The fat cats are to blame | Guest View

By Matt Richardson | May 11, 2017
Matt Richardson

I used to live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. One year, the town was buzzing with the prospect that Ed Helms was going to star in a movie called “Cedar Rapids.” It was about a folksy insurance convention at a local hotel.

The hype diminished when residents learned the movie would be filmed in Flint, Michigan. Michigan is friendlier to the arts. Michigan is relatively less litigious and doesn’t gouge artists for taxes, fees and union dues.

In that way, movie production companies are a bit like pilgrims trying to land somewhere where they are least persecuted. Still, in every state, movies and music are under the iron curtain of U.S. copyright law.

When you think about it, most of Disney’s catalog is public domain. “Aladdin,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Pocahontas,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Pinocchio” – the list goes on. None of these are Disney’s intellectual property, meaning we’re all free to make our own derivative works of any of those stories.

But if I valued my life, I’d sooner draw cartoons of a prophet (peace be upon him) before I’d reproduce cartoons of Mickey Mouse.

There is a statute of limitation on copyright, and every time “Steamboat Willie” is due to become all of ours, the U.S. government teams up with Disney to be sure that the statute is extended and that all trespassers are thoroughly prosecuted.

I don’t know why Café Louvre didn’t pay the $1-per-day extortion fee being demanded by American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), but I applaud them for not negotiating with, ah, I'm trying to think of a nice word for people who demand money or you'll be shut down.

I read the Beacon’s Guest View from May 4, “A small price to pay for great music” by Alex Heiche, and I found it to be filled with just myths and fallacies about art written by an industry insider. No musician, even of the avant-garde variety, is original.

They’ve all copied scales, vocal intonations and chord progressions. None of us would like or buy truly original work. Heiche lauded the idea that we all pay reparations to millionaires for singing their songs into an open mic.

The Rolling Stones should sooner pay reparations to the estates of the original blues men who plucked out pentatonic scales on one-string guitars, but that's not the direction the money actually flows, is it?

I like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” but supposedly it was too much like Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up,” so he got sued.

Frankly, that lawsuit blurred the lines of objectivity. It makes sense that those who believe Thicke to be civilly liable to Gaye are the same people and same systems of laws that want open-mic artists to give it up as well.

The myth that Heiche is extending is that copyright is a vehicle for protecting and paying poor artists. If that's true, why only a dollar a day? Why not $50 bucks to cover Led Zeppelin (whose members have allegedly stolen some of their own hits from lesser-knowns).

We're asked to believe that the army of lawyers who haggle copyright law by parsing notes and counting hip-thrusts are all there to protect the little guys from the fat cats who strum ukes at Café Louvre.

Consider comedy.

There is no copyright in comedy. Comedy is the wild west of art. Carlos Mencia was on top of the world until Joe Rogan (not the government) called him out for stealing jokes. Amy Schumer is suffering the same fate for stealing jokes, and who loses? – she does, and so does Netflix for investing in her as her ratings tanked.

Those are the right people to lose, and taxpayers are out of the loop. It's perfectly legal to steal jokes. But still, comedy is an amazing, self-regulating art where those who are good at it are rewarded, and those who aren’t typically need to find a day job.

As Americans, we understand what happens when we mix church and state – but so many of us tolerate mixing art and state. One dollar a day is a tremendous price if that is what it leads to.

The government should stay out of the arts. Maybe Café Louvre should keep the open mic turned on for comedians. If we stay this course, there will be movie called "Edmonds," and it will be filmed in China.

Matt Richardson is the owner of Canaan Avionics in Edmonds.


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