The Value of Copyrights

Copyrighting isn’t as easy anymore. Thanks to Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, all copyrights must be registered with the US Government, or else no rights will be acknowledged in the eyes of the court. What brought about this issue? How are we to manage without registry anymore? And why is this a good thing for us Artists?

Since the first copyright of the Statute of Anne of 1710, we’ve all been worried about how strict countries have been about restricting our creative liberties. No one can just draw their own Mickey Mouse without a lawsuit from Disney, nor can anyone feel free to use Sherlock Holmes without permission from New York Socialite, Andrea Plunket. The classics are dead to many of us, thanks to this limitation, and we hardly have the chance to share these great works of art without a nay-sayer getting in the way of our fun!

But, it’s all for the greater good too. William Hogarth made the first copyright for Artists. It’s not a memorable copyright, as it’s been a public domain collection for centuries, but a landmark worth recognizing, nevertheless. In the 1720, the Statute of Anne made William Hogarth rich, thanks to his strategy of making copies of his artworks, through printing press. His limited collections of each artwork allowed a low class school teacher, rank above the middle class within ten years of his lifetime. His money allowed him to buy a manor of his own, and servants to boot. But his fame didn’t come without a price, as many forgers came about to reprint his artworks, and selling them for less than half of what they were originally sold. This diminished their value, and nearly led William Hogarth to bankruptcy. Hence, his fight to create the copyright became nominal for us all.

Today, not only do we have the Sonny Bono/Disney Act of extending a copyright to ninety-five years past the time of the author’s death to wait upon, but we also have copyrights reinstated through buyouts from generations of character ownership. Due to this, we grumble at the idea of kicking a dead horse. “Let it go already!”, we say. “We just want to enjoy it.” But…do we?

During the 1900’s, a highly scandalous novel, called, Le Fleurs du Mal, became public domain. People read it, shared it, and relished in its obscure homosexual and almost violent dominatrix philosophy and story. It’s writhed with promiscuous acts of bondage, and celebrates the lustful perversion of Marquis De Sade wrote about. It would be an ideal book to recreate, re-imagine, and re-told today – due to the vigor of the liberal politics involving our generation today. There are classes to concentrate on Gay History in schools, and even Lesbian romances released online-everywhere. So, why are we not reading this, and talking about this, or even creating fanfics for this?

Answer: no profit, no support.

Most of what we know is due to the fact that someone got paid to publish our fandom. And in order to continue its luster, it requires someone to make money off of the story or artwork, so that quality may be preserved. Otherwise, we’ll all see more Mona Lisa’s losing its three dimensional design to a cracked aged canvas, awaiting for another theif to invite the press for more humiliation.

With Disney, buying out all these films and novels, and artworks – we may have a chance to keep the integrity of these masterpieces alive. Yes, we may enjoy Masters of Margarita silently, as a small society of surreal readers. But can you imagine it becoming a movie or theme park? Think of how many new copies publishers would make of it? One can only dream to purchase a freshly pressed hardback with new illustrations, dust jackets, and reviews! You’d have talking cat toys everywhere, and a living room filled with parafanalia of your favorite scenes. And the jokes wouldn’t be just funny for some, but for everyone. We’d all be laughing, sighing, and smiling at the pages as we flip them together.

It happened with Annie Hall, and it happened with Minecraft. You know how this feels, I’m sure. But there’s always a new generation that only knows what they were introduced to, and many of them don’t even know about Adam and Lilith, but just Adam and Eve.

So, hail to public domain! We can enjoy them for free, and without care. Let’s make art and write songs, and build fandoms about them, until we die. But lo, beware if they go into obscurity, and lose their fans, their followers, and their friends. Who will continue its legacy then? Their children?

Their worth is in repetition, and reach. You lose either in the process, and its fame will diminish like a pillar of sand.

Cherish the copyright. It serves us more than you’d think. It allows the soul to brighten, and remind those that have forgotten it, to realize its value.

