One of the interesting conversations at the Web 2.0 Conference was a discussion about copyright law, and remix culture. Most of the discussion centered around the mechanism by which artists (that is, their labels) might receive compensation for these remixes. I thought the whole discussion sounded like an elaborate misdirection. The “record” companies already have incredibly sophisticated systems for calculating and distributing royalties. To add “mashups” to ringtones and jingles wouldn’t be hard at all.
The real issue is that the whole framework of copyright is less and less at the service of society and culture, and more and more at the service of big business interests. It is an absolute fact that culture belongs to the people who express it. Not the companies that try to profit from it, or the institutions that try to control it. The sad fact is that our copyright law is diverging further and further from this reality. Law isn’t my area of expertise or interest, so I won’t comment further on that, but it seems obvious to me that extending copyright for longer and longer periods is simply wrong. With all due respect to the fab four, Yellow Submarine doesn’t belong to you. I sing it to my kids at night, I hum it to myself when I’m jogging, I make sideways references to it when I’m talking politics… it belongs to me. My culture belongs to me.