Random Rants, by Thomas Andrew Olson

Monday, April 17, 2006

So....who owns it NOW?

THIS guy has got to be driving Cary Sherman to drink.

Sherman, of course, is the RIAA's chief water carrier and point man on the music industry's war against its own customers, in defense of a failed business model.

Sven König just might be the guy who puts a final wooden stake in the heart of current digital copyright law.

So what's the big deal? König's new software, which he calls "sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ", can reduce any digital input - audio or video - into small component pieces that can be stored in a database, then repurposed, merged, reformed into anything the artist pleases. You can take your own guitar composition, record it in Garageband, mix it up in bits with other riffs you've collected over the years from Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimmie Paige, to create your own unique recording.

This is a tool that will blow the roof off recording, as artistic renditions can be crafted that are unique in and of themselves, but can also use borrowed bits from other people's renditions; and those bits can be used in ways not intended by the original artists, some of whom, like Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray, have been dead quite awhile.

So...who "owns" the result? If König produced a recording this way, and claimed it was his own "original" composition, does he have exclusive copyright? Or will Sherman try to lobby Congress for new laws forcing him to either remove the bits or pay RIAA a residual every time that piece is downloaded from ITMS?

The issue may rest on the concept of what constitutes a copyrighted musical work - is it the song as a whole, or every bar of the song? (Trust me on this, Sherman will claim it's every bar.)

But this software has already passed the legal sniff test, according to König, as yes, it could potentially enable copyright violation, but it's not the primary purpose of it.

Radio DJ's do these contests all the time where they play one bar of a hit song or blast from the past, then challenge their listeners to ID it for cash or prizes. It usually takes a few phone calls. So Sherman may have some trouble making his case. Personally I think the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, where music is concerned, but if someone can monetize this technology, and create a whole new genre of music as a result, "vive le difference". But the question of who gets paid (if anyone) could be the source of tens of millions in legal fees for the next decade.

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