Recently, triggered by the verdict in the Oakland Shooting case, I remembered the old song “Graffiti Limbo” by Michelle Shocked, which suddenly, after so many years, seemed all too relevant and fresh and necessary.
Seeing no other way to share it with my friends, I made a video of it which I uploaded on YouTube. Not completely surprising, but still somewhat disappointing, after 2-3 days I received the following YouTube message:
Please remove the unauthorized upload of Graffiti Limbo. It is copyright controlled material and the unauthorized upload is an infringment. Thank you for your prompt cooperation. The message of the song is timely and relevant, we agree. Please visit the artist’s website, where the song is available, as well as iTunes, Amazon, etc.
Campfire Girl Publishing
Since I don’t wanna dance with the big guys, even when they disguise themselves as You And Me, of course I removed the video, and replied with the following message:
Re: Graffiti Limbo
I know the material is copyrighted, and that I am therefore finding myself forced to remove same video. I shall do so without further ado, but find myself urged to state the following:
My action of removing it would only have been cooperation had I had a choice. We all know that I don’t and am effectively doing so at gunpoint. I must therefore consider the line “Thank you for your prompt cooperation” to be an empty gesture and an ill-disguised threat while the chance to willfully and voluntarily cooperate still remains to be left me.
You tell me to please refer to Michelle Shocked’s site or music sales services like iTunes to purchase the song. This is tell-tale of a total failure to understand my motivation to post the song. As you wrote, the message is timely and relevant. This is really the song’s strongsuit; hardly anyone will disagree to say that the composition is somewhat generic.
Now, my motivation to put up the song was to communicate this message to a number of people, of whom most have never even heard of the artist Michelle Shocked. These people were unlikely to start buying the songs just to hear the message I wanted to communicate to them, and unlikely to feel the strength of it by being referred to a written version of the lyrics. I have looked around and not seen any possible way to present this song to a new audience short of inviting them to my house and play the CD. Since my friends are scattered across continents, this was not really an option. I would love to follow any properly given methods to present this song to my friends, were any available. But this is not the case.
Michelle Shocked and Campfire Girl Publishing should, in my opinion, see this kind of fan communication not as an infringement but a way of alternative marketing: I am, by posting this video, presenting this song to an audience of which the majority have never heard of Michelle before. At the same time, by placing this in a relevant political and historical context, I provide a sense of relevancy to my target group that no marketing campaign could provide. At the same time, being published as a YouTube video, the song is highly unlikely to become an illegit part of anyone’s music collection. A publishing of the song in this manner is, as far as I can see, a pure win-win situation for both artist and fans, established as well as new and potential.
I will also take this moment to remind you that copyright doesn’t necessarily imply zealously guarding the use and sharing of the song. Lots of artists have shown the way forward in communicating their music while keeping full copyright control, and for an example of the ultimately creative and progressive use of copyright, I will refer the General Public License authored by the Free Software Foundation.
In my opinion, setting up artificial barriers for fans to aquire what is technically extremely easy to aquire without losses to anyone is both a dead end and an unnecessary harrassment of the audience that was supposed to be the friends, not the enemies of the artist.
The only real loser in a scenario of more liberal sharing policy is the middle man; the major labels. They repeatedly – and falsely – claim that one illegit sharing equals one lost sale. This is of course bogus; the most likely outcome of me not sharing this song is a lot of people who will both before and after be completely and totally oblivious to its existence.
By zealously hoarding fictitious sales rates rather than taking a pragmatic stance on it – which, in this case, would in all likelihood be an increase in potential sales by an increase in potential fan base – Michelle Shocked and Campfire Girl Publishing is running the errand of major labels, harming the interests of both artist, fans and a general high level of cultural education and awareness.
Last, I shall state that I have no personal gains from posting this video, other than communicating what I found a strong and relevant message that only someone suffering from severe delusions of grandeur would believe the same people would otherwise have rushed to iTunes or Amazon to buy, just so they could hear it on my recommendation. I am disappointed, though, sadly, not surprised, by the reaction from an artist and publisher of whom I had much higher thoughts.