GET THE STATE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS Critical investigative reporting; Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower; Left Field and Political Intelligence; insightful reviews; and much more just a click away! Check out Molly Ivins’ special subscription offer! http://texasobserver.org Subscribe on-line or call The Texas Observer at Slipped Discs Back in the 1980s, when Tipper Gore rallied suburban mothers to join her crusade against the spread of so-called “explicit” lyrics in popular music, it was the Recording Inthat caved into her Tupperware team. The R.I.A.A. represents the five major music publishing companies, which are all owned by multinational firms and together produce about ninety percent of everything recorded in the United States. To head off a showdown in Congress, the R.I.A.A. agreed to begin the noxious practice of “parental advisory” labeling on the covers of certain albums published by its membership, and this labeling allowed some chains, most notably Wal-Mart, to more efficiently cull their shelves of “offensive” material. Now the R.I.A.A. is engaged in a form of censorship of its own design, this time targeting the opposite end of the production chain compact disc pressing plants. The new bogey-man is not indecency but piracy, the illegal reproduction and selling of copyrighted material, which the R.I.A.A. targeted in a new set of guidelines sent to pressing plants last summer. The broadly-written guidelines draw no distinction between outright piracy and mere sampling, which is the widespread practice most commonly associated with hip-hop music of incorporating selected fragments of previously published material into an original composition. In the past, the record company and artists involved have been generally held liable for any copyright violations on their releases, but through the new guidelines the R.I.A.A. has served notice on pressing plants that they also can be sued, and must take responsibility for screening everything they press for illegal appropriations. The group, which has no actual regulatory authority, has said the guidelines are merely “suggestions.” But the sheer wealth and power of the industry’s membership, together with several recent lawsuits against CD pressing firms, lend those suggestions considerable weight. One of the first groups to feel the impact of the new guidelines is Negativland, an experimental band whose work often takes the form of collage: album-length satirical commentaries on a single subject, composed of snippets gathered from a wide range of sources, some copyrighted, others merely “found sounds,” taken from the airwaves, television broadcasts, phone conversations, and elsewhere. In response to the R.I.A.A. guidelines, the group’s Planobased pressing plant, Disctronics, refused to press the band’s CD “Over the Edge, Vol. 3: The Weatherman’s Dumb Stupid Come-Out Line.” The plant further announced that it was reviewing Negativland’s entire catalogue for “uncleared” samples \(of which there are litto press any of the band’s titles. “They’ve effectively shut us down,” said band member Mark Hosler, recently in Texas to promote a new video project and spread the word about the R.I.A.A.’s latest end run around the First Amendment. “It’s really a bril liant tactic don’t go after the artist, instead intimidate the manufacturer.” Suing the press ing plant, he said, was analogous to suing a printing press for libel, rather than going after the magazine or the individual writer. It may also amount to a form of “prior restraint,” the illegal censoring of expression before it is even produced. An e -mail campaign initiated by Negativland persuaded the R.I.A.A. to soften its position somewhat, by adding a short paragraph in which the trade group acknowledged, for the first time ever in writing, that sampling existed in a “gray area” of the law, and was possibly protected under “fair use” provisions of U.S. copyright law. Although it was a major concession from the notoriously hard-line R.I.A.A., it wasn’t enough to reassure Disctronics, and Negativland is still seeking a small pressing plant willing to take a chance on them. Hosler feels the ratcheting up of enforcement is being driven by the industry’s effort to adjust to technological changes such as recordable compact discs and downloadable Internet files. With the advent and proliferation of digital communications, intellectual property has become more valuable, but also much harder to exclusively control. + In our own time, we often forget it was the free enterprise system that first enabled our great-great-grandparents to move out from Earth to worlds among the stars. How bold the spirit of those inventions was! How innovative were the machines that carried them into worlds beyond their own! The exploration of the heavens was the free enterprise system’s finest hour. But its first hours were in those old-time soda fountains and bottling companies in small towns. Of all industries, it is the American soft drink industry of Earth that most typifies free enterprise and the spirit that has created so much progress in so many worlds…. Consider the most successful companies on Earth: Ford, General Motors, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Microsoft, Dr Pepper, and countless others. They all started small with an idea in a little shop or even a garage, and then they formed these partnerships franchises with companies that could market and distribute their invention to far more people in a much wider area. Soon the old corner drugstores, machine shops, and laboratories had become giant international corporations…. By the year 2000 as reckoned in Earth time, there were more than a million millionaires. Eighty percent of them were not born into wealth; they made it on their own. Two-thirds of them owned their own business. Many started with nothing but an idea and a dream. And it was not just wealth they created. They created better, more rewarding, more humane communities. Now we know how a whole new generation of Earth’s people brought prosperity and peace and happiness to their planet. And it’s because they learned the lessons to be learned at the old corner drug stores of America. They learned that we can be anything we imagine, that anything we can dream we can do. + MARCH 19, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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