A court in the US has found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams guilty of copyright infringement, and ordered them to pay $7m in damages to the family of Marvin Gaye, because their song Blurred Lines sounds like Gaye’s Got To Give It Up.
Now, I hate Robin Thicke as much as the next man, and want to see bad things happen to him, but this idea of having copyright on your art and anything which is a bit like it is bullshit.
It’s another example of how copyright law is totally broken. If you’ve got 34 minutes to spare, the best explanation of it is Kirby Ferguson’s video series Everything Is A Remix (in four parts, here, here, here and here). If you haven’t, here’s a summary:
All art and music is derivative. All artists are influenced by previous artists, and create new art by copying, adapting and combining previous works. This is how art has worked for millennia.
Copyright is a modern concept. It was originally intended to provide modest and short-term protection for artists, for example to stop publishers printing and selling your books without paying you. It’s been warped into its current form by corporations which want to own ideas and milk the profits from them without doing any creative work themselves.
If today’s copyright law had applied in Shakespeare’s day, he would have been driven out of business by the distant descendants and rights holders of the Roman writers whose stories he adapted into plays.
Hopefully, the high profile and obvious insanity of the Blurred Lines decision will help add weight to the case for copyright reform, and we can end this madness soon. Also hopefully, though less probably, the recording industry will wake up to realise what it’s going to reap from the legal mess it’s sown. The copyright tyranny they’ve fought so hard for will strangle the grassroots creativity that never posed a threat to them in the first place, and in fact would have been the source of their future revenues. Meanwhile, they’ll be tearing each other apart in litigation and counter-litigation over who stole which chord progression from whom.
Support copyright reform now by joining, getting involved with, or donating to, the following organisations:
- Open Rights Group (copyright reform and other digital rights in the UK)
- European Digital Rights (copyright reform and other digital rights in the EU)
- Public Knowledge (copyright and patent reform and other digital rights in the US)
- Creative Commons (open licensing and copyright reform)
- Pirate Party (UK political party advocating copyright reform, as well as a full manifesto of startlingly sensible policies)