Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Blurred Copyright Violations

So apparently, Blurred Lines, the creepy summer anthem from a few years ago, was found to be suspiciously similar to a Marvin Gaye song from a few decades ago.

I've listened to both (sadly in the former, noncommittally on the latter) and, well, I just don't see it. Well, hear it, anyway.

Now, the normal caveats apply: I wasn't in the courtroom with the people who deal with the actual laws and listen to the actual technical parts of the songs. I'm sure there's a lot of information that I'm not getting. And yet, from an outsider's perspective, it's extraordinarily difficult to listen to both songs and think they have anything more than the most fundamental basics of music theory. At the very least, if this is copyright infringement, so is every single song in the Top 40 for the past half of a century.*

Copyright is a funny thing. In our guts, we understand why mechanisms get patents, but it's a little more difficult to understand the legal protection of intangible things like ideas--which, in the end, is what novels, music, and artwork ultimately is. It's more difficult given the longevity of creative work; a thing will only last a certain amount of time, but an idea is forever, for better or worse. And so the western world has sort of teased out this more-or-less arbitrary set of rules as to how long an owner can control something before it belongs to the ages.

It's not a perfect system, but it's a necessary one, and one I more or less agree with--people should be rewarded for their work, ideas or not. The current laws seem a little out of whack--Disney keeps strongarming the copyright law writers into extending it to the point of absurdity, and eventually we'll have to come to the slow realization that the world will have to accept Steamboat Willie fanfic as legal. I'd rather reform it rather than extend it--say, characters who are still having active material being produce continue to be protected, but the works themselves fall into public domain sooner. So, for example, the movie Star Wars itself might fall into public domain, but as long as they keep making Star Wars movies Darth Vader is still protected. That might get sloppy, but I think it's worth exploring.

Anyway, the point of this is that copyright cases like the Marvin Gaye/Robin Thicke one are difficult to defend, because creativity can be...nuanced in how it is derived from other works. In this case, the contribution from one to the other (and for such a short period of time) makes the case almost laughable. Still, the answer isn't to toss out all the old copyright laws, but to reform them.

And thus ends my incredibly sexy post about copyright law.


*Or, more accurately, anyone who isn't an African-American blues singer from the Depression Era.

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