Ownership

I was contemplating posting this on Walk in Silence instead, as it originally pertained to music, but I think it works a little better here, as it’s more about the creativity side than the sounds.

A few weeks back the Republican National Convention took place in Cleveland, and aside from the various dumpster fires that went on before, during and after it, I was once again struck by that party’s consistent borrowing of music without requesting permission.

Now, before I go into any potentially divisive politics here, this is purely from the standpoint of the creator.  I’m a big proponent of ownership, and at least giving the creator their due when necessary.

All too often I see examples of creative works being borrowed for entertainment or financial or even social gain, often without mentioning the creator’s name.  This is especially rampant in the art world, where a creator posts their artwork on Tumblr or DeviantArt or Instagram (or any of the other art-themed social media platforms), and on occasion has had corporations such as Hot Topic ‘borrowing’ said art to print on their own branded clothing, without ever contacting the artist.  [And yes, sometimes they will even go so far as to have an in-house artist ‘draw’ the same exact image with minimal changes just to flirt with any legal loopholes.]  Or even on the public level, where their work will be reposted hither and yon without any note of its origin (sometimes it’s even edited out of the picture), thus it becoming lost in the wild and misconstrued as public domain.  This is why many of the artists have gone so far as to put watermarks across their work.  They’ll have a clean version if you want it–you just need to ask permission and perhaps give them payment for it.  Fair is fair.

Music is another field where this happens all too often.  In regards to the RNC, they were using numerous well-known songs as entrance music — sometimes to the point that it was a little too close to pro-wrestling at times.  They almost never ask permission, even though music publishers always have some kind of Terms of Use rules in their publishing contracts.  [There is also the simple fact that, yes, the creator may not agree with your political message and not want to be associated with it in any way.]

The thing that always gets me is how often these conventions will choose a song without ever actually listening to what the song may be about.  They’ll just go with whatever sounds cool.  Ronald Reagan famously wanted to use Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” — an angry anti-war song.  Not that long ago, Sarah Palin used Heart’s “Barracuda” due to it being an old nickname in her past…even though the song is essentially an angry rant about sexism.   And recently: Ivanka Trump came onstage to The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” — a song inspired by taking the day off from work to enjoy nature.  And both David Bowie’s “Station to Station” and The Who’s “Eminence Front” were played by the house band at this year’s RNC; both are songs referencing heavy drug use.

Each time I hear things like this, I immediately think: you do know what this song’s about…right?  And soon after, the musician will publicly denounce its use.  It reminds me of that boat cruise commercial that used Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” (a drug-fueled track inspired by a William Burroughs novel) or a game unit commercial using Sublime’s “Santeria” (a song about a violent and jealous ex-boyfriend) as a happy singalong.  They’re focusing completely on the music’s sound and ignoring the context.  It’s all style and no substance.

[Yes, I know someone out there will argue that ‘both sides do it’, but I’m pretty sure that ‘the other side’ usually makes an attempt to clear the permission beforehand.  When Bill Clinton used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop”, at least the context made sense (it’s a song about determination during the most trying times), and they invited the band to play it live as well.  The DNC more often than not pays attention to what songs they use and how they use them.]

In this internet age, it’s no longer a time of getting away with this kind of thing and saying ‘oops, my bad’ afterwards.  Creators – and fans – can now respond instantly.  My point being: if you’re going to use someone’s creation for public use, the least you should do is ask permission, whether it’s an artwork or a song or a segment of a book.  And there’s a lot of creative work out there, not just the popular works: you may just find the perfect entrance song out there on Bandcamp instead of on Tidal.

Be courteous to the creators, and they may just be accommodating to whatever project you need them for.

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