Thursday, July 1, 2010

Copyright law, or: the bitch of living

When I was a teenager the Internet was new and limited and slow, and while I did use it to indulge my theatre geekery, that mainly took the form of long and passionate email conversations with my friend Sarah about which cast recording of Company was the best and who deserved to win (or lose) a Tony for shows we mostly had not seen. It's fortunate for me that I had to do most of my geeking out the old-fashioned way, dubbing cassettes and going to the library to scour the Burns Mantle Best Plays anthologies and so on, because if I'd had the means I probably would have started embarrassing myself on the Internet much earlier.

With that said, I want you all to read Jason Robert Brown's latest blog post, "Fighting with Teenagers: A Copyright Story." It is first of all useful, in that he explains in great detail why copyright laws matter, and why certain violations made possible by the Internet are not as harmless as their convenience makes them seem to be. But it is also highly entertaining, because it takes the form of an email exchange with a teenager who, in arguing for her right to distribute illegally copied sheet music, raises self-absorbed impertinence to an art form. She's wrong on the merits, and yet you kind of have to love her. And feel sorry for her, too, not just because she's probably embarrassed by this (I hope so, anyway), but also because, as JRB himself puts it at one point, "It really sucks to be a teenager." The self-righteousness, the self-pity, the total lack of perspective. "I'm just not lucky enough to have someone as famous as Jason Robert Brown email me." How hilarious and sad is that.

Part of the fun of reading this exchange (which is long!) is trying to figure out when, if ever, this young person realized she was talking to the real JRB. It's odd that she gets more confrontational, not less, as it goes on, but maybe by the time she caught on it was too late to dial back the attitude? I think this may be my favorite part:
If you're really who you claim to be, then I assume you know that Parade, Last Five Years, 13 The Musical, etc. are all genius pieces of work and that a lot of people who would love to have that sheet music can't afford it. Thus the term "starving artist."
This is also wonderful:
You're a genius and your stuff is amazing to perform, but apparently, you're a jerk. We in theatre should support one another and that's not what you're doing.
"We in theatre." Teenagers! Hug one today.

I think this kid will grow out of it. That's what college is for. On the other hand, she'd fit in fine on a lot of blogs today just as she is -- there's a lot of this "I'm articulate enough to have strong opinions without also needing to be informed" commentary going around, and much of it is penned by ostensible grownups. That empty rationalizing to justify a lapse in morality? You'll find a lot of that out there, too. I hope she looked up "sophistry" (as in, "Your answer is sophistry, Brenna") when this was over, because she'd be doing herself a favor if she learned to recognize what that is and resolved to hold herself to a higher standard. You can get by on sophistry and attitude alone, especially online, but you shouldn't.

P.S. Who's Jason Robert Brown, you ask? See here.

P.P.S. As you can see, I've redesigned. To be more accurate, I've just updated my "template" to one of Blogger's newer offerings. I wish it were more customizable than it is, but I think this is generally an improvement on what came before. Comments?


Strong Bad said...

Looks really good.

Anonymous said...

Looks good. As someone whose work is pirated on a much smaller scale (I get facebook messages from teens asking: "please email me Diwata's monologue...") I enjoyed this debate. Especially winning phrases like: "You're a genius and your stuff is amazing to perform, but apparently, you're a jerk." I thought JRB showed remarkable patience and restraint in the face of such an "intelligent" discussion.

Susan Rose, CSJP said...

Hey Mollie!

I've awarded you a "Blog with Substance" Award. Visit my blog to get a copy of the award and see the requirements for accepting the award!

Amy Wilson said...

I like the new layout. you know I keep playing w mine as well. This one's a keeper I think

Anonymous said...

Copyright is for corporate whores these days. If you're not against corporate art you are for it. If an artist self-publishes via the internet or works only with truly independent small labels I will pay for their work. If not, screw 'em.