The Painful Reality of Music

Many musicians are looking to be famous, and make their livelihood through their royalties. It’s no mystery. We all hear it everyday. “I’m tired of working for free”, or “I’m playing at this gig for self-promotion!”, they say. It gets old, real fast. And if you’re the musician, you want an income within the next year or so. You’re not a procrastinator, and it’s no accident that you’re not making the money you solely deserve. In fact, it’s worse than what you think.

The Industry

The problem with the music industry is that the new channels are not making you more money than the old. Sadly, they’re actually giving you less. Much less. The big labels may not give you the chance to make it big with them so easily, but, at least, with them, you get paid well. Enough to buy a mansion. But who gets those contracts anymore, right?

And so you turn to self-publishing sites, like SoundCloud, and hope for the better. You may not be able to buy a mansion, but that Starbucks coffee does look nice. Add some milk, froth it, maybe some caramel or hazelnut in the mix, and maybe an extra shot of espresso to top it off? Make it a venti, and your day is solid! But each year, that venti loses it’s luster. There’s no more caramel or hazelnut in the mix. The extra shot feels more expensive than the last. And finally, you ask if the froth is an extra charge, or is your wallet really feeling that thin? You’re not crazy, and let me tell you why.

Each year, companies re-evaluate their finances, and when there’s a chance to grow, they have to decide whether its you or them that’s going to eat the cost. Usually, it’s because there’s a new client they can advertise for, and a lot of the liberties you once enjoyed, like unfiltered and uncensored songs, are put on a tier system to abide by the strict contracts given to them. And, if you want to continue as a business, what do you do? Abide, of course! Abide, until you turn into YouTube. And, then, suddenly, the musicians are back to where they started. No one listens to your music, and you have to stick to your cliques.

The Niche

You turn your back on the industry. You make your own path, and you create your own fanbase. At least these people care! You print a few t-shirts, and setup your own gigs, and work ten times harder. Your friends come to your show, your family come to your show, and your mom loves you…ideally, speaking. But then, you get tired, you spent everything to make it as legitimate as possible, and for some reason, you can’t seem to get past these same twelve people that keep returning for all your shows. You see new faces, they walk away. You play at parties, people don’t buy your music. What are you doing wrong?

Alas, we live in a world of applicable art. In the USA, at least. Try Europe or any of the UK territories – old or new, and you’ll find yourself in a different scenario, altogether. But here in the US, we want something sentimental, something a general populace can live in, excused and permitted in a certain way, a small society where there is etiquette for your work: a niche.

You may have to swallow your pride and play a song about Minecraft or an Anime themed intro, or other, but you’ll get that audience. You’ll get fresh faces, and you’ll be popular. You just won’t be…you.

Now, it’s not uncommon to have people follow your career, and seek you out, thanks to your style, playing their favorite songs in your soundtrack. You’re not making that much cash now, but, at least, you’re not an impressionist. Producers may even give you a contract deal, if they like your fans. Fingers crossed.

The Impressionists

This is the line musicians are scared to cross. Because here, there’s a small difference in being the R&B band singing Country songs, and the band that looks, sounds, and pretends to be the Jackson Five. It’s humiliating for some that want to be heard, but it pays the bills so well.

You’ll play at ballrooms, and concert halls, maybe, if you’re lucky. And some actually love being the purist, that they’ll tour at museums and fancy restaurants for the pay: playing Jingle Bells and Eidel Weiss. But rarely will you ever see these amazing artists play their own songs – however refined or raw their work is.

The New Label

Either the band gets tired of not making enough money, and becomes the label company, or a new label seeks them out. Usually, if the musicians are tenacious enough, they’ll make it their business to be the prior, and live vicariously through the more popular musicians under their wing, and continue doing their own work on their own time. This is a tough route, fret with fees and taxes of all kinds, unimaginable competition, and politics you cannot begin to understand! But the profits. Oh, the profit it brings!

Your Preference

There’s no right or wrong answer here, but rather, how you wish to proceed. Business Law changes every two years, new companies come every year, and new rules and opportunities present themselves nearly every day. As a musician, your decision is to either stay the same, or adapt. And the rest is endurance.

