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good copy bad copy

An interesting Danish documentary on the friction between copyright and creativity, 'Good Copy Bad Copy' cites free culture movements ranging from Sweden's Pirate Bay to Brazilian Tecno Brega and Nigeria's Nollywood, along with experts like Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig. Counterweight comes from spokespeople from MPAA and IFPI, who plea for stricter copyright enforcement ("In the world of crime that involves prison sentences") but seem unable to grasp they are working with an outdated business model.

Focusing on film and music, the central question is whether digital culture phenomena like remixes, mashups and sampling should be considered as stealing or as recontextualized, original artistic expressions. Current copyright laws, especially in the US, make it virtually impossible to legally use pop culture sources because it is a) too expensive, and b) too much legal hassle to get clearance, since c) it's often difficult to even find out who exactly owns the copyright.

On a more pragmatic level, as Lessig points out, the irony is that current copyright enforcement often prevents artists from making money. A good example is the 'Grey Album' by Danger Mouse, created by remixing The Beatles' 'White Album' and Jay-Z's 'Black Album'. Because of copyright infringements it was never released, but, illegally, it became a big hit online. (You can still download it via Illegal Art.) The album could have been a bestseller, but nobody (Danger Mouse nor The Beatles' estate nor Jay-Z) made a dime.

The solution, apart from an overhaul of copyright laws, seems to lie in two directions. On the one hand, consumers are by and large happy to pay for music, but they'd rather pay the artists directly than some gargantuan corporation. On the other hand, musicians need to reconsider their business model. Instead of depending only on CD sales, distributed music, whether online, p2p or on a disk, becomes a form of marketing in order to build a fan base for live performances. By definition unique and non-replicable, live shows are a much more sustainable source of income. In which case the whole piracy debate is rendered moot.

Of course, 'Good Copy Bad Copy' is freely downloadable.

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