Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tuba, Music and Copyleft

As you know I play the Double B Flat Bass or Tuba. It's a marvellous instrument and through playing I have been exposed to a lot of interesting music and variations. Also, considering how big the thing is and all the tubing, it's great exercise for the lungs. It's a lot of work to produce music on one of those things, and to be honest there are times the sounds I produce are 'creative', shall we say.

What I have noticed is a great deal of the newer music I play with the band are variations and arrangement based upon various hymns and sacred tunes. There is nothing wrong with that, after all it is good to read and play how composers interpret the music of the past. In a way, it's giving new life to old tunes.

There is something that gets under my skin when I look at the music, and no it is not the crazy octave jumps some of these composers like to force upon us, I mean after all, a F below middle C to F, after a long hold, give me a break. Or at least a spare cannister of oxygen. Now what disturbs me is that the new music is all copyrighted. There are a few people reading this who are probably thinking 'so'. I'll get to that in a few seconds.

If you've read any of my blogs you might know I consider myself a Copyleftist. By that I believe culture should be considered open source, another way to describe what I think would be to say I believe in the Free Culture Movement. This is not to say I oppose people or organizations making money off their creativity, that would be wrong. However what I oppose is the length of time a copyright can last. If I can quote from Wikipedia:
Copyright has been internationally standardized, lasting between fifty to a hundred years from the author's death, or a finite period for anonymous or corporate authorship; some jurisdictions have required formalities to establishing copyright, most recognize copyright in any completed work, without formal registration

As you can read, once you stick that little © at the bottom of any piece of work, its stuck in a time warp for at least 100 years following the death of the creator. Again, some might think, 'so'? Hear me out, much of the work is based upon previous work that has entered the Public Domain. In other words, they use as their base, music which has entered into public property. It's there for anyone to take, change, interpret or to use the modern expression Mash Up. It`s not stealing, its re-interpreting the music to either a new generation of musicians and listeners, or allow the composer to interpret the music so that it speaks to them in a unique way. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it should happen, because music needs to live, in fact all creative acts need to be taken and interpreted so that it `speaks`to the new generation of listeners.

If you`re not sure about this, consider how public domain works have been used by Walt Disney Ltd., works such as `Cinderella`, `Snow White`, and other works by, say, the Brothers Grimm. All those works were part of the public domain, and Disney was able to take them and do some fascinating creativity to breathe new life into them.

However, when you put the restrictions that are now part of the copyright, you freeze out future generations from interpreting the music that speaks to them. It`s as if you are saying `Creativity is now Illegal`. I know part of the problem is that whenever you use the word `copyleft`, a person is accused on piracy, but nothing can be further from the truth. It`s allow creativity to live and be fruitful. It`s not saying making a living off creativity is illegal, it`s expanding the work and allowing others to add their interpretation. Also, and here`s the irony, when works enter the public domain, they have life; often being stuck in copyright for all the years, will simply kill it, because no one can do anything with it.

What is needed is to allow culture to breathe and live.

That`s why I wear this tee shirt

Viva la Cultura Libre

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