Monday, 27 June 2011
Look what they've done to my song, ma ...
My view is straightforward: the fact that you can do something doesn't give you permission to do it. I don't accept the argument that because the technology exists, we need to surrender all intellectual property rights in regards to music. I know that copying music is nothing new: until the 1990s it was with cassettes, and as a child I remember my father recording music on a reel to reel. Nowadays of course it can be on a mobile phone no bigger than a packet of cigarettes, and the recordings can be posted on the internet within minutes. What if you were having an off night - would you want your performance to be available forever? I have been posted once on Youtube without my knowledge; I certainly would have said 'no' on that occasion as I wasn't on form that night (problems with my guitar). Fortunately they spelt my name wrongly, so no one can find it, but I still wasn't happy.
But I'm mostly an amateur. If music is your livelihood, then you may not want bootlegs of your performance to be doing the rounds. Most performers are not in stellar tax categories: in fact, many are struggling to make a living, especially during the present recession, and part of their income comes from their CD sales, and sometimes DVDs too.
While those who post such recordings suggest that it's good publicity, a performer who's unhappy with the recording won't see it as helpful. More often than not, while the performance itself is good, the quality of the recordings can be dire: they wobble, miss out the beginning or cut off the end of the song, the view is often obscured by heads, the sound dreadful and the performance drowned out by audience noise. No artist could take pride in such shoddy videos, and I can't understand the satisfaction anyone can get from posting them.
As a bit of an aside, I think there is a strange alliance across the generations: old hippies who still believe that, hey man, all music should be free (it's amazing how many old hippies are quite tech savvy) and young people who see music as a commodity to be ordered on-line like your weekly shopping - a stark contrast to those of us who remember treasuring our favourite albums.
A performance belongs to the artist. If they sing their own songs, a breach of copyright is obvious, but it's less well known that traditional singers who have arranged songs in their own way also have copyright on the arrangement. To me, recording a performance without permission is like going to a literary festival and stealing a book from a writer's stall. I have found singers on the folk scene very generous with their songs and arrangements, usually happy to explain what they do to anyone who asks, but that's quite different from a stolen video of their performance, although logically, if permission is granted, it's not stolen. To be fair, most people in audiences don't behave badly, but enough do to make this an increasing problem.
I think the answer is quite simple: all you need is common courtesy. Just ask, and if they say 'no', respect that decision, because you don't have the right. As for the woman in Wigan, I commented underneath the video that to post the song when permission had been refused showed no respect whatsoever. She was quite irate and blustered, first with me then with the event organiser, claiming that she'd had permission, then that she wasn't sure but it would be good publicity for all concerned. She ended up taking it down. Quite right too.