This Stuff Is Hard

By Tim Quirk
OK, now I'm getting depressed. I had always assumed this ridiculous idea that artists are delicate otherworldly creatures who can't and shouldn't concern themselves with prosaic business or policy matters was being fed to them (along with other helpful notions, such as being a drunk or an addict is all part of being creative) by malicious middlemen and mendacious media.

But now I've read Vickie's insightful analysis of how this dynamic is perpetuated by art schools and universities, and Bill's observation that "things like intellectual property, media policy, unions, performance rights, and so on not show up in art schools or music conservatories, they have precious little traction in arts management programs." And that all mirrors my experience in the business world: I spent the last 11 years working in online music, and every year I found myself giving a copyright 101 course to some new executive, explaining the difference between a composition and a sound recording, who controlled the rights for each, which ones were available at statutory rates and which ones had to be licensed directly from the owner, how one went about tracking down said owners, and the various consequences of failing to identify those owners correctly.

This stuff is neither easy nor intuitive, and most people (even very intelligent and successful businessmen and women) tend to throw up their arms in exasperation somewhere around the point where you highlight the difference between a mechanical royalty and a performance one and why the Harry Fox Agency collects the former and performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI collect the latter.

So maybe I should forgive artists for running in terror. But I can't let educational institutions off the hook. Someone has to teach the mechanics of all this, and it would help if that someone also devoted significant energy to analyzing why it gets so complicated so quickly: it turns out the tortuous copyright clearance process serves as a decent history of which institutions had the most political power whenever a new use for creative works emerged.

And it also serves as an ongoing saga of what happens when creators aren't involved in policy-making.
July 20, 2010 5:38 AM | | Comments (0) |

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