Lawrence Lessig & Reviews of Ray Davies and Belle & Sebastian

Sound Opinions welcomes Lawrence Lessig, the pre-eminent expert in copyright and cyber-law, to discuss music in the digital age. In addition, Jim and Greg review the new albums from Belle and Sebastian and former Kinks frontman Ray Davies.

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Making news are recent announcements about upcoming summer concerts. First, there was release of the lineups for the annual Coachella and Bonnaroo music festivals. The Coachella Festival in southern California usually has one of the more exciting and diverse bills of the summer, with past headliners like Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, and Radiohead. This year, though, Jim and Greg are skeptical of whether headliners Tool and Depeche Mode can be enough of a draw. It's up to support acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Massive Attack and Wolf Parade to make the desert heat bearable. There is also exciting news for Chicagoans: Lollapalooza will be returning with an expanded three-day format. Plus, indie rock fans can look forward to not one, but two new festivals in the city--the Pitchfork Music Festival and the newly independent Intonation Festival.

Joining Jim and Greg for the news this week is former Supreme Mary Wilson. Ms. Wilson made headlines recently when she began a national campaign to support legislation that would prevent imposters (but thankfully not cover bands) from posing as major artists. To prove the point that there is only one true Mary Wilson, the singer did an a cappella rendition of The Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love" for the Illinois House of Representatives.

Lawrence Lessig

Next up, Jim and Greg play a bit of The Grey Album, a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album made by DJ Danger Mouse. This album received a lot of critical praise in 2004 (it even topped both Jim and Greg's year-end lists). It's a completely modern work that could not be made without recent digital technologies. The rub? It cannot be purchased anywhere, and most people who have heard it don't own a hard copy. This is because according to current copyright law, what DJ Danger Mouse did was completely illegal. To discuss how laws like this are stifling art, and how music in the digital age is changing, Jim and Greg welcome the definitive expert on this issue: Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig, a faculty member of Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society, has authored three books on cyber law and free culture, tried cases before the Supreme Court and founded Creative Commons, an organization trying to expand the range of creative work legally available to share.

While copyright laws have existed for over 200 years, music was not protected for a long time. Early in the 20th century, protections for musicians and songwriters were put in place, but these laws did not necessarily hinder creativity. Once a song was recorded, anyone had the right to record it. This encouraged artists and was fundamental to the growth of the music industry -- so much so that even the RIAA defended this right. The 21st century version of this kind of conversation between artists is sampling -- but under current law, Professor Lessig explains, sampling is considered piracy. Therefore, creative expression and evolution are not fostered the way they were in the last century.

Digital copyright laws also affect the consumer. In fact, Lessig suggests that "creator" might be a more appropriate name. In the last century, fans would buy music or make mixtapes, but current technology allows listeners to take part in the creative process. The law currently treats these creative consumers, many of whom are kids, as thieves. While our guest doesn't condone illegal behavior, he hopes to see existing laws change, rather than prosecute fans who are hardly criminals.

In addition to changing laws, Professor Lessig recommends that record companies use the Web rather than fight it. If he ran a label, he says, he would encourage people to participate in the creative process and remix an artist's work. Lessig would also allow and encourage artists to release their music on the internet. A small number of bands including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wilco have been able to do this with really positive results. Finally, if he ran a label, he would not bite the hand that feeds him, backing away from the harmful DRM technologies that labels are bundling into their content.

"In The Pines"

To demonstrate how music is always being re-interpreted, Jim and Greg discuss the evolution of one song in the 20th century. Whether it was called "To the Pines," "In the Pines," or even "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," musicians like Leadbelly and Nirvana would quote, reference, and inspire one another, essentially engaging in a dialogue. This kind of songwriting and recording is the definition of a musical community and has been around as long as music itself. The sad truth is that such a community can't legally exist today. Listen to the songs that may have been lost had this been the case before the digital age:

  1. Bill Monroe, "In the Pines," recorded between 1936-1941
  2. Leadbelly, "In the Pines," 1947
  3. Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "To the Pines, To the Pines," 1949
  4. Joan Baez, "In the Pines," recorded between 1960 - 1963
  5. Grateful Dead, "In the Pines," 1966
  6. Nirvana, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," 1994
  7. Rancho Deluxe, "In The Pines," 2005
  8. Smog, "In The Pines," 2005
  9. Clifford Jordan, "Black Girl," These Are My Roots, 1965
  10. Mark Lanegan, "Where Did You Sleep Last Night, The Winding Sheet, 1990
  11. Dolly Parton, "In the Pines," Heartsong, 1994
  12. Louvin Brothers, "In the Pines," Tragic Songs of Life, 1956
  13. Youth Gone Mad featuring Dee Dee Ramone, "In the Pines," Youth Gone Mad, 2002

Lawrence Lessig Part 2

Jim and Greg conclude their conversation with Dr. Lessig about how the consumer - not the creator - is affected by changing copyright policies.

00:39:44 Review: Ray Davies

Other People's Lives

The first album up for review this week is Other People’s Lives by former Kinks frontman Ray Davies. This is Davies' first solo album, and he seems to be returning to some of his original themes. Many of Davies' previous songs, including Jim's recent DIJ pick, captured how it feels to be an outsider. Now, as a British rocker living in New Orleans, Davies is writing about those feelings again. The critics are split on their opinions of the album. Jim believes Davies' songwriting is as strong as ever and gives Other People’s Lives a Buy It rating. Greg agrees, but doesn't think the sound of the record lives up to the lyrics. For him, it was Pro Tools run amuck and only a Burn It release.

The Life Pursuit Belle and Sebastian

The Life Pursuit (Bonus Tracks)

Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian recently put out their seventh studio release, and Jim and Greg are in agreement about this one. On The Life Pursuit, the band turned to producer Tony Hoffer to break its mold. The result is a sound that is tougher, poppier, and not overly precious. Like Ray Davies, singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch is a witty and often acerbic lyricist who wrestles with feeling like an outsider. He tackles issues of identity and religion, but wraps it up in an up-tempo, disco-inspired package. The result is a double Buy It rating.


Greg's Desert Island Jukebox selection this week was inspired by his discussion with Professor Lawrence Lessig. Thinking about fair use, free culture and digital copyright law got this rock critic downright nostalgic for the days when great art was made using other people's art. "Egg Man" by The Beastie Boys is a perfect example of this. The song was released on Paul’s Boutique, the follow-up to the hip hop trio's successful (albeit frat boy-ish) debut Licensed to Ill. The group linked up with production team The Dust Brothers to create a sonic collage of samples, beats, loops and raps. In "Egg Man" alone, astute listeners can hear parts of the songs "Superfly" and "Bring the Noise", bits of dialogue from Taxi Driver and E.T., as well as the film scores to Jaws and Psycho. Sadly, shortly following the release of Paul’s Boutique, a series of lawsuits made sampling on this level too risky and too cost-prohibitive. Listening to "Eggman" is enough to send a music fan into mourning. Thankfully the Desert Island Jukebox will keep it safe for posterity.

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