ARTIST’S RIGHTS AND I: T Bone Burnett and Others Discuss Internet Freedom

As part of the Hammer Museum’s public forums, a famous music artist and producer, an author and professor, and a legendary radio broadcaster came together to discuss issues pertaining to the complexity of the Internet’s impact on the business and the morality of the entertainment industry, and more.

In front of a live audience in the Billy Wilder Theatre, each man began with an opening statement to introduce the topics in part to elaborate on their specific experiences as well as share ways that they have begun navigating through issues such as file sharing, fair use, piracy, copyright and transaction rights, and sharing revenues.

BBC- trained Australian born American broadcast journalist, author, and filmmaker Ian Masters, host of ‘Background Briefing’ and ‘Daily Briefing’ on KPFK-FM, opened the evening with initial background information on how our culture has evolved into an Internet dependent and wealth building society with digital media in the digital era.

Henry Jenkins is a USC professor and author of books such as ‘Textual Poachers’ and ‘Convergence Culture.’  He discussed what he calls ‘participatory’ culture, or more metaphorically speaking ‘mashup’ culture, a term usually associated with combining music files to create new works of art in the form of digital recordings.  His focus has been primarily on visual arts and images from sources ranging from poster art to television and movie subject matter; the mashing together of pre-existing images and ideas into new forms using digital file sharing. A few examples that he sited was Sponge Bob and Aqua Man in an oil spill to protest BP, artist Shepard Fairey’s combination of a promotional campaign that started with an Associated Press image of then Senator Obama which morphed into numerous images from Occupy Wall Street to the 2012 elections, Fiction Alley, a website for remixing ideas of existing works, and the HP Alliance, an online meet up group of Harry Potter fans sharing their stories based on characters and scenarios from author J. K. Rowling’s creations.

T Bone Burnett is a multiple Grammy and Oscar winning musician and producer.  His credits include playing with Bob Dylan’s band in the Rolling Thunder Revue and producing Mr. Dylan a long with an impressive list of artists including Elvis Costello, Tony Bennett, Roy Orbison, Elton John, John Mellencamp, the Wallflowers, the Grammy award winning project with Robert Plant and Allison Krause, and the Oscar winning song from the movie ‘Cold Heart.’  He has also produced soundtracks for movies such as ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou,’ which also won him a Grammy, and more recently ‘The Hunger Games.’

Burnett’s spontaneous opening comments focused on the subject of how twenty billion dollars have been taken out of our culture through piracy from sites all around the world and compared the art of recorded music in America to fine wine in France.  He made some interesting points from history how broadcasters have been sharing revenues with artists since the 1930’s yet these issues have yet to be resolved with the search engines and the technology companies in the cyber world.  Though copyright has worked well, he believes it is time to transition to what he referred to as ‘transaction’ rights, or in other words, figuring out what file sharing is when ‘clicking’ on the Internet.

As the discussion opened up between the three, the subject of fair use was introduced as a morality issue.  According to Professor Jenkins, the idea of ‘moral economy’ is how capitalism is often perceived as it historically arose from feudalism and the belief that trust between people cannot be shredded.  With the popularity of cease and desist letters based on opinions of what defines fair use, we are seeing more of these ethical and moral questions being raised based on conflict. Is it ‘sharing is caring’ or ‘piracy is a crime?’

So, how do we establish common ground and find some solutions to these moral and cultural dilemmas? Professor Jenkins believes that it starts with artists and fans.

Mr. Burnett shifted the tone of the discussion more specifically to the changing music industry creating an analogy of how digital audio formats are inferior to the analog recordings on vinyl record formats.  Mr. Masters added how instead of the middle men being a record company, the middle men have become the technical people who manage search engines, for instance, and most of the revenue seems to be concentrated there at the moment.

Professor Jenkins again reiterated the importance of the artist and fan relationships, and how part of the problem is the lack of better communication between the two and the inability to get the product directly from the source.  Industry people became  ‘industrialists’ without a historical appreciation of our recording industry.

T Bone concluded his thoughts by discussing the introduction of Internet 2, which supposedly is in the works, suggesting that this is perhaps the way to actually professionalize the industry and help to manage the problems created by piracy.  This system would distinguish itself from the current Internet that would remain the experimental place for everyone to initially present and develop their ideas and skills.

Ian Masters brought to everyone’s attention how media’s traditional relationships with audiences were actually nutured through radio and that not all peer–to- peer relationships create piracy issues.  He also sited how cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee in the U.S. and countries like France have already fully implemented very high speed fiber optics services, so it won’t be long before we should see even more of the high tech community integrating into our arts and culture.


As a professional recording artist myself and even currently in the process of copyrighting my first book, I left the Billy Wilder Theatre with a wide array of observations and opinions.

At the end of the evening, Mr. Masters opened up the audience to questions and the subjects primarily focused on the music industry, the artists’ positions, CDs and file sharing, and interactions with the online communities.   Much of the discussion during the whole evening was focused on morality, but it was also focused on business and money, which is what seems to be on most people’s minds; contemplating how to survive economically in our current world as so many problems continue to unfold and need to be resolved.

I got the last question of the night. After all was said and done, I felt that it was relevant to ask the question about a topic that for the most part wasn’t really discussed.

In the broader sense of the current state of economic affairs, I saw a statistic recently indicating once again that corporate profits are at an all time high while most workers’ wages are at an all time low. More and more people can’t afford to buy music or art regardless of the various ‘pay’ formats or products that are available. It makes sense that file sharing would not only be very popular but a common occurrence especially in light of the accessibility to it which obviously is a very important factor.  File sharing is not unlike the commons, a part of society even in past history that the original Shakespearean theater experience acknowledged.  The so-called best seats in the Globe Theatre were available to the nobility while the remaining areas, in modern days similar to what has been called ‘festival seating,’ were available to everyone else regardless of their income. This way everyone was allowed to enjoy the theater experience.  Perhaps Shakespeare would not be nearly as popular or have set the standard still used to this day had this not been the intention at his time.

I completely understand the importance of fairness in respecting and honoring the work of the artist.  I have released two professional music albums and am preparing to self-publish a book.  I don’t want my work to be disrespected or misrepresented and we all want our work to be appreciated, to leave a positive and lasting impression and why not help to generate income.. even personally?  I am writing this article about the evening’s event instead of posting even a picture from the night let alone an audio or video recording because I respect the wishes of the artists present and of the museum.

There is much more to consider than even all of this that I have only just begun to elaborate on. How are we all connecting to the Internet and how can we address a better understanding of fairness and addressing the needs of all of our people?  The Internet is a powerful tool and influence that should always be accessible as well as used responsibly. Even as protests in the streets of Europe and events of all kinds unfold around our changing world as I write this, artists and the purveyors of the online communities and technologies have tremendous responsibilities and can perhaps be the real shape shifters of our global economy and better world scenarios moving forward!

And the discussion continues……

Dan Nowman Niswander

Edutainment Contributor

Categories: Activism, Commons, Economics, Edutainment, Thinking Together


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