Theft: A History of Music
Musical Borrowing from Plato to Hip Hop
A new book by Keith Aoki, James Boyle & Jennifer Jenkins
A War Over Music…
We are in the middle of the music wars. Not simply the debates over file-sharing and copyright law, but over the basic conditions and forms of musical creativity. An entire generation has the tools to create a Youtube remix, parodying a popular song, or mashing up different tunes into an audio collage. Should this be allowed? Is it cultural freedom or wholesale piracy? Digital sampling — a defining feature of much early rap and hip hop — is now much more tightly controlled in the music industry and by the courts, yet on the margins it thrives. What does the future hold? The gatekeeper function of the large record labels is under attack, yet so far it dominates the commercial marketplace. Young artists look to the web for alternative distribution mechanisms and find a bewildering set of legal rules, many designed for very different technologies and industry structures.
A Popular Debate full of Stereotypes…..
Each side in the music wars tells their story in black and white. On one side, the story is of a generation of lawbreakers, pirating music or mashing it up without authorization, indifferent to the legitimate interests of artists and distributors and the need to reward creators. On the other side, the story is of hidebound and rapacious record companies, resorting to law to prop up an obsolete business model while trying to make illegal the new cultural forms that the technology allows.
A Hidden History waiting to be discovered….
This clash of music, law, technology and aesthetic culture is presented as something entirely novel — a creature of the digital age. But in fact these battles are not new ones – they are nearly as old as music itself. What if young musicians today could hear Plato arguing that the state should ban mixing of the musical modes? How did the “technology” of musical notation change our relationship to music, in both aesthetic and cultural terms? Why did the Holy Roman Empire attempt to prevent musical experimentation? How would the borrowing practices of Renaissance or Classical music fare under today’s law? And finally, what are our rules, technologies and aesthetics of music today, and where are they taking us? Ranging over 2000 years of musical history, from Greek plays to digital protest mashups, the new comic book by Aoki, Boyle and Jenkins attempts to answer those questions, to supply the historical background and legal clarity that this debate so badly needs…..
How was it written? Like our last comic book Bound By Law, Theft was researched, written and designed by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins. It was drawn by the brilliant Keith Aoki. The Delacroix/Orwell coloring is by the CSPD‘s coordinator, Balfour Smith.
When is it coming out? Well, we started in Ancient Greece and we just hit hip hop so we are close to the end — we hope it will be published some time in the Spring or Summer of 2011. Who is publishing it? Well, that is a good question. Right now we are considering our options. We want to make the book available under a Creative Commons license, so we will be looking for a publisher who would allow us to do that.