Blurred Lines: Piracy in the Digital Music Era

On Tuesday, we found out the results of Marvin Gaye’s extended battle with Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over the megahit song “Blurred Lines,” which he claims infringes the copyright on his 1977 disco classic, “Got to Give it Up”: $7.3 million in damages. The hugely controversial result has spawned rebuttals from everyone from Vulture to Slate, while every musician is left wondering where the line between referencing an earlier song and stealing from it lies. There is, however, one thing that’s become clear from all of this–we all need to know about copyright law.

Remember back in 1999, when the Recording Industry Association of America sued then-popular file sharing site Napster? Napster made file sharing available for users, making it easy for people to share and download music over the Internet for free. Unfortunately for Napster, they needed to own the rights to that music.

Napster would lose the case and shut down its operation. It now pays licensing fees for the music that it sells on its music distribution website. While a blow for the early days of Silicon Valley mega-companies, this ultimately would help artists protect their intellectual property by not allowing their music to be pirated.

tmprod-infogfx-musicIn today’s Internet society, privacy on the Internet is a lost commodity. Advertising-based search engines like Google have ensured that what you do on the Internet will be saved and stored for a period of 18 months. Every time you go on the Internet, you leave a digital footprint on every website you visit; anything you post or buy is stored and saved whether you like it or not.

To analyze the problems surrounding Internet privacy in comparison with intellectual property, we must first define these two terms. Internet privacy refers to the privacy of online property that people post on to the Internet. This means that the public may not have access to various content that is posted.

Intellectual property is owned content that is posted on the Internet. This content usually has a copyright or trademark sign attached somewhere to let people know that the content is the property of someone and permission must be asked to use it.

The music industry depends on intellectual property laws to protect the integrity of musicians and bands. Without copyright laws in place, musicians would be subject to all types of plagiarism.

But though these laws are alive and active, even children have the ability to pirate music off the Internet. Copyright laws help to ensure that musicians and bands get credited as the original creators of their compositions. Artists get their name out there as their content is shared, ideally even leading to better gigs and album and merchandise sales.

While copyright laws have helped to uphold the integrity of many artists, it has also hurt them. There are a plethora of artists who have produced a popular song or record and never received compensation for their musical achievements. Big time musicians such as The Eagles, Lenny Kravitz and Big Pun have all had battles with record labels in the courtroom, all claiming to have been taken advantage of through lack of compensation.

719d732e30d4e313f3128c028cdcdb76And clearly, artists sue other artists for plagiarizing music. Australian band Tame the Impala is being sued by Argentinean singer Pablo Ruiz, who claims that the song “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” is a knock-off of his original “Oceano.” As of right now no moves have been made; Tame the Impala say that they had never heard of Ruiz or of his music before coming out with the track. Ruiz counters that bars from his song match perfectly with Tame The Impala’s.

Sadly, this has become a reality for musicians, and many have decided to stay independent, producing their own music to avoid getting scammed by powerful record labels. Intellectual property is one of the key drivers of business competitiveness in the digital era. A clear understanding is essential for any artists who want to succeed in their industry and not have their ideas stolen.

Being intellectually savvy and knowing your rights can be the difference between winning and losing in the music industry. While copyright laws have helped to protect the integrity of artists by sometimes protecting their music from being pirated, it has given powerhouse music corporations the ability to both manipulate and exploit their artists. Knowledge is power, and knowing the various music laws can help to ensure the safety of your intellectual property.