Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let Us Now Praise Don Henley

I am not really  an Eagles fan.  I think the band peaked around the time of "Already Gone".  However I became a born again Don Henley fan after hearing "The Boys of Summer" and "The End of the Innocence".  That whole album hit me at the right time and it has become a favorite.

            I have become somewhat bemused  at the dispute between Don Henley and the band Okkervil River.  Apparently the group  posted a cover recording of Henley’s "The End of the Innocence" online as part of a free mix tape.  Henley, being a prudent copyright proprietor instructed his attorneys to send a demand letter requiring that the song be taken down.

            According to a quote from Australia's The Music, Okkervil River founder Will Sheff responded by saying "It's a real dick move man.  I guess he's an old‑fashioned guy who doesn't understand.  I mean the f..ing thing was free!  I don't really get what his issue with it was."

            The issue is apparent.  One artist thinks he can exploit another artist's intellectual property without compensation because it's being given away for free.  Henley as a copyright owner has exclusive right to distribute and perform his compositions and the right to stop the infringement of those compositions.  I actually applaud Henley for taking a principled  stance against the cheapening and devaluation of music.

            I have no problem with an artist deciding to give their own music away – I don't really agree with the premise but again, I don't have an issue with someone making an informed decision about their own copyrights.  However,  this band needs to respect Henley's property right and to get away from the notion that because you're not charging for your work somehow the other copyright participants should be supportive of your endeavors and not charge for their work.

            I don't really want to single out Okkervil River – they're an interesting band (and they have recorded with one of my heroes – Roky Erickson) but I am reminded of the current hue and cry from musicians over the streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora not paying artists and songwriters enough money.  This is a battle that has yet to be decided --but in order to advance the cause for artists trying to increase the  value of their work we have to do everything in our power to get rid of the notion that music is and should be free.  Don Henley has been a strong advocate for artists' rights for years and I believe his actions in this case demonstrate  a stand for  songwriters' rights; this is  anything but a "dick move".

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Report: Ashley Cleveland and Mac Gayden

Two of my friends and  clients have recently published books and I am happy to report that they are both excellent reads.

            The first book I covered was Ashley Cleveland's memoir Little Black Sheep (David Cook 2013). When I think of Ashley Cleveland,  I think of the fact she is one of the finest rock singers I’ve ever heard  and that she seems to exude such happiness when she performs.  She has won a Dove award but she knows how to sing the Rolling Stones.  I found her book uplifting, heartbreaking and humorous all at the same time.  She is very honest in describing the large and small tragedies of her life and it is the universality of her struggle (meaning that every individual can relate to the problems she has had to overcome) coupled with the straightforward way that she describes her salvation that makes this book so compelling.  This is a story where the good guys win.

            Mac Gayden’s Missing String Theory (Elephant Walk Press, 2013) details a spiritual journey of a different path.  I have known and worked with Mac for years and of course, I knew of him long  before I met him.  Mac’s book is fascinating because it gives a detailed view from his unique position in Nashville (from playing in frat bands to co-writing “Everlasting Love” and “She Shot a Hole in my Soul” to Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry to “Blonde on Blonde,” “Morning Glory”, J.J. Cale… it just goes on and on.  Also there are  some great anecdotes about the famous and infamous and a lot of Nashville history.  Mac’s musical story coincides with  his spiritual growth and this is a profound story as well.   The book functions not only as an autobiography but as a cultural study of a very special  time in Nashville and of a gifted individual who musically bridges every important music scene to come out of this city  since the 1960s.  Even today Mac continues to do important work.

            I really enjoyed reading both of these books partly because I’m a fan of both Ashley and Mac but also because I now have a stronger sense of the conviction that goes into their performances. ..it’s not just singing and playing.  I think that we are very lucky that they have both shared   their stories.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Making Sense of the Tennessee Legislature's Legacy Sound Recording Protection Act

I have been trying to figure out the two new bills introduced in the Tennessee Legislature by Stacey Campfield and G.A. Hardaway dealing with digital performance royalties for pre-1972 recordings. The first bill called "Legacy Sound Recording Protection Act" states on its face that "the owner of a sound recording initially fixed on or before February 15, 1972 has the exclusive right to (among other things)” perform the sound recording publicly by means of a digital or satellite audio transmission".

As Betsy Phillips pointed out in the Nashville  Scene blog, the bill goes hand in hand with another bill which apparently seeks to establish a payment to artists on the resale of fine arts (this is similar to a law in California and other states).

Strangely, my gut reaction that all of this state law action would be preempted by Section 301 of the Copyright Act was incorrect due to a provision in that section that states "with respect to sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972 any rights or remedies under the common law or statutes of any state shall not be annulled or eliminated by this title until February 15, 2067."  It is well known that there is currently no federal copyright protection for sound recordings created prior to February 15, 1972.  However, I didn't realize that the Copyright Act specifically recognizes state laws protecting these older sound recordings.

 Until recently, state laws have been used fairly successfully in dealing with issues surrounding pre-1972 recordings. Campfield's bill draws attention to the fact that because there is no federal copyright protection for these older recordings, there is no digital performance royalty for these sound recordings either.  As digital delivery of music gains ever increasing traction, there appears to be a growing consensus that this needs to be remedied by Congress.  However as much as Campfield and Hardaway are to be commended for actually attempting to do something about this problem, it seems inconceivable that the law of one state (Tennessee) could protect "owners" of sound recordings in the other 49 states or that all 50 states would adopt some sort of uniform law  It also seems like a nightmare to lump these "owners" in with "artists" under the second proposed bill.

            I don't think this bill is the answer but I do think it is a step in the right direction and that it could force Congress to consider taking action in this area. Whether preemption applies or not, this is really a federal issue.