Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Copyright catfights: Lil Wayne illustrates a point

The idea of copyright was, you'll recall, to encourage creativity. That was meant to be the point. Not to monetise ideas - although that was part of the means to the end - but simply to encourage the sharing of new stuff.

Now, you might feel that there's nothing wrong with turning synaptic sparks into money, or indeed that an idea should be a cash generator in perpetuity. But even if you do believe that, you'd be forced to admit that copyright law, with all its addenda and redrafts and extensions, isn't a good way of achieving that goal because it's trying to do something that copyright wasn't really supposed to do.

If you need evidence of just how ridiculous and broken copyright law has become, look no further than the legal squall generated by Lil Wayne's track I Feel Like Dying.

Urband & Lazar Music Publishing are suing Lil Wayne for the use of an uncleared sample from a track by Karma-Ann Swanepoel. That's a business suing, not the actual creator of the track. Oh, and they want to see financial data from the album Tha Carter III.

I Feel Like Dying isn't on Tha Carter III, but:

a lawyer for Urband & Lazar argues that Lil Wayne promoted the album by singing that song in concert and allowing fans to download it for free on his Web site.

So they're looking for a slice of money from album sales on a track that wasn't even on the album.

Let's just take a moment or two to pull up a chair, and ponder this: Lil Wayne uses a sample - uncleared, admittedly - on a track he gave away. So he's being sued on the basis, presumably, that someone who heard the sample might have gone on to buy the album - a someone who wouldn't have done so otherwise.

Presumably, a very disappointed someone if that had been their motivation.

Now, though, Lil Wayne has also issued a lawsuit - he's trying to make his producer pay for the mistake, on the grounds that it was up to the producer to clear the samples.

This, then, is how we stimulate creativity in 2009, is it? Or doesn't this whole farrago just suggest you'd be better off not bothering to try anything as it'll end up with a barrage of angry lawyers working off their mortgages?