In a recent piece in the LA Times, 'Blurred Lines' verdict would rock Amadeus and other great composers, Mark Swed writes:
Musical ownership is a relatively new concept and not quantifiable. It is anyone's guess whether ownership can survive the accessibility the Internet provides or the avariciousness of the music streaming services.
Corporations, at least the best and most-efficient ones, extract every last ounce of value from an asset before releasing the lifeless, flavorless husk to fall upon the masses below. In order to reach this level of efficiency, companies place enormous amounts of energy and money behind strategies which transform copyright from a defensive tool designed to protect creators and their work into a weaponized, strategic assault battery to be used to protect their leech farms. They've been very successful, as this lawsuit demonstrates.
I can get behind using copyright as a defensive framework for granting ownership of a widget to its creator for a limited period of time. This is not unlike society does with a newborn child. In the early years, creative works must be protected and shielded from the damage caused by pillaging, absorption, and dilution by others. At some point, a creation matures — it has been woven into the fabric of society and culture and becomes much more protected from ruination of the corporate extraction process. A mature work is much harder to suck dry: Naxos, EMI, and others have been unable to dissolve the essence and value of Beethoven and his symphonies; can the same be said for Pharell Williams? What of Nirvana or Michael Jackson?
Where does this leave ownership? Should a piece of music that is performed intact belong exclusively to the artist who made it? In theory, yes. "Eleanor Rigby" is "Eleanor Rigby" whether sung by a barbershop quartet or a rapper. But its Eleanor Rigby-ness cannot be translated into legalese.
The historical context in this article is very interesting. However, to be fair to the context, Mozart didn't live in the age of facebook and Warner Music and Spotify. One could not simply record a performance and cut-copy-paste that 400 million times for money. Each performance was, in its own way, unique and special interpretation of the original composition.
"Eleanor Rigby" performed by two different groups are and should be two different "Eleanor Rigby"-s as well as one. How does one quantify that in a scientifc, legal, or some other form of objective measurement? Moreover, to the author's point, why should one even be TRYING to do so?
Is not the purpose of art to be fuzzy, and is not the intrinsic value of art rooted in its subjectivity? If we wanted crystalline matricies of ordered ownership percentages, we'd be engineers instead of sculptors, designers instead of artists, and composers instead of musicians and lawyers instead of poets.
Let the musicians figure something out. They've done a pretty good job of that for more than 1,000 years.
I believe that most of this is largely driven by the shift in context that the article largely ignores. New media conglomerates, organizations like ASCAP, etc.. have so distorted and contorted things that these types of suits become possible.
Perhaps if creators, and not the middlemen, were the ones getting the majority of compensation for their creations, they would be less annoyed by others' derivative works? If you're getting 2 or 3 cents a stream play versus, say, $0.0026 per, maybe you're more likely to share and be happy with credit received from your contribution to a fellow artist's success? Most musicians (indeed, most creatives) aren't greedy money whores, they just wanna be able to do their art and have a nice life.
IMHO, if we can find a way to allow them do that again, I suspect damned near all of this shit would just go away.