March 22, 2012
Piracy. It sounds very sinister, but we all participate in it. Whenever a new album or hit single is released, instead of going to a record store and buying it, we often type away on our keyboards, and within a few clicks, the music is downloading on our computers, without a single penny spent. But not only consumers do it, even musicians download pirated music. Today, it’s easier than ever before to sample, mix and remix music. All one needs is access to a computer and a DJing software, many of which are available to download for free. And that’s exactly how Andrew Ross started his career.
DJ Ross is a well-known name in the Montreal trance scene. He has been into electronic dance music since he was a teenaged boy: attending shows, downloading music and making mixes. One day, after several months of practice, he decided to go pro. With the right equipment, and a few connections, he managed to secure himself a few gigs in the local trance scene. Today, three years later, he is a resident DJ at Circus Afterhours in Montreal, and recently closed for Aly & Fila, the world-renowned trance duo, after their show in the city.
The Copyright Modernization Act, in its current reincarnation in the Parliament of Canada as Bill C-11, seeks to undermine the ability of aspiring DJs to mix music without having to pay for it. Since DJ Ross went from spinning in his own home to spinning at shows, he has been paying for the music that he uses. “I try to support artists that I like,” he says. “It means a lot to me to actually buy the music and support those artists instead of just downloading them illegally.” But the fact remains that it’s not always possible for an aspiring artist to spend a significant amount of money on what is, so far, a hobby. And the question is: should a teenager downloading music and mixing it in his room be regarded as a criminal?
Mark Corwin doesn’t think being unable to afford music should give you the right to obtain it illegally. “It’s difficult for many people to own a car, but you can’t go out and steal one,” he says. Corwin is a music professor and the Director of the Electroacoustic Studios at Concordia University. He is also a music producer and has released music spanning many genres, from folk to pop to orchestral. He is vehemently opposed to piracy. “It’s been terrible for the arts, because a lot of the artists who normally get paid for the use of their songs are no longer getting paid, so they’re losing revenue.”
He admits, however, that piracy has its positive side, saying, “It allows for the distribution of an artist’s work in a very, very wide fashion.” But he’s quick to add that “it’s not the piracy so much as the mechanisms for getting data around the world.”
Concerning raves and DJing, he says that it’s not fair for a person to make money by simply mixing and mashing other people’s original content, especially when no credit is given to the artist.
DJ Ross, on the other hand, asserts that electronic music producers generally allow their music to be played at gigs without them profiting. “As a DJ, you can play whatever you want,” he says, arguing that there’s a common understanding among electronic musicians that most of the profit is made not in production, but rather in playing live shows.
But what will the consequences of Bill C-11 be to the world of electronic music? “[It] will make it easier for those who do not want their sounds to be used to take action,” says Corwin. But Ross sees more of a negative effect. He believes that the bill will make it harder for underground producers to make it big, because it will be more difficult for DJs to gain access to their music and promote it. “The trance scene will lose its quality in that respect.”
As Corwin says, however, musicians who wish to provide their work for free can share it in the Creative Commons, a non-governmental organization that enables artists to waive some of their copyrights.
But whether musicians wish to protect their work or share it freely for everyone to enjoy, one thing is for sure, and it’s that Bill C-11 will make electronic musicians more conscious of their rights, and give them the power to decide what to do with their own work.