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Editor's Idea

On the surface this issue might seem a bit folkie, with Arguments over copyright have raged for a long while its Primer on 'The Old, Weird America' (as if the new now, and some are rehearsed and rejected in Oswald's one wasn't weird enough) and Mike Barnes's profile of interview. Personally, I do not believe artists' livelihoods English singer Shirley Collins. I've often been asked are seriously threatened by other artists sampling their why The Wire features so much non-British indigenous work for elements in a new piece of music (it's usually music, but so little of 'our' own. Mike's article only the ones who make a very good living who attempts to provide answers to that question, even as complain about it), and I fail to understand how any law it heralds one of the greatest English voices. can seriously hope to deal with this issue of quotation.

Turn to this month's cover story to find what ought to In fact in numerous cases it has rekindled interest in be the polar opposite of folk music. Yet in a curiously the work of the samplee more than it has leeched off twisted way, John Oswald's plunderphonics is itself or obstructed it. Where i t does cross the line is, of essentialist: an attempt to look past the accumulated course, in the more insidious form of plagiarism or capitalist impulses that have accrued around the forgery, where one thing is passed off as another. That marketing of music for the past century, and reconnect is clearly theft. But we need the likes of Oswald to with the reasons we make, listen to and love music in worry at the limits and the hypocrisies of an industry the first place. Once upon a moonbeam, music and that has busked a crime out of the ancient artistic song formed a more natural part of everyday life, elements of appropriation, absorption, citation and punctuating the day with truths and wisdoms passed satire, merely to protect its own interests. down from earlier generations, sometimes serving as a What would be the limit case of this desire to 'own' local newspaper. As Oswald tells David Keenan, portions of a medium which by i ts nature is the most today's saturation of the airwaves with pop music acts ethereal and uncontrollable of all? I might hear a as an infringement of personal liberty rather than a recording by a group that sounds like i t 's trying to complement to social experience. Folksong, in its emulate, say, Can (not such an unusual scenario these present day guise as pop, is no longer working class days). Wouldn't Can have a legitimate right to sue, on music, but music we working people are encouraged to the grounds that people should be buying Can records spend our wages on. instead of listening to these wannabes? To me, such a suit would be as absurd as the present situation in which a songwriter can claim that his or her particular arrangement of a handful of guitar chords over a rocksteady beat is so unique as to constitute an asset which must be protected with the full force of the law. It is the same urge to control assets that makes retailers trademark phrases like "And what sounds good to you today?" or "Celebrate this Christmas". The extreme of this attitude is the one that patents the human genome map.

So, copyr~ght,schmopyright: here's a proposal. What we need to do is start taking out patents on actual musical configurations, or techniques. Like, if I had patented the notion of music made by the 'classic rock quartet', ie vocals, two guitars, bass and drums, then I would by now be the proud owner of Mauritius. But there are surely many other musical processes that are crying out to be patented: the power drill as instrument; music recorded with one microphone; a label that only releases music via the Web; or the sound made when you strum a plectrum on that bit of the guitar strings stretched between the end of the neck and the tuning pegs. If empires can be carved up on napkins, I don't see why we can't do the same with the musical landscape. ROB YOUNG

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