I love intellectual property law, and I hate it.
As a writer, I depend upon the protections of IP law to help me retain control over the works I create, so that I can earn a meager living from my labors. Although enforcing my rights on the wild electronic frontier of the Internet is exceedingly difficult, copyright law and the DMCA at least give me some recourse when I find my work is being propagated illegally.
Consequently, I understand why other kinds of IP creators — including musicians, filmmakers, and graphical artists — need to enforce their own rights. Things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand, with record companies and organizations such as the RIAA suing private individuals for outrageous sums as “punitive damages”, a tactic that I think undermines public support for IP creators’ rights, but that’s a topic for another time and post. Let it suffice to say that, in principle, I support the enforcement of IP laws.
But when I’m on the other side of the equation, I really hate our current IP laws.
As some of you reading this are no doubt aware, at the end of next month, Storming Heaven, the final volume in the eight-book Star Trek Vanguard saga, will be published. I’ve been planning some special pre- and post-publication promotions for the series’ finale, including some giveaways, some looks behind the scenes into the development of the saga, and maybe an audio interview with the series’ creators and writers.
However, there was one audio podcast I really wanted to share with the series’ readers: a piece detailing the music that inspired the series’ story arcs, characters, relationships, and key scenes. This would have been a really fun podcast, in my opinion, one that would shed light on my creative process and the musical subtext that informed my work on the series over the last seven years.
There is just one problem with that idea: It’s illegal for me to include within the podcast the musical tracks in question. I can mention them by name, describe them, and talk all I want about how they relate to the Vanguard novels, etc., but I can’t quote lyrics or play the music. Which, to be blunt, defeats the purpose of the podcast.
How can I ask a listener to compare and contrast two pieces that show the different sides of a relationship, when I can’t present the music? Without the music, how can I narrate the way in which a particular track provided the beat-for-beat inspiration for one of the saga’s most memorable action sequences? Or explain how one 15-minute track inspired the entire third act and major story developments of the third novel?
The simple answer is, I can’t. And that frustrates and saddens me.
While I respect the need for IP law, and I grasp why the music industry needs to control its products, it disappoints me greatly that, as a consequence of our overly litigious society, it has made creative discussions such as this one impossible to have unless one happens to be rich enough to license all the music in question.
I think it would be interesting to open up a discussion of the influences that various art forms have upon one another, but how can such a conversation be had when the works in question can’t be shared but only obliquely referenced? For instance, if a modern painting sparked a story idea that I executed, and I wanted to discuss that part of the creative process, it would technically be illegal for me to reproduce an image of the copyrighted artwork within the body of my discussion, unless I had prior permission from the artist (or current rights-holder).
I know, I know . . . these are “First-World problems.” But they vex me all the same.