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Napster Hamster NAMMster Dance
By Danny McBride - 06/06/2007 - 09:23 AM EDT

"Dee Dee Dee Di Dee Di Doe Doe…etc." Roger Miller's song from Disney's animated feature "Robin Hood" is the soundtrack to the "Hampster Dance" which we've all seen on the web (complete with misspelling). Haven't seen it? It's at www.hampsterdance2.com

The point is, I doubted seriously if Mr Miller's estate was getting a penny. For those of you too young to remember, Roger Miller wrote some great classics in the sixties. Go get his "Greatest Hits" album and take a lesson in lyric and phrasing.

I actually got a reply from the "Hampton Hampster" website that says that they are now paying Sony to use the music and they now credit Roger Miller on the CD. But they didn't at first. It was just music they liked so they used it.

These past few months have seen an incredibly polarizing debate about "free" music on the web. Courtney Love and Lars Ulrich have somehow appointed themselves spokespeople. (This is scary!! How did THEY get put in charge?) Too bad Frank Zappa's not around to make a better case for the artists. It makes it look like millionaires are picking on college kids who just want a little music to ease the tensions of dorm life and get through finals with the comfort of their favorite tunes.

But of course the problem is, some of us have written some of those tunes, and although we love writing and would do it (and have done it) for free, there is something called our livelihood at stake here. Those of us who depend on royalties to pay the health insurance for our kids are not that thrilled with this massive wholesale, what shall I call it? …theft?

Shawn Fanning, the Massachusetts teenager whose high school nickname was "The Napster" because of his nappy hair, has changed the world forever. And not just music, but all kinds of intellectual property. His software enables computers to search the files of other computers to find and transmit data, whatever it may be, but it's gained notoriety because of the thousands of music downloads. This means that if you thought you might some day make a living from your music, you should forget about it right now, and become a programmer. One of the interesting sidelights to Fanning's story is that he worked almost without stopping to sleep or eat for days and days in order to write this code for fear that someone else would beat him to it and his whole idea wouldn't have been his anymore. DUH?

So he does understand the concept of proprietary rights and ownership of intellectual property, just so long as it's his. But he thinks yours and mine are for all the world to share for free.

I know that there are many who say "free content on the web" and feel that because it's possible to have a free exchange of information that it's inevitable. To that I say "Horsefeathers!!" Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean it's okay. I could run you over with my car if I felt like it, but I don't think you'd enjoy it much. Or how about if I came over and took valuable things from your living room and peed on the rug before I left? I could you know. Just because you CAN do something doesn't make it right. Would you walk into Tower and shoplift a CD?

The basic copyright laws we go by in "Western Civilization" were codified in 1909. Find a copy of Mark Twain's autobiography and read his thoughts on the law. It's priceless. He was in his mid-seventies then and was hoping to pass his copyrights on as part of his estate, but in those days authors' copyrights reverted to publishers upon their death. That meant the authors' families could not continue to collect the royalties. If you're a writer this must sound NUTS. But it's true. It's also why any writer who could manage it, and Twain did, also became a publisher. It's also why the laws have since been written as they are, so that material, such as your songs, don't become "public domain" until 70 years after your death. If you owned almost any other kind of income property you could pass it on to your heirs. Now at least a generation or two after you can still be compensated for your work. That's a fairly recent change (thank you Sonny Bono). It used to be only 56 years total, so that songwriters such as Irving Berlin who lived to be over 100 years old, actually outlived their copyrights and while they were still alive were forbidden by law from collecting royalties on the classics they had written. Of course, he too was a publisher (and founding member of ASCAP).

But after nearly a century of writers fighting to retain control of copyrights and the royalties they generate, along comes this dude with his software program and it's all over. In 1862, Stephen Foster, one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, whose songs are still sung every day (Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races, etc) died penniless. There was no royalty-collecting infrastructure in place in those days. Now, thanks to Napster, the same could happen to you, no matter how popular your songs are, because all the royalty collecting infrastructure has just been over-ridden.

It will be sorted out in the courts after a while, but in the meantime, I wouldn't release anything new if I were you, unless you're just doing it to gain a name for yourself. Chances are, the money you thought you might make on your art will not materialize. This is why almost everything new in the immediate future will be more than likely "disposable pop"- -kiddie stuff- -nothing with any staying power. The kind of stuff Napster users wouldn't bother to listen to or download. We'll see.

Every few months the National Association of Music Merchandisers sets up their trade-show booths in one or another of the major music meccas- -Los Angeles, Nashville, etc. Local hipsters perform on all the new equipment. Name artists show up to endorse certain product lines. Everyone tries to prognosticate the coming trends. Music retailers try to predict what to order for their showrooms and music stores. What will you want to buy next year?

Some of the music hardware will include RAVE MP2200, a portable MP3 player with about two hours of music memory; eGo, which is designed for use in your car and will also play about two hours worth of music; WMP-1V WRIST AUDIO PLAYER, which you wear like a watch and plays about thirty minutes of music through headphones. And many more. You'll be able to download all kinds of content and play it back anywhere. But what will that content be? Who will pay?

Will you still buy CDs? Yes, for a few years, but not forever. They will eventually gather dust alongside your eight-tracks and 78s.

Will copyrights be a thing of the past? Not a chance. But for a while, until the courts decide, and encryption becomes standardized, you may not get a whole lot of new quality music, unless you write it yourself and just play it for friends.

Otherwise, the best you might get is "Dee Dee Dee Di Dee Di Doe Doe…" and that's "Doe", but not real DOUGH.

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