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SONIC OUTLAWS -
Copyright and Music on the Net
WMF, Johannisstr. 20, Berlin-Mitte
Intellectual property, or
more precisely, the rights to use it are the primary commodity of the "information
society," and the worldwide music market is dominated by five oligopolies.
But it is also a cultural good which advances with new creations, among
them, sampling, collage, quotation and parody. Because digital media can
be copied without any loss of quality and can be distributed for next to
nothing, it presents new openings for music that technologies such as cryptography
close. How are copyright and GEMA, technologists and fans reacting? The
complexities are to be illuminated from the practical angle by a music
publishing house as well as from the technical and legal angles.
mikro.lounge #7: SONIC OUTLAWS -
Intellectual property, or more precisely, the rights to use it are the primary commodity of the "information society," and the worldwide music market is dominated by five oligopolies. But it is also a cultural good which advances with new creations, among them, sampling, collage, quotation and parody. Because digital media can be copied without any loss of quality and can be distributed for next to nothing, it presents new openings for music that technologies such as cryptography close.
Copyright law is as old as Gutenberg's innovation and is further developed with each new media technology. It was first applied in order to protect the printers and publishers' investments. During the French Revolution, so-called moral or personal copyright aspects were written into law which ensure more protection in continental European law than in the case of Anglo-American copyright. The protection of moral and material interests of creators of scientific and artistic works has even been written into the universal declaration of human rights. But there, too, everyone is to have the right to take part in cultural life or society, to enjoy the arts and to benefit from scientific progress.
The discussion this evening focused on the tense relationship between the interests of the creator and producer and the public interest in access to intellectual works. Emphasis was placed on music and on how the infrastructure of the copyright industry, the justice system, intergovernmental agreements, exploitation organizations and specialized lawyers are reacting to the new conditions introduced by digital media. Just as an example of what's at stake: the worldwide market for recordings was valued at 40 billion dollars in 1996, a third of which was represented by Europe. Artists receive a mere token of this, between two and five percent. In the past ten years, the market has quadrupled in size and the concentration has only intensified.
Hanno Fierdag began by explaining the difference between an author's copyright on his work and the recording manufacturer's rights to the performance. On speaks of "free use" when parts of the work are taken as quotes, parodies or for private use. Whoever combines parts of one work with another in order to publish the result must obtain permission from whoever's holding onto the rights. Whoever samples a melody from a CD will have to pay a fee to the manufacturer of the recording. A more controversial issue is the ability to recognize small bits of a work. A reworking in which "the core of the original has paled" are home free. But works of a lower "level of creativity", that is, in which the individuality of the artist is not creatively expressed, enjoy no protection. In the end, the impression that no one creates anything new without standing on the shoulders of previous generations comes to the fore in the fact that protection for intellectual property -- and it is different for material property -- is limited to 70 years after the death of the author. Afterwards, the work becomes part of the "public domain".
The convergence of media leads to an alliance of the culture industry, computer and telecommunications under the umbrella of multinational corporations. Collecting societies such as GEMA, the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (Society for Musical Performing Rights and Mechanical Reproduction Rights), try to grow with them. But since the beginning of the independent scene in the early 80s, networked microstructures have emerged in opposition. GEMA has been handed a monopoly by lawmakers for the interpretation of music rights. In the discussion, GEMA's insistence on representing all works by its members and uses of those works proved to be problematic. GEMA's emphasis on acoustic music and its exceedingly slow adjustment of tariff structures to digital distribution lead to the development of alternatives to this "IRS for music". Olga Taranczewski added that the musical publisher Freibank was founded in 1987 by the Einstürzenden Neubauten so that they could freely negotiate their contracts with record companies, and since, like most indie bands, they rarely get played on the radio, they also rarely profit from the broadcast fees collected by GEMA.
Taranczewski's music edition M-Class was founded within Freibank in the spring of 1998 in order to bring together musicians and creators of CD-ROMs and Internet-based distribution without GEMA getting involved. Music tariffs for a computer game bear no relation to the total cost of its manufacture, according to Olga. GEMA rules for members who offer their own music for free on their home page are particularly absurd. According to those responsible for multimedia, the musician is obligated here, too, to pay between five and ten marks (approximately $2.70 to $5.40) per minute and month to GEMA only to receive the money back, minus GEMA's commission, two years later. GEMA's services to musicians were recognized in the discussion but the wish was expressed that differentiated interpretations of rights were possible and that GEMA would act with more competence with regard to the conditions presented by digital media.
The Radio Internationale Stadt (RIS) public archive is one of the largest on the Internet. Unknown bands, but known ones as well, such as the Einstürzenden Neubauten contribute their music for free. Thomax Kaulmann founded RIS in 1996 and has since continued to develop it. It uses the RealAudio format, offers features such as playlists and had just won a prize at the Ars Electronica. Kaulmann calls it contributor-fed system and spoke about the possible difficulties with labels, GEMA and contributors who place unwanted sound data in the system. There are plans to switch to the MPEG format.
Since 1997, MPEG Layer 3, or MP3 for short, has become the standard for high quality music on the Net. Niels Rump works at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Erlangen which has had a considerable hand in the development and ISO standardization of MPEG and holds patents on some of the code involved. Audio compression employs psycho-acoustic recognition which allows signals that cannot be perceived by the human ear to be dropped. Currently, compression factors of 1:16 have been achieved. The Fraunhofer group has run into criticism for its insistence that it collect license fees from those who write open standard freeware encoders for MP3. Rump explained that the Fraunhofer Society was founded in 1949 in order to effect relations between science and medium-sized companies. The society is financed with public funds and research grants from the industry and is therefore obliged to collect its due from its twelve years of research and development on MP3 in order to be able to carry on. On the opposite side the argument, there are those who say that fees should only be collected from those who use a standard in order to profit from it, but not from the freeware scene. Kaulmann noted that there would be no audio streams or even a WWW today if the results of socket programming had been protected by patents.
Regarding the question of open and free standards, two different cultures very clearly stood opposed on this evening. On the one side, there were those who work on the legal, contractual and technical conditions of the market for intellectual property; on the other, those who work within a gift culture and are interested in a free exchange and an open evolution of knowledge as a public good.