One of the current “hot-topic” issues artists are facing is how their ability to control their compositions/works is being threatened, co-opted and in possible danger of being entirely hi-jacked by an amalgamation of interests in the tech community. This list includes such ubiquitous names as Google, Spotify, Pandora, etc- not one of which would shed a solitary tear were the very concepts of copyright or intellectual property utterly and perpetually obliterated, lickety-split.
These companies are (in case one had been living under a rock for the past 20 years) megalithic, with extraordinary power, influence and fantastic coffers laden with money. They know exactly what they’re doing; how to mobilize, how/when to put up, shut up and lawyer up. They employ cadres of lobbyists and understated, well-groomed, well-educated individuals who received Ivy League educations in little more than how to roundly trounce anyone at anything with grave and spectacular finality.
Some of these companies have the potential to control a good deal more than merely the specific business in which they’ve created a monopoly. Google, as an example, is diversifying and spreading its slimy tentacles into every potential area of future growth/mass-scale revenue generation/global influence from information collection to military contracting to robotics. They could probably underwrite the finances of a medium-large country. If they haven’t already.
Early last month, a guy I know started a grassroots petition/campaign to petition for new legislation providing greater protection to artists, intellectual property, copyright law, etc. He also wanted to call public attention to these issues and raise the general level of awareness to them.
I was discussing this campaign yesterday with a friend and he happened to mention that a few enterprising individuals in the artistic/musical community are splintering and forming their own groups in order to address artists’ rights, proper copyright controls, better quality lunch meats, etc.
Well, dig that.
Artists are a funny breed. They’re each such unique personalities and yet, they all react to certain things the exact same way. They’re so predictable, you can clock them with a stopwatch, if you know what to look for.
Anyway, here we have issues that affect all artists- effectively, the gradual dissolution of our ability to support ourselves via the fruits of our labors, courtesy of sociopathic, gargantuan and relentlessly evil corporate interests. The endgame to this (should it ever come) will potentially have devastating consequences for every last one of us, as well as everyone else who depends on us financially.
Logically, one would think we, as artists, could all see the common ground we share, have that breathtaking flash of what Zen Buddhists call Satori- or ultimate realization; dispense with our petty differences and join forces.
But where artists are concerned, things don’t quite work that way. Because, underneath whatever self-created veneer they hide, behind that heroic persona of themselves they labor so intently to present to the rest of the world, artists are intrinsically egotistical, infantile, insecure splitters who can’t find it in themselves to look at the bigger picture- especially not if it means stifling their egocentricity for even a fraction of a second. No matter that the reality of this particular bigger picture is being literally forced on them by way of a massive threat to their present and future livelihood.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Listen to reason, or she’ll make you feel her”. The brutal- for lack of a better word- rape- the artistic community is presently enduring, (and here, the term ‘community’ encapsulates creators in every form of art or media which can be copied, exploited and represented in whatever context or form an exploiter wishes) bears Franklin’s statement out perfectly.
And yet, with all the above notwithstanding, artists- those very same people who permit record companies, tech companies, managers and every other solitary soul who speedily approacheth them, waving a contract, check or wad of dollar bills, to have their collective way with them (until said artist can no longer stand upright)- still can’t form ranks.
As the saying goes; they all want to be chiefs and but no one wants to be an Indian. And if they can’t be chiefs where they presently are, they’ll go somewhere else to start their own group, so they can be the chief there.
Not only won’t artists band together around a common cause, they will make a lot of incredibly transparent excuses as to why they won’t (none of which will pertain even remotely to the actual cause itself; ie- I’m jealous that the guy who thought this up got all the attention and I didn’t; I don’t like his music; he fucked my girlfriend; I fucked his wife, etc, ad infinitum).
Right now, the onus is on our community to challenge huge corporate interests- the tech industry, the recording industry, Google, etc (while also generating some attention to our plight in the public sector). The massive corporations which stand in opposition to this (and opposing is exactly what they are doing) are a thousand times more prepared than we are for this, or any other conflict. They have people who sit around and strategize about stuff like this. Meanwhile, here we are putting our best foot forward by fighting amongst ourselves, creating bigger and bigger rifts and greater divisions until there’s no longer any group left to address what we originally set out to do.
