Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The "Don't Use Our Songs" effort is a handy reminder of why the "death of the author" and the proposal that "authorship" is a dead ideology can be a reflection of real-world licensing practice

Not everyone subscribes to the idea that the author is some ideological notion we need to cast off or that the death of the author is an unmitigated good.  There can be advantages to opening up new paths of interpretation in the arts, sure, but at a practical level how many musicians who wrote songs that got used this year by, say, the Trump campaign, have to grit their teeth and just deal? 

The Atlantic has a little piece that gets into this.  Since venues that host conventions tend to pay up for licensing issues if a candidate you despise shows up and wants to use a song the venue has clearance to use, well, tough for you:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/07/john-oliver-dont-use-our-songs-hbo-usher-michael-bolton-heart/492854/
...
The proudly hammy music video has a few fun zingers, including a dig at Spotify and a segment where a cat walks across a keyboard to provide a tune that politicians can use for free. But the most telling moment is when Usher says, “Don’t use our songs. That’s licensing. You gotta call my publisher.” The truth is that many of the times when musicians speak out about the use of their work in politics, the offending politician is in the clear, legally speaking. It usually depends on the venue: Somewhere like the Quicken Loans Arena, where the RNC happened, has likely already obtained a blanket license from performance-rights organizations, which allows the use of almost any song. If a venue doesn’t have a license, the campaign will usually obtain one.

Musicians have filed lawsuits over the matter, but public shaming may be their best recourse. ...

Since licensing has something or other to do with how musicians actually make money it's tough to issue a blanket prohibition against certain uses or appropriations of a work unless you're positive about it.  T. S. Eliot was reportedly against anyone he didn't personally approve of doing so setting any of his poetry to music.  The estate of E. E. Cummings is more generous, by far.

One of the things I've "occasionally" blogged about is that when people talk about problems they have with copyright they sometimes say the problem is copyright itself as a concept when the real world problems may be more accurately described as issues in the application of licensing. 

Thing is, now might not be the greatest time in the world to use public shaming to get results, particularly not with the guy whose songs musicians have been angry at for not-previously-authorized-by-the-artists use.

But it might be a useful real-world proof that authorial intent is pretty much irrelevant in a contemporary cultural climate, particularly with songs on the campaign trail.

1 comment:

Cal P said...

I tend to think it's, at times, a way for musicians to exculpate themselves from unfortunate associations that their fans may make. It's a way to make money and to avoid political connections you'll create by engaging in the market. It's all about money and reputation in the end, and any qualified statement about how these things works makes you look like a tool and sell-out.