Use a Mic—Go To Jail?
Last week’s column provoked a number of interesting responses and yielded some good information about alternative miking techniques. Along the way, I got an email from an occasional correspondent who is a lawyer and also a new music aficionado. He offered the following caution:
I read your article on recording on the streets. Surreptitious recording can under some circumstances be a criminal offense. For example, California Penal Code section 632 makes surreptitious recording of confidential conversations illegal. Other states have other laws. Don’t record telephone conversations in California without giving notice to the other parties.
And then he kindly provided the full statute.
For the record, I don’t think anyone was advocating the surreptitious recording of confidential conversations, but it looks like there might be issues of inadvertent liability if you are trying to be particularly discrete when recording out in an urban setting and keeping your equipment under wraps.
Please remember, the above is in reference to California law, and your municipality’s rules may be different. (Note to self: check the statutes in Tokyo before heading out with a pair of in-ear binaural microphones and my latest toy. I’d hate to end up in a Japanese hoosegow like Paul McCartney.)
Anyway, I got to wondering. Does anyone know of any music composition that itself somehow lead to a civil liability on the part of the composer outside of issues of intellectual property, copyright, etc.? I can’t think of any off hand, but my curiosity has been piqued, and so if there are any cases out there that you know about, it would be of interest. If you have an example, please post in comments.
Legality aside, what about the moral questions of rolling a mic somewhere out in public and recording, for possible use in a composition, all of the sounds therein, including conversations? Same as taking a photo in a public space? Different? Composer Robin Rimbaud , a.k.a. Scanner, made a series of pieces in the late 1990s by scanning the public airwarves for people’s cell phone conversations, and then using them as material in performance and on recordings. That certainly raised a lot of immediate and direct questions about privacy, surveillance, and ethics in art, to which Rimbaud held his own against his critics pretty well. What’s your opinion about all of it? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.