Copyrights… Where Do We Draw The Line?

// Posted by on 03/05/2014 (5:05 PM)

We’ve been discussing the concept of copyrights and how they function in regards to music and film.  In many respects, I believe that copyrights are necessary because they protect the rights of the artist.  However, many people believe that changes need to be made to how they exist and function in modern society.  In most cases, it does not appear that people believe that we should truly eliminate copyright services.  Obviously most individuals still acknowledge that artists deserve some protection over their material, but I think for most it is a matter of changing policies to fit better with our modern, tech-based society.  For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was placed into action in 1996.  I think we all can agree that the term “digital” has changed greatly since that period of time.  Thus, does it not seem that we should make some efforts to better equate ourselves with the tech-culture of 2014?  There is certainly evidence that certain actions need to take place, given that lines for copyright policies are very vague, and the way that we draw these lines seems to depend entirely on the individuals involved in the dispute.

Consider, for example, the situation with Goldieblox versus the Beastie Boys (, where initially the Beastie Boys insisted a Goldieblox commercial be removed because it too closely resembled their song “Girls.”  The lyrics had been altered, yet the beat was the same and anyone who was familiar with the original Beastie Boys song could recognize its origin.  However, Goldieblox fought back by presenting the Beastie Boys with a lawsuit for insisting the commercial be taken down.  At first glance, it seemed absurd to place the Beastie Boys with a lawsuit, yet in the end, Goldieblox won because their song was different enough that it did not violate the Beastie Boys’ rights as artists.

If you happened to watch the video, I was suppose it is different enough from the regular song that maybe it seems passable that the commercial remain on air.  However, the video, and situation as a whole, raises a lot of questions regarding where we should draw the line on what is “different” enough that it does not violate a copyright policy.  Could you possibly just change a couple words in the refrain and consider it a completely different piece of intellectual property? Could someone rip the beat from a song, create their own lyrics, and then sell the similarly produced song for a profit?  Our current copyright policies make these questions very difficult to answer.  In fact, in the film, Rip: A Remix Manifesto, mash-up artist, Girl Talk, showed the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters, how exactly he mixes a song to create one of his mash-ups.  Throughout the process, Marybeth looked very intrigued and impressed by Girl Talk’s work.  However, when they finally asked if his work would be violating any copyrights regulations, she responded that it “depends.”  Essentially, it depended on who exactly using the song would offend and to what level they would be offended.  I find it very troubling that even someone in a position like Marybeth cannot make a determination regarding the law until someone brings it to her attention.  In the cases of most other laws, there is a clear right and wrong, which does not need to be interpreted so closely.  For example, if someone steals a car from another individual, that is against the law, and it does not take the explicit consent from the person who was stolen from in order to deem it a crime.  Thus, why is it so different with copyright laws?  Especially as we get deeper into the digital age, it seems necessary that we develop more clear depictions of copyright policy, so people can know what they can and cannot do with other individuals artistic creations.

A copyright law from 1996 just is not going to cut it in this day and age.  I believe that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act should be replaced by a completely new act that governs over the realm of copyrights.  The definition of digital has changed to such a large degree that it is unreasonable to assume we should still be held to the same standards.  Especially considering that artists get to maintain copyrights of their songs for up to 75 years, it seems that only the rights of the artists are being protected.  In this day and age, it seems about time that we take some steps to protect the consumer, or at least make the consumer fully aware of what they are legally able to do with other artists’ works.  In fact, we even discussed in class how covering an artist’s song on YouTube can even be considered a copyright crime, yet we were all stunned because there are so many placed online.  It really does seem to come down to exactly who gets upset, and to what degree, that determines whether someone is actually in violation of copyright law.  Moving forward, as music and video becomes increasingly web-based, some degree of copyright reform appears necessary.  It’s 2014, and we should develop some clear standards on where to draw the line with copyrights.

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