Why Producers Keep Producing

There’s something addicting about producing. Whether it’s film, music, video games – though many times, it is a labor of love – the energy behind making something, and potentially making money off of it, is enthralling. At Marina Del Rey, TV Producers live in their cars, eat at Starbucks, and pay for Gym memberships until their next big break in Hollywood. At Downtown Los Angeles, Music Producers travel from festival to festival, paying for an apartment they can’t afford with their roommates, and nearly starve just for that next Label. The list goes on. But the question is why? What are they after? And is it really worth the sacrifice?

On The Contrary

Not too far away, California offer counties beyond LA, with farmlands and vineyards, where the rent is the price of a studio apartment in Inglewood for a four bedroom house. The air is clean, you can see the stars at night, and traffic is nonexistent. There’s jobs available everywhere, and you can keep your business without the worry of rent control not being enforced. So, why live in your car for six months at a time?

The Glory

If you’ve ever worked in the Studios, you’ll notice something you never thought would be possible: Artists living in luxury. It’s not like Europe, where you can get your own house, and make a killing off of your painting. No. Here in Hollywood, in Los Angeles City – anywhere in Los Angeles County, in fact – an Actor, Musician, or Writer can afford a Lawyer, Agents, Mansions, and Bankruptcy. Money doesn’t phase them. It comes and it goes. But they’re still Producers!

Waking up under a desk, or coming in after a wild party is normal for these people. In fact, a lot of them are sloppy and unkempt, thanks to the nature of their work. Staying in the editing room for days, working at 4am til 3am daily, and eating catering weekly. Their jobs are seasonal, and may lag their wallets for petty cash every now and then, but you know what? At least their bank accounts are kept safe, and their Accountants make sure of it. That’s right, they never touch their money. And why?

The Merch

Imagine a Real Estate Agent selling you a home. He makes money in his sleep, right? People pay rent, leases, mortgages everyday, and worse, there are thousands of them within every city – especially in LA! Now, replace a home with a license, and replace rent/lease/mortgage with royalties, and that’s how these Producers wake up with satisfaction staying in their cars for a season or two.

As Producers, they live vicariously through their Corporation – may it be an LLC, S-Corp, or C-Corp – and never pay taxes. These guys are debt free. And as a separate entity, these Producers can waste as much money as their Accountants let them. Their bank accounts are monitored, their corporate shares are sold and bought for them, and if they have any issues with losing property or income, their insurance companies take care of it. They don’t even lift a finger!

It’s like being a child, except your paying all the Professionals to be your Dad, and Starbucks your Mom.

Why The Car?

Obviously, you’re wondering why they sleep in Cars? Well, to be honest, when you’re working only on one aspect of your life, and neglect the other, you can’t expect everything to be wine and roses. Move to the vineyards and farms if you want that!

Since Producers live through their companies, they have a bad habit of not improving themselves. At most, Producers have a highschool degree, live alone – usually either married or divorced – and have no need to get a college degree. Their value is in their creativity and charisma. And what happens when your job is seasonal, and you live off of catering on the daily, and typically wake up in the editing room anyways? You don’t see your home either way. Adulting is easily escaped! It’s best to just invest in a reliable car, just so you can go to the next studio for work, or the gym that’s replaced that Man-Cave wives talk about.

And, did we mention that nearly everything is paid for, and tax deductible, when it’s a business expense? Your life is practically free. So, when a Producer needs to pay up front, they’re lost. Hence, they keep the last responsible thing they did in their personal life: the car. I mean, Lawyers wouldn’t want to touch that, would they?

Where Do I Sign?

Producers live well, but it’s only because they have charisma, and follow these two well known rules, expressed properly by the legendary Mel Brooks:

  1. Never use your own money.
  2. NEVER USE YOUR OWN MONEY!

Be a level 1 to self. But allow your Producer persona to be a level 50. The steps are just as simple:

  1. Create your company
  2. Make your company make money for you

It is easier said than done, if you’re not business savvy, but that’s show business. You create something that can be marketed for ratings, licensing merchandise, and the contracts come until you live off of royalties – however long it may allow you to enjoy it!

Also, not all Producers live cars. Some are relaxed enough to buy a house in Beverly Hills. Please be mindful.