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Published: 3/29/01

So Sayeth The Sheep: The Death of Copyright

NOT By Silas T. Sheep

The article which used to appear here was not written by Silas T. Sheep. It was a verbatim copy of an article which originally appeared here. The article talks about the death of copyright and attempts to show that artists and promotional companies no longer have the right to be compensated for their work. It was written in the wake of Napster's lawsuit woes in which recording artists and music publishers claimed Napster gave too much power to pirates and they were losing money. In an attempt to prove that copyright was not dead, I lifted the article and posted it here with my name upon it. After all, since copyright was dead, plagiarism was passé, right?

The publisher disagreed with my understanding of the article and demanded I remove it. Since my point was proven -- that it was not perfectly all right to blatantly copy another's work -- I have removed the article. I leave the link (if it still works) so that you may read the article and judge for yourself what it says.

My personal quick-take? Copyright is not dead. The creator of a work should and will always have specific rights concerning his or her work and may decide how to distribute it. That method may be by signing the rights over to a publisher, or self-publishing may be the creator's choice (perhaps on their own site or through a free service like Napster), or any number of other ways. In all cases, the rights and wishes of the creator must be respected. Any statements made about why it is okay to pilfer the work are simply excuses made to assuage guilty consciences.

In the specific case of music and Napster, Napster has now been forced by the courts to begin monitoring its services and blocking any material artists and publishers do not want on their bandwidth. This is a perfectly good thing to do; whether Napster can do it or not is not the fault of the courts. Napster began when two college students shared some music with each other and decided to write a program to help everyone "share" music. They started out with one thing in mind: to copy music. Once done on that large a scale, it is inherently wrong. Other companies that also deliver music online have different business models and work quite well. For example, MP3.Com works with music companies and artists to put music online and link to ways to purchase music you like once trying it. Artists can set up a section for themselves and handle everything that goes online, monitor downloads, and more. It puts control in the hands of the artist as to just what is released -- it could be everything for free, it could be snippets of songs to sample, it could be simply descriptions and partial lyrics. Live365.Com allows anyone to broadcast nearly anything, and they do pay the appropriate fees to ASCAP, BMI and the like -- it's what the ads are for on their site. This kind of setup respects the artist's copyrights.

I'm not naive. There are other Napster-like programs out there. One can "share" files with simple FTP service even. There will always be those who don't want to pay for what they are getting, and they'll find a way to steal what they want. But if we make it easier to buy what we want (purchasing by the song is coming, easy trial and then purchase of CDs is here, etc.), then more and more people will buy. The artists will get more money and will continue producing so fans can continue to collect their works. Yes, there is the argument that record companies charge too much for CDs and don't give enough to the artists. That argument, however, does not take into account that the artists signed contracts with the companies; if they don't get enough perhaps they need a better lawyer to start with. It also doesn't account for the fact that when music is pirated, the artist gets absolutely nothing. If they have a bad contract, at least they get a little money and feedback about whether to continue. Also, the argument does not account for all the various costs involved: session artists, studio time, producers, artists to make the liner notes, printing, CD duplication, marketing to announce the CD and any concerts, distribution costs. Also, in our society something generally is priced at whatever the market bears. People buy plenty of CDs at current prices, so they won't drop anytime soon.

I could go on, but it is currently late as I write this, and the arguments for and against litter the Internet like sheep droppings in the paddock behind my barn. This is a general overview of my personal opinion. Your mileage may vary....


Silas T. Sheep

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