So a big part of the reason why I’ve gone the independent artist route is because I have very unorthodox ideas about so-called “copyright” and “intellectual property”, LOL and, frankly, I didn’t think any conventional label/manager/producer/publisher/etc, would go for them! In all seriousness, though, both concepts – “copyright” and “intellectual property” are ones I’m deeply uncomfortable with. So I want to experiment with unconventional approaches to how my work lives out there in the world – ways that, hopefully, better reflect my values and political commitments. Don’t get me wrong! I’m all for artists being fairly compensated for their/our work! Because, making good, high-quality art/entertainment is work every bit as much as any “real job/career”. Believe me, although part of the craft is to try to make it appear effortless, it’s not! Artists work their asses off to do what they do and do it well!
Where I get uncomfortable is with the idea that you can own an idea or an artistic creation – that the work, and even the amount of myself – I put into a particular creation turns it into a piece of private property to which I have an exclusive claim and exclusive rights. I’m uncomfortable with this notion because, all though it is certainly true that I put a lot of myself into my art – my life experience, my values, my beliefs, even my spirituality, no work comes exclusively from me. However much of myself I put into any song, poem or story, I’m also drawing on a deep well of cultural, and even intercultural resources. I’m always drawing on, and responding to, and building on in dialogue and conversation with, the work of artists who’ve gone before whose work has inspired me. Not to mention the portion of any artistic work that comes from the Holy Spirit/Dream-Time/Source/Creation/Whatever! So how can I claim it as exclusively my own? Moreover, if I’ve drawn on that rich cultural commons in doing my own work, don’t I have a responsibility to contribute back to it so that it remains just as rich and strong for others? I feel very strongly that I do!
Moreover, I’m also profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of one’s ability to access cultural participation and the cultural commons being predicated on one’s ability to pay. That seems to me dangerously unjust, because it means that, if you’re poor, unless free stuff’s available, you’re effectively disbarred from participating in your culture’s processes of making meaning! And given how important cultural participation is to social, psychological and spiritual well-being, I, therefore, consider access to the arts/cultural production a fundamental human right, rather than a luxury item that’s optional. After all, making meaning through cultural production – art, music, story-telling, is part of what makes us human. So to deprive a person of access to participation in that is, quite literally, dehumanizing! It’s another way we other people – tell them we don’t value them or even consider them real people. And, if we truly want to be working toward a world of justice and peace, then we have to resist systems and processes the dehumanize!
So what does all this mean in practice? Well, in truth, that’s going to be something of an on-going experiment. We live in an economy that doesn’t make it easy to support oneself adequately even if you’re totally willing to submit to its imperatives! Work has been made almost universally precarious, and safety-nets have been hacked to bits or are in the process of being. So it’s going to be a real challenge to try to live by my values and still have my art be a viable way to make a living! But I want to make the effort, because I believe it’s important to at least try to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. What I can say, so far, is:
* When I gig at a traditional venue, a club say, I will charge cover (unless it’s an open-mike that I’m part of). Although, I’ll try to make it PWYC as often as possible!
* I wouldn’t charge to perform at rallies, demos, etc.
* My music and writing are available for purchase (although keep an eye/ear out for free stuff too). That being said, once you’ve bought, go ahead and share! And, if you got my stuff through sharing, that’s ok too. Buy when/as you can! Once they leave the proverbial store, my works become part of the cultural commons to be circulated and drawn on. Just don’t plagiarize! (see below)
* For conferences, conventions and other events like that, it depends. If you’re a large, well-to-do organization and can afford to pay me, I’d appreciate it a lot! But, if you’re a small or just getting started org and have no/limited budget, send me an email and we’ll talk!
* If you want to use one of my songs/pieces in your film/video/add/whatever, send me an email and we’ll talk. Again, if you’re a large, well-off organization/producer and can pay me, I would greatly appreciate it, as I see using my recordings as kind of like having me give a performance. But, if you’re a small org, and/or a struggling artists yourself, especially one who’s just emerging, I get that you’re broke too, especially if you’re an activist org/artist!
* If you want to cover one of my songs – perform or record it in your own style/idiom, go ahead! As per the cultural commons discussion above, I don’t believe you should have to pay me to record/perform my songs. They’re not properties to be rented/leased out! That being said, however, I do ask, nay insist, that you attribute properly. Cite your sources as we say in academia! I put a lot of work and a lot of myself into each piece, and I believe that does deserve recognition. So please let your audience know whose work you’re covering!
* Hopefully this doesn’t even need saying, but do not plagiarize! The one thing I absolutely insist that you do not do is to replicate my work exactly and claim it as your own. That is an insult to the work that I put, and you didn’t, into every piece I create. And, if you do plagiarize, I will do whatever is within my power to stop you and set the record straight.
* That being said, if there’s a riff, lyric, phrase (musical or textual), character, etc, within one of my works that you really click with/that really inspires you, feel free to use it/them! Again, my creations are not properties. Their components are part of the cultural commons. All I ask, just like with covers, is that you cite your sources properly. Let your audience know where you got what you’re using. 🙂 Better yet, send me an email/tweet/Facebook and let me know how your using my stuff! I’d be really delighted and excited to hear!
Needless to say, however, the above clauses (re sharing and using) only apply to my original stuff, not to my covers of other artists’ work! Other artists whose work I cover (I’m thinking in particular of songs here) may not share my views on this stuff, and I have to respect their wishes with regard to their work whether or not I agree. Of course, if/when I have the originator’s permission, I’ll make those covers available as described above! And such pieces will be clearly designated as having that permission. Otherwise, assume they don’t.
* The other exception, of course, is songs/pieces where I have a guest artist. You can certainly use the parts of those songs that are mine! But those guest performers may not share my unorthodox views, so I’d ask you not to use their stuff without asking/making arrangements with them. Don’t worry, though, as those songs/pieces will be clearly marked as featuring some one on a given part!
* Lastly, please do not use my work, either in whole or in part, to promote racism/white supremacism, sexism/misogyny, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, classism, or any other form of hate, othering or dehumanization. Hate, dehumanization and othering are exactly what I intend my work to stand against!
Anyway, 🙂 those are the basic house rules. So now, we can all have fun, make and share great art and entertainment, and use it to build a better and more just world!