Carl Stone: Intellectual Property, Artistic License and Free Access to Information in the Age of Sample-Based Music and the Internet
FRANK J. OTERI:O.K. You’re a composer, you’re a musician, you have friends who are composers and musicians, I’m a composer, a musician, and a music lover. We both worked in radio; we’re both addicted to music. If people ask you to tape albums for them, do you do it? Have people taped albums for you? I know I have taped albums for people, and people have taped albums for me over the years. And if there’s something I like that somebody has given me a tape of, I actually go out and buy my own copy of it eventually, because I want my own copy of it. Is this right or wrong?
CARL STONE:Well actually, believe it or not, I’ve had very few cases where I’ve done taping for other people, and other people have hardly ever done taping for me. I can’t say it’s never happened, but it was rare. Personal use? I would hope by now people would believe that taping for personal use is acceptable. And so I don’t think there need be much controversy about that. Different question. For example, bootlegging, pirating, mass reproduction for sale. That’s different.
FRANK J. OTERI:That’s a whole other issue. All right, an extension of that. I read in some interviews that you were a fan of a lot of rock music and that rock had a big influence on you over the years.
FRANK J. OTERI:A big part of the rock world is that there are these canonic albums that fans have put out, and then there are all these bootlegs of live concerts. Certainly the Grateful Dead had this policy that anybody could tape concerts and there was this whole tape trading. And a performance they would give of “Dark Star” on Thursday night would never be the same as their performance of “Dark Star” on Saturday.
FRANK J. OTERI:And you want to hear them all, but the record company is only going to issue only one, if any, of these performances.
FRANK J. OTERI:I own bootlegs of various bands, and I’m willing to say that, if the record company would issue them I’d buy them from the record company. It’s not hurting the sales of the catalog because I own the entire catalog as well. Right or wrong?
CARL STONE:I think it’s difficult because from my perspective as a composer, I would, again, be flattered if people took the time and trouble to bootleg and somehow make a secondary market for my music, but ultimately I would like to have some control over my own artistic product, and if someone was sitting in the front row of a concert of mine and made a tape, and maybe I didn’t think the performance was very good, but the tape was somehow put into circulation, and I felt it was sort of inferior because of production values, or just the musical performance, I might have a problem with that. I think that the Grateful Dead, they were somehow like the Cal Worthington of music. I don’t know if people know who Cal Worthington is but he was a high volume dealer of used automobiles in Los Angeles on late night television in the 60s and 70s. They just made so much music that it was almost impossible to control. And yes they sort of met the bootlegging problem head on by just saying we’re going to destroy a paid market, we’re just going to develop a market of just traders. I mean money never passed hands with the Dead tapers as far as I know.
FRANK J. OTERI:No, and they did very well. And as a result they had people following them from all over the country taping shows.
CARL STONE:And that was their bread and butter. I mean they didn’t get any radio play. I don’t think their recording sales were that high, their mainstay was basically through touring. The tapes were sort of a natural way to promote and to get people to go to concerts so they could tape and have more ammunition for their own trading.
FRANK J. OTERI:To continue this thought about the Grateful Dead and bootlegging, one could certainly make the argument for our kind of music. Well, we’re both interested in a very wide range of music, but for the music that we’re talking about and that the visitors of NewMusicBox are most concerned about, contemporary American, for lack of a better word, concert music… We’re going to get into the murkiness about that concept a little later in this discussion. For our kind of .org music, as opposed to .com music, record sales aren’t what’s fueling the income of this music. You said it earlier in this conversation that if you have several thousand sales of a CD, that’s a hit. We’re not competing with the Britney Spears or the Metallicas of this world. In a way, a Grateful Dead model where people are going around making recordings could work for us. This would obviously require a lot of details to be ironed out, but imagine if people were going around making tapes of the latest orchestral premieres and circulating those tapes, maybe some of these pieces would get some more play. It could actually be in the best interest of our community if this music got circulated more.
CARL STONE:Well it’s controversial, and I think there are arguments that could be made for that and also against that. I think that musicians have rights too, and what might be in the best interest of the composer in terms of promoting his or her own music might not be in the best interest of the musician, you know, the violinist who was slaving away in the first chair of that first orchestral performance. It’s not really easy to answer a question like that, I think it’s very complicated.
FRANK J. OTERI:What’s started happening around the country which I think is a very healthy thing is that orchestras are starting to grab the bull by the horns, and they are issuing their own recordings. The New York Philharmonic started it, and the Chicago Symphony. Issuing recordings from their own performance vaults, putting them out on their own CDs, which are essentially like some rock bands’ own “official bootlegs” on their own labels. They are live performance recordings of maybe not always the most optimal sound quality that have been doctored thanks to the latest technologies, which make available really important, valuable performances. And what they have done which I think has made all difference in the world for people in the orchestra, is that they have made sure that all the names of the every player is on those discs. How may records do you have even on the biggest labels like Deutsche Grammophon, or Columbia Masterworks, of an orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic and it doesn’t say who’s playing. It’s ridiculous. It’s anonymous music. No wonder the musicians are upset. They have every right to be upset.
CARL STONE:Yeah. Well, it certainly is for obsessive people like you and I that these kind of details are really of tremendous value, and I think probably yes, I think for the musicians too.
FRANK J. OTERI:And to have the names of these players and certainly yes, for we who are obsessive collectors of musical information who realize that every person partaking in a performance is part of why that performance sounds the way it does, I want to know who everybody in that orchestra was. I want to know every player. But I think when you reward intellectual activity with credit, I don’t think there always has to be economic credit, but there always has to be artistic and intellectual credit given. And that’s the key difference.
CARL STONE:Well I think it’s part of a whole package of what an artist deserves. Credit and remuneration are both very important. I think that the most disturbing tendency in 20th century America – you can’t do this in Europe – but in America, you have the whole concept of work-for-hire where your work is essentially bought lock, stock and barrel by someone else who then owns it completely and doesn’t have to credit you at all. In Europe, and especially in France, you have the concept of the moral right of a creator which is that even if you were to sell your work to someone else if you were sculptor or a painter, you still maintain a certain control over how it is used, and your right to have credit, and your right to receive royalties if it were to be resold. Some of that has been tweaked into American law, but not all of it. You still have work for hire, which I think is a terrible idea, where the composer, or any other kind of artist, is just like a carpenter or a plumber, a crafts person who’s work basically is then commodified and then subsumed by some other entity who has paid cash.
FRANK J. OTERI:And then of course you have somebody who turns around and exposes this like Courtney Love, who says the record industry claims they’re fighting for artists’ rights, but they’re really fighting for their own economic interests because they bought recordings lock, stock and barrel and they’re losing the most money, not the artists.
CARL STONE:I don’t know about Courtney Love, I think she’s in a pretty good negotiating position compared to a lot of people, but certainly it’s true that most major label record contracts especially in pop music are really one sided, and horribly unfair to the artists.