Dissecting Copyright Laws: A Much Better Piece of Silence

If you are a musician, or know someone who is, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that you probably agree with me that copyright laws have gone beyond stupid levels. They’re inconsistently policed, inconsistently defined among different artistic industries, and hugely subjective.

In my other, secretive life outside of Intentious, I am a musician. And before I even get into discussing copyright on music, let’s begin by briefly discussing the utter lunacy of the most high-profile copyright dispute of today: Apple iPhone vs Google Android, or Samsung as their main ‘subsidiary’, of sorts.

Industrial Design Copyright:

Apple would like the world to believe that you can copyright an entire form factor. We’re very, very close to this being the case.

That a phone or tablet cannot even be designed at a standard accepted form factor without being fired upon by a rival’s legal army is stifling and worrying to say the least. However, confusingly, although a copyright claim from Apple goes into wild detail describing the outside standard form of a device from its minimal casing to its single button and its touch-screen interface, in reality, it’s not just a piece of technology being similar in form or function that gets you taken to court by Apple: you have to be successful with it first.

There are countless copycat Android phones all with the same single hardware button and the same slick, minimal form factor that Apple apparently “invented” with the iPhone. But they’re not really suing anyone but Samsung, seemingly because at the end of the day, the Galaxy series was the one successful enough to topple iPhone from the iThrone.

I love to observe with an eye-roll to the heavens how laptop manufacturers aren’t getting sued despite people not being able to tell a MacBook from an Ultrabook nowadays. They look so goddamned similar with their silver brushed metal and their flush, black, individually separated keyboard keys. Surely a product’s industrial design is a copyrighted form of art, is it not? Apple definitely seems to think so, however quite inconsistently they approach it at the courts.

Is industrial design copyright therefore merely profitable business for Apple? Does pursuing copyright exists here purely to return money, rather than to perform its most fundamental function, which is to protect the original work from copies?

Music Copyright:

One major point of difference between Industrial Design copyright and music copyright is that with the former, an accepted patent needs to exist first, claiming invention of the design. For music, however, nothing needs to exist in order for copyright to be claimed.

The story below is real, but it is an old news piece reported by CNN way back in 2002. Still, some people out there haven’t heard of this case, and even those who have, I’m sure will respond well to me digging up this little nugget of reality for a re-share and a dissection today.

British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, “A One Minute Silence,” on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.

He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition “4’33”” was totally silent.

On Monday, Batt settled the matter out of court by paying an undisclosed six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust.

Batt, who is best known in the UK for his links with the children’s television characters The Wombles, told the Press Association: “This has been, albeit a gentlemanly dispute, a most serious matter and I am pleased that Cage’s publishers have finally been persuaded that their case was, to say the least, optimistic.

“We are, however, making this gesture of a payment to the John Cage Trust in recognition of my own personal respect for John Cage and in recognition of his brave and sometimes outrageous approach to artistic experimentation in music.”

Batt credited “A One Minute Silence” to “Batt/Cage.”

Before the start of the court case, Batt had said: “Has the world gone mad? I’m prepared to do time rather than pay out. We are talking as much as £100,000 in copyright.

“Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds.”

Source: http://archives.cnn.com/2002/SHOWBIZ/Music/09/23/uk.silence/

So in 2002,  a six figure sum was paid for infringing copyright of silence… which since then is now known apparently as music (despite silence being music to some people’s ears).

That this was settled out of court is beyond preposterous. Either Mike Batt was and is a complete arse-kissing ‘tard with more money than sense, or copyright laws really are this ridiculously policed. Here are a few sensible questions that any musician must therefore ask, following this case:

  • Isn’t every song and every sound, therefore just a John Cage’s “4’33” with samples over the top?
  • Isn’t the second of silence at the beginning or end of every track on a CD or cassette, a sample we should all pay royalties for?
  • Is Alanis Morissette paying royalties to Cage for sampling “4’33” in the 1995 song “All I Really Want” immediately after she sings “Why are you so petrified of silence? /Here, can you handle this?”
  • Under this settlement, is it possible that every Rememberance Day event past and future must pay royalties to this greedy arse-hat, John Cage?

The answer to all of the above is yes. While you may think it’s as unlikely as the initial copyright infringement itself, yes, it is all definitely possible to successfully claim copyright infringement against all of these.

Remixing a song is another confusing area of music copyright. Apparently copyright exists in music to prevent others from financially profiting off the work of someone else without due recognition to the original artist.

Conceptually, there is no difference between sampling or remixing a song, and creating say, an original oil painting based on a part of a photograph somebody else took. Yet one is heavy-handedly policed, while the other is accepted among the art world.

Here is a lovely original oil painting of Belfast City Hall, as sourced from J.J Art:

Belfast City Hall Oil Painting, Source: http://www.emckinstry.co.uk/home/landscapes-2

Belfast City Hall Oil Painting, Source: http://www.emckinstry.co.uk/home/landscapes-2

Was this based on a photograph? Um, yeah, most likely. Pretty sure it could have been at least very closely based on a mirrored version of this photograph right here, for example, or any one of the literally thousands of other photographs that are almost identical, taken by other people:

belfast_city_hall, source: http://anobservantmind.com/tag/belfast-city-hall/

belfast_city_hall, source: http://anobservantmind.com/tag/belfast-city-hall/ Fair Use applies

What does this demonstrate? That a painting, whether you interpret that as akin to a musician “covering” another song or “remixing” an original song, should warrant the same copyright laws being policed as music currently enjoys. Should it not? If photographs or art were policed like songs are on YouTube and Soundcloud, you would have any of the following happen upon uploading to the internet:

Authorities and original owners would be informed soon after upload and scanning your image that you have breached copyright on either:

  • The original photographer to first photograph Belfast City Hall – at any angle
  • The photographer to first photograph Belfast City Hall at this angle
  • The first person to paint Belfast City Hall, at any angle
  • The first person to paint Belfast City Hall at this angle
  • The architect who designed Belfast City Hall

As a result, your work would be taken down, or else you’d have to pay royalties or seek copyright clearance from any or all of the above parties lest you be fined by the AIAA (Art Industry Association of America)*

*who don’t exist, by the way, because the art world, unlike the music world, aren’t complete retards.

Also, the architect who designed the city hall in Durban, South Africa, would be required to pay royalties to Belfast City Hall’s architect for the two buildings being so similar.

Yes, cases of copyright claims against paintings and photographs do exist, and they are common. But they’re usually always a result of a direct uncredited copy or directly using an image without crediting or paying the person who took the photo or painted the piece. Do you think street artist Banksy can be sued for copyright for doing this to the Mona Lisa?

Banksy - Mona Lisa Interpretation Painting

Banksy – Mona Lisa Interpretation Painting – Thumbnail, Fair Use Applies

Banksy - Mona Lisa Street Art - Thumbnail, Fair Use Applies

Banksy – Mona Lisa Street Art – Thumbnail, Fair Use Applies

No friggin way! Yet if this was the world of music or the world of Apple industrial design, he’d already have paid his seven figure settlement to the RIAA, you can be sure of that, and every image uploaded to the internet would’ve been taken down.
So maybe copyright isn’t always preposterous… maybe it’s just the phone, tablet and music industries that needs to get their heads out of their respective arses.

But hey, we already knew that.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Art, Politics, Law

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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