1 2012: Hi Jeff,

          I believe that you don't understand how copyright law really works. Making copies for yourself, being able to play back music/books/movies on any of your devices, etc. is not a violation of copyright law. As you mentioned yourself, that is subject to fair use clause, section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act. Making illegal copies though (i.e, through distribution) is.

          Wanting to share a piece of art is a very natural response and it is different than duplicating exact albums, or when magnified, making those unlimited copies available for the world through the internet.

          There are many types of copyrights supported by artists, such as the Creative Commons law that allows anyone to use, interpret, and share a work (images, music, etc.) as long as the original artist gets credit. Artists (such as myself) who are a part of the Creative Commons give universal permission for certain types of usage. This is much different than someone just taking an album, book, etc. and without permission.

          "The copyright industry would deprive us from exchanging information with our fellow humans." This isn't sure true - copyright serves to protect the value of said information and it it protects both published and unpublished works, as well as unregistered ones. From Copyright.gov - "Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression."

          I think most of the problems derive from people making assumptions about copyright law as well as copyright holders who willingly abuse their rights. The reality though is that there are billions of copyrights in place and the overwhelming majority simply want basic protection/validation for their works, so that the arts can continue to flourish in society.

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