Wednesday, April 21, 2010

For the record

I remember back in 1979 when I was nine years old, my father took my sister Uptight Rodriguez, then 16, on an around the world tour. A large part of her character was built on that trip; the incentives of what money could buy were fused into place, as well a crash course in a foreign culture. The old man left her lost in Rome for over a day, her without one word of Italian to her credit. She lived.

The old man always had a habit of disappearing at inconvenient moments that would make the guy who left his kid outside Mermaids look positively parental. While my mother was popping out Uptight in the Palmy Hospital Maternity Unit back in '64, the old man had disappeared into the bush without warning for over a week; hunting was his alibi. He once rationalised his actions, saying that he was a better father than Barry Crump. For overseas readers, it's a bit like saying George W Bush was a better president Nixon. Not a high hurdle, capito?

Among the treasures brought back from this world tour into Fortress NZ, as it was back then, were a few pirated tape cassettes picked up for bugger all in Bangkok by my sister. She got something like a dozen tapes for the price she'd pay for one in NZ. The cassette case for Abba's Arrival was plain white cardboard with a small photo of the original album cover glued onto it.

I'm not sure whether they lasted shorter or longer than the legitimate copies. The Range Rover's tape deck liked to snack on either, chewing through songs so often, you'd be listening to each song as if it was for the last time. I think the Abba carked it later that year at a race meeting outside Fuck Knows. The Range Rover doubled as a Child Care Centre back then too. My favourite toy was the cigarette lighter. We were at racecourses for so much of our non-school hours, if thirteen year olds were allowed to bet, my brother Randy would have made a fortune. He knew the form.

Damnit, this post is supposed to be about copyright, but it keeps veering off into Dad. He's creaking around upstairs louder than normal, what with him dead nine years tomorrow and all. I never took my chance to bury him out behind Matata back then. He was never as accessible as the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Besides, Matata needs the phosphate. I hold him partly responsible for the Matata landslips in 2005 though. I imagine him tunnelling beneath the ground with his artificial hip bone, searching for just one more rabbit to kill.

Screw it. I'm not deleting any more paragraphs. We'll just have to see where this one goes. The plot is copyright.

Back to those Bangkok pirated cassettes. Those dodgy tapes saved a little of me and my brother's sanity. It saved us both from high-rotation Pat Benatar, which was Uptight's sole music tape before the pirates delivered their booty. The mobile childcare centre (ie the Range Rover) was ruled by the eldest, and besides, neither of us boys owned a tape between us. We only had vinyl, and at the time my collection consisted of one Star Wars LP, so Uptight played pedantic DJ in the cage.

It's not Guantanamo Bay, but put me in a room with non-stop Pat Benatar, the effect is similar. So, let's hear it for the cheap knock-offs of South East Asia! Variety at unheard of prices. And where was the harm? Second World citizens (NZers) helping to fund the Third World (Developing Countries in NowSpeak) through commerce.

It's not as if the four Abba artists were missing out on a lot. There's not much change between three quarters of fuck all (royalties) and nothing. In fact, seeing as how Uptight already had the LP of Abba's Arrival, the pirate tape was just a pre-internet version of format shifting. Abba and the label lost nothing. They has already grabbed their skim.

Abba don't feature in this Four Note Medley (HT HuffPost), but they quite easily could have:

The point of all this ranting and tangents is entirely due to the entertaining (and freely observable) blog fight between the subjective objectivist NotPC and the realistic economist Offsetting Behaviour over copyright. In the 1D binary RandWelt of NotPC, copying is theft. Meantime, Crampton entertains the trade-offs.

According to Cresswell, the Axis of Awesome featured above should be paying a craptonne of licensing fees for pointing out the pop folly of four notes. How anyone can entertain a copyright on a musical progression in perpetuity is a nonsense. It's like claiming copyright on the alphabet. Nat Torkington pointed out the absurdity of this position at PublicACTA, when he said that every time someone sang Happy Birthday, they should be paying their due royalty.

According to Cresswell's creed, Lady Gaga (who does feature in the medley) should be paying due credit to all the many and varied music and fashion tropes she based her success on. Which is bunkum. She is due credit for a limited time, novelty value if you will, before it enters freely into the public domain, where it will be masticated into something else. That's life.

On a wider front, NotPC's dogma bears little resemblance to reality. Life is not fair. Creators have never got their just dues. Johnny Depp got more money from his Alice film than Lewis Carroll ever saw from his original work. Van Gough and Picasso never saw any of the money that the art wankers now charge for their works. Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, two men who changed the world for the better more than any dozen US presidents, died in poverty. Vulcanised rubber guy went the same way. Socrates was poisoned.

The McDonald brothers were conned out of a proportionate cut for inventing the industrial fast food model. It was milkshake maker salesman Ray Kroc who grabbed the idea, after wondering how the brothers were chewing through his deluxe 5-spindle milkshake model so quickly, and bought them out for a million bucks a piece. Here's the same fact strained through The Wire:

Suffice to say that copyright is an illusion and that copyright holders aren't always right, no matter what the law says. Common usage counts too. More recently, we have witnessed changes in ACTA process with the penultimate lifting of secrecy today, as well as the surrender on Three Strikes. But I don't quite think the Very Large Rights Holders are prepared for free yet. And neither is NotPC.

Christ, I need a prog rock enema: