by carl wilson

CopyCamp! (or, T-Dot Thrillz 2)

Mark Hosler of Negativland, one of the participants at the upcoming CopyCamp in Toronto.

Copyright law. Pretty dry subject, eh?

On his latest album, Bob Dylan presents a song, Rollin' and Tumblin', which many critics have noted is very much akin to an old blues song called Rollin' and Tumblin', popularized most by Muddy Waters - but is credited as "by Bob Dylan." Dylan has always swallowed old blues and folk songs whole and coughed them up new, but how do you draw the line between love and theft?

Tanya Tagaq Gillis (appearing this weekend at the Guelph Jazz fest, by the way) takes the Inuit communal practice of throat-singing - traditionally a women's recreational pastime, as much a sport as an art, and never performed solo - and writes modern songs with it. Then she is sampled by Bjork, who makes her own songs out of Tagaq's. Not everyone in Tagaq's community is pleased: What happens when collective culture and individual creativity conflict?

As one-half of Crazy hitmakers Gnarls Barkley, DJ Danger Mouse - formerly mashup-world darling - issues his music on major labels and thus becomes part of their copyright regime, which goes around threatening to sue people who make mashups of Gnarls Barkley. Meanwhile, Banksy sneaks into record stores and plants parody versions of Paris Hilton albums - with a full album remix by Danger Mouse - into the shelves in place of the original.

Rupert Murdoch announces that MySpace is transforming itself into a record label - and that the millions of songs already on MySpace would be the building blocks. What kind of deals will these MySpace bands be getting compared to conventional music contracts - which are already famously horrible - and is there really any way anyone's making money out of this? (Or out of any kind of creative career in the age of instaneous digital reproduction aka piracy, for that matter?)

In the art world, a fight breaks out over whether artists should be paid a royalty when images of their work appear in gallery catalogues, or a secondary fee when the people who bought their paintings resell them at auction - even if it severely cripples the secondary art market.

And Pere Ubu lets fans record and make videos of their live shows for personal use - but when those fans post that video to YouTube, David Thomas demands the videos be taken down.

That's just a few random examples of the ways in which copyright and intellectual-property issues affect creators and fans across every art form. This fall, the federal government is undertaking a review of copyright law in Canada, and given the ideology of the Harper cabinet, it seems likely that as in so many other areas, the Conservatives will end up trying to drag this country into line with the American copyright system - a system shaped by lobbyists who, as Lawrence Lessig says, distort the entire domain of intellectual property in order to prevent Mickey Mouse from ever passing out of the Disney company's control. In fact, I'd say intellectual property issues are, in the digital age, the single sharpest lens through which to talk about the nature and future of art (and capitalism).

In that context (and many others I haven't even nudged), one of the most intriguing events of the year could well be CopyCamp, an "unconference" taking place at the end of this month in Toronto. The gathering, which will be hosted by Misha Glouberman (host of Trampoline Hall and close Zoilus associate) at the Ryerson student centre Sept. 28-30, brings together artists of both the traditional and the appropriative kinds, as well as activists, lawyers, open-source software heads and GNU/Linux fanatics, indie-rock cooperatives, industry suits and government bureaucrats - people whose interests, though inextricably entangled, often prevent them from gathering in the same room - unless it's a courtroom. The schedule of activities will be set and guided by the participants themselves on the spot, and structured in ways that allow everybody to contribute from their own expertise, rather than the usual conference thing of having overly long droning papers, panel discussions that go nowhere, and frustratingly short Q&As.; Even if you're not as compelled by intellectual property issues as I think you ought to be, the model (also known as "open space" conferencing) might be useful to experience for your own organizing purposes.

There's been some misunderstanding about the pricing of the event - it's officially a hefty $700 per person, which is very contrary to the tradition of "BarCamp" and other tech-head conferences that CopyCamp is drawing on, which attempt to be as cheap and accessible as possible. But the idea is that people who are attending as corporate or government functionaries pay that much so that the event can subsidize artists, activists and others (me included) to attend for free, and also fly in some guests so that the scope of the conversation can reach well beyond Toronto.

Higher-profile guests will include Mark Hosler of Negativland, the California experimental-music group that was famously driven to the brink of extinction by lawsuits after they used the letter U and the numeral 2 for the name of a single, and went on to become prominent thinkers on copyright and advocates of fair use. Hopefully we'll get to see some exchanges between Mark and John Oswald, the Canadian composer who preceded Negativland in the art-versus-copyright wars. There's also Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons, Ottawa law-and-technology expert Michael Geist and Canadian artists such as Richard Fung and dub poet Lillian Allen, among many others.

If you want to come and can't afford the $700, there's still a (very) short time left to apply for a subsidized place in the proceedings. Failing that, some of the people who were upset about the fee structure have talked about holding a parallel, free "CopyCatCamp" during CopyCamp, in a public space - though that remains unconfirmed. And one way or another, I'll be doing some blogging live from CopyCamp, so you can follow some of the proceedings right here on Zoilus.

PS: To anyone visiting from the CopyCamp site - they've got an odd link up that doesn't allow you to see the comments on this post. Try this one instead.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, September 07 at 3:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)



The more "you are there" an experience is, the less immersive. It's why a movie can't involve a user to the extent that a printed book can. It's why TV news can't keep people riveted on a single subject for more than a couple minutes whereas newspaper or magazine articles can grab them for 15 minutes or more.

Posted by Smith on October 2, 2006 10:53 AM



NY Times today on Dylan's borrowing from Timrod, which includes a reminder that on Love & Theft there were all kinds of lines picked up from that Diary of a Yakuza novel. The surprising thing in both cases is that he uses the source over and over rather than using a bunch of sources. Does he have a reason to choose them or does he just cherrypick stuff from whatever he happens to be reading when he writes the songs, good or bad?

Posted by zoilus on September 14, 2006 6:38 PM



Carl --

great point about the emphasis of Dylan's *I*.

what the "Song to Woody" also introduces into the "folk" subculture is an explicit endorsement of celebrity culture. Dylan's surreal songs are littered with (mostly long-gone) celebrities or famous fictional characters -- Mona Lisa, Belle Starr, Shakespeare, Columbus, Captain Ahab -- and his Chronicles talks about how a Big Time Wrestler "passed the torch" to him when he was a kid. When Guthrie wrote about celebrities, it either had an explicitly political purpose (Lindbergh's isolationism in the face of Nazi Germany), or it was a case of unrequited lust that he filed in his drawer (Ingrid Bergman, which song lyric didn't turn up until B Bragg & Wilco wrote a tune).

since he became famous, a lot of Dylan's career has famously been understood largely as canny celebrity image-management. which emphasizes your point about his "genius" trip.

i've blogged before that Dylan represents the confluence of two hitherto-opposing strands of capital-R Romanticism: the cult of individualism (Beethoven "geniusly" composing through his deafness) AND the valorization of The (non-urban, non-bourgeois) People (the first major collections of "folk poetry" happened under the Romantic aegis). both strands, in my book, are interesting, valid tendencies, and it's amazing that he effected the image of their synthesis.

what's hilarious is -- the Boomers have elected Dylan -- the most hermetic, ironic, solipsistic & thieving of writers (not that those are necessarily Bad things) -- as the Voice and Conscience of Their Generation. (t-t-t-alkin' 'bout my . . . )

Posted by john on September 11, 2006 6:11 PM



That Scott Seward piece:

Posted by zoilus on September 11, 2006 5:48 PM



Good points, John (and Eppy). The thing is that the Weavers were presenting themselves very much as part of the traditional sphere, so even if they claimed formal, legal credit for a song (the Wimoweh case def. the most egregious) they didn't really claim cultural ownership or authorship: They certainly presented Wimoweh as an African song, rather than an original Weavers song. But Dylan, as poet, as "genius," positioned himself (or at least allowed himself to be positioned) as an originator, the strong man, not at all as a preservationist. Guthrie did a lot of the same sort of recycling but he played the role of just-another-folksinger in a kind of minstrel masquerade. Dylan took it to the extreme... which may be why "Hey hey Woody Guthrie, *I* wrote you a song" can be taken as the founding statement of the Dylan persona.

So again there's the formal legal case and the cultural case, which can be distinguished as somewhat different problems.

Posted by zoilus on September 11, 2006 4:11 PM



Uh, I mean "chilling effect." Oops.

Posted by Eppy on September 11, 2006 3:41 PM



If the publishers decide to sue you, though, that defense isn't going to save you from paying a buttload of money to an attorney, even if you do eventually win. Change songs around, fine, but when you register them as your own it has a dampening effect on other people doing the same thing.

Posted by Eppy on September 11, 2006 3:39 PM



Dylan's practice of folk "borrowing" was fully common practice at the time. The Weavers credited "traditional" songs to their corporate pseudonym, "Paul Campbell." They expected to get paid if you covered "On top of Old Smokey." Guthrie lifted scores of melodies -- but he wrote new words to them. In cases where the composer truly is unknown, I have no problem with copyrighting a new lyric to a trad tune; or, as with the case of the Weavers' beautiful "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," where they (according to them) synthesized a few different folk songs, wrote a chorus, and added new verses, "Paul Campbell" is perfectly justified in taking credit, as is Dylan for "Hard Rain." The Weavers did screw up, though, when they said "Paul Campbell" wrote "Wimoweh," because the composer -- Solomon Linda -- was still alive. (When the Tokens' producers hired the guy who wrote the words to (the American version of an original French song that became) "I can't help falling in love with you" and "What a wonderful world" to write words for this wordless "folk" song the Tokens learned from the Weavers and wanted to put on a B-side, the Weavers fought them for the ensuing copyright, and they received "publishing" royalties that ended up being worth millions; Linda got zilch, but his heirs recently won the copyright back.)

The practice probably pre-dates Guthrie and "Campbell" too. People doubt that A. C. Carter wrote all those beautiful Carter Family standards; he is alleged to have "collected" plenty of them -- I'd love to know more of the story. And I've read that Leadbelly didn't write "Goodnight Irene" either; that he learned it from his father, who got it who-knows-where.

Blues lyricists have always borrowed lyrics from each other too. "He's got a handful of gimme and a mouth full of much obliged" is a great line I've heard in 2 completely unrelated songs.

If you want to cover "Rollin' & Tumblin'" and don't want to pay Dylan, use Muddy Waters's words; his heirs no doubt need the money more (for a song their ancestor didn't write either). Or, write yourself a couple of new verses -- if you're stuck, let me know, I'll write you some for free -- and claim it as your own. Nothing is more "traditional" than that.

Posted by john on September 11, 2006 1:06 PM



Yeah, Eppy, that's exactly what I was getting at when I wrote above about " 'recapturing' a song out of the public domain for private gain - taking it out of the commons into new enclosures."

To be consistent what Dylan ought to do is (hah!) put his work under a Creative Commons sort of license, enabling anyone who wished to adapt and reuse material the same way that he does.

But what's kind of interesting about Dylan, then, is that his whole methodology (which has been roughly like this, on and off, since the start of his career) prefigures the "appropriation art" that would become so important in the decades after him - from sampling in hip-hop to detournement in the gallery-art world. (He wasn't the only one doing so in the sixties, of course, but I often think that he deserves more of that credit alongside Warhol, the situationists, etc.) Yet of course he has all the personal ambition and individualism of the mainstream: He wanted to have his folk lexicon and eat it too. And it was left for future generations to work out the ethics involved. If he were a younger person now he'd probably be engaged with all of that - and god knows what kind of music he'd be making, but it probably wouldn't be rock. (Scott Seward a few years ago wrote a great piece arguing that Baltimore house music was "the new Dylan.") Of course he's not going to give a shit about any of that from where he's at now. Which does deserve criticism, to which he will pay no attention.

Posted by zoilus on September 11, 2006 12:10 PM



Although existing copyright law is evil and bad and so forth, it's still an existing reality that professional musicians have to deal with, so it's worth noting that above and beyond any authorship issues, when Dylan takes songwriting credit for a song that was previously in the public domain, he takes it out of the public domain, and if his publishing company's lawyers wanted to be agressive about it, they could require anyone that wanted to cover that song in the future get a mechanical license from them and pay them royalties. Dylan's publishing company is actually really pleasant in practice, but it almost doesn't matter, because a label that was going to release a cover of that song in the future might require the artist to get a license from Dylan, and could refuse to release the song if this was not done. (See the "warrenties and indemnifications" section of most recording agreements.) I think that's the practical concern here.

Posted by Eppy on September 11, 2006 10:55 AM



Michael Nyman borrowed from Purcell for his famous score for The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. He took the Frozen Aria, cut away the lyrics and played it in a continuous loop. But Ariane Mnouchkine had already taken that music and played it in a continuous loop, with the lyrics, at the end of her epic film on the life of Moliere. When I saw the Mnouchkine film, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Years later, when I saw the Greenaway film, I felt - perhaps unreasonably - that Mnouchkine should have been credited.

Posted by Dixon on September 11, 2006 10:29 AM



Another though -- sorry. It's a pop Tin Pan Alley tradition to build a song around one *famous* borrowed line of poetry -- Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall is a line in Longfellow that was built into a song that became a big hit for the Ink Spots. At the time, anybody in America with a high school education would have read Longfellow, so it wasn't a bit of surreptitious borrowing.

What Dylan has done with Timrod is interesting and legitimate; I only wish he'd be upfront about it. But Explaining Things is Bad for Mystique. Also, he counts on the fact that few people will ever find out about his borrowings, and the unearned credit will accrue to his genius. Before I heard of the Timrod, I thought, gee, Bob wrote some killer lines here.

Posted by john on September 10, 2006 10:41 AM




When Dylan based the centerpiece of his Time Out of Mind record on a famous Robert Burns poem, "My Heart Is In the Highlands," I was disappointed that more wasn't made of it in the reviews -- it was barely mentioned. What struck me then was that Dylan had etherealized Burns's great poem, which is about a real physical place -- you know, the Highlands, in Scotland; Dylan's "Highlands," I thought, was death.

But I've never heard of Henry Timrod -- thanks. A poem of his is in collection of "American Lyric Poems" on my shelf; I'll track more down.

Posted by john on September 10, 2006 10:23 AM



I guess the question is how different Dylan's case is from that of the 'golden age' of sampling - do we think his obligation to footnote is special because of his privileged position, or do we think that sampling is just plain a legitimate (even when illegal) thing to do? He clearly is behaving as though he thinks the latter.

Thanks for the lively debate though.

Posted by zoilus on September 10, 2006 5:57 AM



And always be sure to check the talkback before posting on a new forum! I'm glad to see that Dylan's sources haven't gone unremarked elsewhere.

Posted by Paul on September 10, 2006 3:11 AM



I have to preface this post by stating outright that I worship at the temple of Bob. He's the best there is at what he does, unequivocally, bar none, etc.

That said, the bard's love and theft on Modern Times extends far beyond hogging the credit for "Rollin' and Tumblin'." "Someday Baby" borrows extensively from Muddy Waters's "Trouble No More," "Beyond the Horizon" is essentially a note-for-note swipe of The Platters' version of "Red Sails in the Sunset," and the Civil War-era poet Henry Timrod is positively looted on the track called "When the Deal Goes Down."

From Dylan's song:

"You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies"

From Timrod's "A Vision of Poesy - Part 1":

"A strange far look would come into his eyes,
As if he saw a vision in the skies."

From Dylan's song:

"And I'm haunted by / Things I never meant nor wished to say"

From Timrod's "XIII: I Thank You, Kind and Best Beloved Friend":

"Things which you neither meant nor wished to say"

From Dylan's song:

"Where wisdom grows up in strife"

From Timrod's "Retirement":

"There is a wisdom that grows up in strife"

There are several more examples, but to list them all seems too much like overkill to me.

Additionally, Dylan invokes several giants of the blues on Modern Times. Robert Johnson once sang about a gal who was so tall, she "slept in the kitchen with her feets in the hall." In Dylan's "Workingman's Blues #2," he'll "sleep in the kitchen with [his] feet in the hall." "The Levee's Gonna Break" dates to around 1929, which makes it just about as much a product of Bob Dylan's imagination as "Rollin' and Tumblin'," a variant of which also first appeared that year. The Stanley Brothers supplied roughly half the chorus for "Ain't Talkin'." On and on and on it goes.

Modern Times isn't an original Dylan masterpiece (in fact, critical acclaim aside, it isn't a Dylan masterpiece at all; it is a staggeringly mediocre offering by his standards) so much as it is a curatorial old-timey fetish record. It's a carefully constructed Frankenstein of shuffles and verses that have existed for the better part of a century or more, and while I personally consider it a legitimate artistic expression, there are certainly questions of legality that will no doubt be probed in the coming months.

Posted by Paul on September 10, 2006 3:09 AM



dylan did that?...ghod that is so can bash around all you want about trad/creative commons etc. but it all comes down to the same thing: those who know will probably think he's an asshole, those who don't will think he's great and the great leveller of history will probably confirm the former....on the other bland when i found out about page/plant's plagarising of sonny boy on 'bring it on home' it didn't make me disown zep's version...but it did make me think they were jerks...

Posted by nilan on September 9, 2006 7:07 PM



I caught the Tagaq gig in Guelph today with Ravi Naimpally and Oliver Schroer.

It was beautiful. I wish I had money to record other groups on my label.

If people are interested; I am in Guelph this year doing some blogging and podcast interviews for them.

Posted by tim on September 8, 2006 4:49 PM



I'm not confusing them except a little bit on purpose. I agree that being in the public domain does not mean there is no longer an (or several) authors. But I do think our super-consciousness of who authored what - while it has some important ethical strengths - is related to the hyperindividualism of a society that rotates around who owns what. Treating the public domain as a liminal zone permeated by the gravitiational pull of "trad" folk anonymity - of an artwork as something that eventually decomposes, losing all attachments and becoming pure cultural mulch - is not a complete or accurate account, but meant to be a suggestive fantasy.

Posted by zoilus on September 8, 2006 2:52 PM



Carl, great examples here of how tricky copyright can get. I'm really looking forward to your posts from the unconference.

I'm also wondering, based on your comments here, if you're not confusing "authorship" with "ownership" w/r/t public domain. If I'm not mistaken, a work in the public domain means you can use it however you want without worrying about royalties or use -- but shouldn't there be an obligation to acknowledge the original author? If nothing else it seems important to be able to track a work back to its original source. I would prefer a hyphenated string of authors to a generic "Trad." label, unless the song had really been transformed by common usage.

Anyways, it's interesting that this is an issue for folk music, since classical musicians acknowledge original composers religiously. (Except the Liszt-Schubert thing, apparently.)

Posted by Ian on September 8, 2006 2:11 PM



I am in favour of crediting, of course, but I also kind of like the Jamaican approach - sure, somebody wrote this as an American soul song or rock song or whatever, but I turned it into a reggae song, so *this* version has no single author. It's just adapted. (Though crediting riddim originators at the same time is hilariously contradictory.)

Maybe everyone who alters a song ought to hyphenate themselves into it, so it becomes like generations of family pairings. The funny thing is that Muddy Waters didn't write the original Rollin' and Tumblin', which was Hambone Willie Newbern in the '20s (if he wasn't adapting something else!), which was then adapted by among others Elmore James and then Waters - but Waters just credited himself. So the credit should be something like Newbern-James-Waters-Dylan (etc. etc. until it reaches absurd dimensions) or else - because the original would now be in the public domain, which arguably is when you can call it "Traditional" - "Trad. with new lyrics by Bob Dylan."

(To see how complicated this all is, check out for an "annotated" version of the Dylan version.)

Crediting it to himself does seem like a very typical move (mostly made by white folks, but not only, as the Waters case with this song indicates) of in a sense "recapturing" a song out of the public domain for private gain - taking it out of the commons into new enclosures.

Yet even that process at least is still dynamic, as opposed to the way copyright law is headed, pushed by corporate entertainment entities, to ensure as much as possible that nothing ever authored by anyone can ever be touched by anyone else forever (that is, without often-prohibitive levels of payout) and certainly not for any use of which the corporate entity would disapprove. Which is a flat-out assassination of how culture has always worked and how culture, I think, *must* work.

Posted by zoilus on September 8, 2006 12:38 PM



The issue exists in classical music as well. Liszt made virtuosic piano transcriptions of Schubert Lieder and Beethoven symphonies, and often one finds these works credited as "Schubert-Liszt" or even, abominably, "Liszt-Schubert" (!) on CD track listings and concert programmes. It's kinda like putting the sound guy's name next to the headliner's on the marquee. Kinda.