No Indians- just a bunch of chiefs. I have a feeling that at Google, there is an overriding sense of who the chiefs are and who are the Indians.
We don’t need squabbling, we don’t need tiresome ideological splits- we need camaraderie and we need support. We need legislation- new laws to protect us from scavenging entities that see our work as their fair play and us as their lunch.
We need a specific agenda, a timetable for getting things accomplished. We need strength- the strength that comes with great numbers of people. We need organization.
Oops- theres a word you don’t want to throw at an artist. Artists generally eschew organization on principle, seeing it as a means by which their rights can be violated by someone they don’t trust and therefore, resist it both tooth and nail. Artists are about as interested in organization as they are in having clean dishcloths or a day job at FedEx.
Ironically enough, the latter option is where all of us may wind up if we don’t start extricating our heads from our asses.
Some more fun fact about artists. They believe they’re leaders, but they’re really followers. Although they will insist otherwise, they love being lead around by the nose, especially if there’s a carrot somewhere in the equation.
Artists make terrific activists- albeit, after they’ve become fabulously wealthy and are then, able to support causes which occur exactly halfway around the world from wherever they presently reside.
Artists also have attention spans about as long and robust as those of fruit flies. And, once they begin to exponentially lose interest in the cause they’re backing (or have simply prioritized certain other things slightly higher- such as getting laid) and have concomitantly, completely screwed themselves (because they consciously chose not to consolidate, organize and mobilize), they make the world’s best victims. Artists- all artists- love to complain, especially about how they were, at one point or another, mortally, grievously wronged.
A wronged artist is one of nature’s most ardent and evocative complainers- especially if he was masterfully taken to the cleaners and then, instead of protecting himself, did something breathtakingly brilliant about it, like, er…..nothing. I’ll shoulder my share of that cross for the complaining I’ve done after getting shafted, consistently avoiding the dictates of common sense and thereupon, getting shafted again.
There is absolutely only one cool thing about reactionary wing nuts. No matter how repellent their viewpoints, when push comes to shove, they can put aside any petty, niggling differences between their respective ideological platforms to unite for a common cause. From a mild-mannered Neo-con to a red-blooded Ku Klux Klan member, they know how to form ranks when the situation calls for an army. By proxy, the implication is that your average artist is far less clever or resourceful than your average gun-totin’, Mein Kampf quotin’, queer-hatin’, Creationist, racist militia member.
The reality is that our common enemy is completely aware of our Achilles Heel. He knows damn well that we lack the gene intrinsic to organizing or teaming up. He also knows it’s precisely that inability that is going to make his job just that much easier. We’re playing right into his hands and he knows it. In fact, I will guarantee you dollars to donuts that he’s betting the farm on it.
And so it goes. The aforementioned petition may crack 10,000 signatories. Another artist’s advocacy group has 615 likes on Facebook- perhaps they’ll get a few more. God knows how many other artists are off creating their own little groups which will attend to their own personal agendas and needs.
Good luck defeating Goliath if all you have is a slingshot, your unwavering convictions and a handful of “Likes” on Facebook. And, when the day comes that copyrights are as free as napkins and plastic utensils at your local MacDonalds, I hope you are proud of yourselves for doing all you could in service to the greater good. Until then, unless you are ready to consolidate your interests and out away your petty differences, the big guys will keep winning and the little guys will continue complaining.
As for me, I’ll happily be an Indian or a chief in someone else’s army- even if I have to build my own teepee. The way I see it, the cause is far more important than my all too fragile little ego.
There’s a parable about a king who gathers his three sons and shows them three twigs. He puts the twigs together in a bunch, passes the bunch of twigs to each son, asking him to break it. Each son tries, each son fails.
Then, he separates the bunch into individual twigs and hands each son a twig asking him to break it. Each son does so with great ease. The king looks at his sons and says, “Each one of these twigs represents each one of you. Together, you are strong and unbreakable; individually, you are vulnerable and easily broken. The sum of you is mightier than each individual. After I die, I’m charging all three of you to rule my kingdom together- as a team”.
I have no idea how the story ended. Here’s hoping the sons weren’t artists.