(No offense to Liszt or sound guys).

Posted by marco on September 8, 2006 9:51 AM



Maybe Dylan should have gone Jamaican (wouldn't be the first time...) on the credits issue. Most American songs redone in Jamaica bear the credit "Adapted", with no further publishing info.

About 15 years ago, the Jamaican parliament pass laws to ensure that Jamaican "rhythm originators" (i.e. Coxsone Dodd/Studio One) should be credited where their basslines and melodies are versioned or sampled, but out and out covers of foreign tunes are still "Adapted". Could you imagine getting away with that in Canada?

Posted by dacks on September 8, 2006 7:46 AM



to be fair, Danger Mouse's Grey Album is not a mash-up of the Beatles and Jigga but instead the white album is the sample source.

Posted by Graham on September 7, 2006 6:11 PM



re Tagaq: My memory exaggerated the case. here's from the web site for her (wonderful) record, :

"Though Tagaq grew up in Cambridge Bay, Nanuvut, she had little exposure to the centuries old art form. It wasnt until her final year of art school in Halifax that she began emulating tapes of throat singing her mother had sent her from home. It was originally intended as a cure for homesickness."

According to this, music "she had little exposure to" was given to her "as a cure for homesickness." Which doesn't seem that strange to me. I've grown attachments to the culture of ancestors I never knew.

Like I said, if her community-of-origin has issues with her transforming a participatory game into music for listening, that's between them. The first time I saw her perform it, she did include a "game" demonstration as part of her show. And -- her record credits most of her songs to "Traditional."

This discussion makes me want to develop a music genre based on "hey batter hey batter hey batter batter batter." Except I don't have Tagaq's phenomenal chops.

Whether Dylan agrees with you about "Blowin' in the Wind," I'd bet a substantial sum of money that his lawyers don't.

I'm not complaining about you juxtaposing these different views on the matter -- it's interesting -- thanks.

Posted by john on September 7, 2006 5:35 PM



As I understand it, the contention around Tagaq isn't that she recorded throat singing, but that she does it *solo* when traditionally it is done in pairs, and it's not regarded as *song* the way that she used it (this isn't true of throat-singing styles in other parts of the world, btw). Also, I think you're a bit off on the backstory - those tapes were sent by her mom as a cure for homesickness, which wouldn't make sense if she'd never heard the stuff before. ("Here's some totally unfamiliar stuff to make you feel at home!" - ?) She'd heard it. But she had never *done* it. Subtle but significant difference. Throat singing was by no means dead in Nunavut. Tagaq wasn't reviving it. She was taking the tradition and doing something new with it.

I agree that the Dylan situation is not the same - the point's just that they both raise questions about intellectual property. I'd be curious to ask Dylan if he's making a deliberate statement by using "traditional" in those credits, though I kinda doubt it.

But I wouldn't be at all surprised if some young singer somewhere has already recorded "Blowin' in the Wind" and credited it to "Trad."

And frankly, from at least one angle, that's the way it ought to be.

Posted by zoilus on September 7, 2006 5:00 PM



I've been thinking of adapting a Medieval English ballad, "Lord Randall," say, and writing some apocalyptic stream-of-surrealist verses to it, and maybe adding a hooky chorus, something about "a big rain is gonna fall," maybe -- I don't have it worked out yet --

I haven't heard Dylan's "Rollin' and Tumblin'," but I've been disappointed to see him attribute well-known covers known to have been written by well-known writers to "Traditional." Stephen Foster wrote "Hard Times"; Daniel Emmett wrote "Dixie"; "Traditional" no more wrote them than it wrote "Ballad of a Thin Man."

Tanya Tagaq's situation is totally different; she's not the only Inuit throat singer to record (I just got the "Rough Guide to Canadian Music" from the library, and there's throat singing on it); if people from her community are upset about it, that's between them, but Tagaq learned the technique from tapes her mother sent her when she was at college; she had never heard the stuff live before. Before Tagaq could commercialize & adapt & transform her cultural inheritance, she herself had to revive it!

Conference sounds interesting. Down with Mickey Mouse, that Bush-apologist rodent.

Posted by john on September 7, 2006 4:27 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson