Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig & Reviews of Lil Wayne and Alejandro Escovedo

With the digital music explosion, the issues of copyright, authorship and ownership have never been so important. Tune in to hear a re-broadcast of Jim and Greg's interview with legal expert Lawrence Lessig. Plus, they'll take a listen to the latest releases from Lil Wayne and Alejandro Escovedo.

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Music News

The biggest music news story in recent weeks has been the R. Kelly child pornography trial. Last week the R&B singer was acquitted of all charges by a Cook County jury. Jim, who was ordered to court to appear but not forced to testify because of the first and fifth amendments, gave his thoughts on the verdict in his Sun-Times column. He and Greg are interested to see how Kelly's fans respond to the trial and what Kelly will have to offer with his next album.

reviewTha Carter IIITha Carter III available on iTunes

Lil Wayne Tha Carter III

Lil Wayne has been an inexplicable sensation for years, but now that has translated into big sales. The rapper's third album, Tha Carter III, sold over a million copies in its debut week alone. This is the first time sales numbers have crossed into seven figures since 50 Cent's The Massacre in March 2005. Jim and Greg explain that you are certain to hear a lot about Lil Wayne all summer long, but the question is whether or not he deserves such success. Greg explains that the rapper is all over the map lyrically and musically on this album, but that's not such a good thing. He loves that“bullfroggy”rapping style, but wishes the album was more focused. Jim doesn‘t think Wayne is as outrageous and off-the-cuff as people perceive; he sees this release as a very carefully executed and marketed attempt at a crossover. The subject matter isn’t without subtlety, but some of the production is terrific. Both Jim and Greg give Tha Carter III two Burn Its.

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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 was an album that received a lot of critical praise and attention. It even topped both Jim and Greg's year-end lists. It is a completely modern work that could not have been made without recent digital technologies. The rub here is that it could not be purchased anywhere, and many people who heard it don't even 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 has changed in other ways, 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; however 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.

To demonstrate this point, 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 and reference each other, essentially engaging in a dialogue and helping to inspire one another. This kind of songwriting and recording is the definition of a musical community and has been around since 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:

  • Bill Monroe - "In the Pines," recorded between 1936-1941
  • Leadbelly - "In the Pines," 1947
  • Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "To the Pines, To the Pines," 1949
  • Joan Baez - "In the Pines," recorded between 1960 - 1963
  • The Grateful Dead - "In the Mines," 1966
  • Nirvana - "Where did you Sleep Last Night," 1994
  • Rancho Deluxe - "In The Pines," 2005
  • Smog - "In The Pines," 2005

Other versions include:

  • Clifford Jordan - "Black Girl," These Are My Roots, 1965
  • Mark Lanegan - "Where Did You Sleep Last Night," The Winding Sheet, 1990
  • Dolly Parton - "In the Pines," Heartsong, 1994
  • Louvin Brothers -“In the Pines,”Tragic Songs of Life, 1956
  • Youth Gone Mad feat. Dee Dee Ramone - "In the Pines," Youth Gone Mad, 2002

Digital copyright laws affect the consumer as well. In fact, Professor Lessig suggests that“creator”might be a more appropriate name. In the last century, music fans would buy music or make mixtapes, but current technology allows the listener to be a part of the creative process. The law currently treats these creative consumers, many of whom are kids, as thieves. Our guest does not condone illegal behavior, but strives to change existing laws rather than prosecute people 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 would encourage people to participate in the creative process and remix an artist's work. He 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 and back away from the harmful DRM technologies that labels are bundling into their content.

reviewReal AnimalReal Animal available on iTunes

Alejandro Escovedo Real Animal

Alejandro Escovedo has been making music since the late '70s, and now he's back with a new album called Real Animal. Escovedo has had a checkered career that's been mostly under the radar, but has worked with some of the most influential musicians in rock history. A lot of these names pop up on Real Animal, but as with other releases, Jim doesn‘t think Escovedo delivers the goods on record. He’s much more impressive live. Jim can hear the riffs pilfered from Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Lou Reed and doubts he'll ever listen to this album again. He gives it a generous Try It. Greg thinks Jim missed a good deal of the album. To Greg, the pilferings are more homages, especially to Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter. The emotional temperature of this album is so high that Greg thinks listeners should Buy It.

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“Eggman”The Beastie Boys

Greg's DIJ 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. "Eggman" by The Beastie Boys is a perfect example of this. The song was released on Paul's Boutique, the hip hop trio's follow-up to their successful, albeit frat boy-ish, debut License to Ill. The group linked up with production team The Dust Brothers to create a sonic collage of samples, beats, loops and raps. In“Eggman”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.

Featured Songs

  1. R. Kelly, Hair Braider, 12 Play: 4th Quarter, Jive, 2008
  2. Lil Wayne, Lollipop, Tha Carter III, Def Jam, 2008
  3. Lil Wayne, A Milli, Tha Carter III, Def Jam, 2008
  4. Danger Mouse, December 4th, The Grey Album, n/a, 2004
  5. DJ Shadow, Organ Donor, Entroducing, Mo' Wax, 1996
  6. The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony, Bitter Sweet Symphony #1, Hut, 1997
  7. Nirvana, Where Did You Sleep Last Night, MTV Unplugged in New York, n/a, 1994
  8. Alejandro Escovedo, Chip N' Tony, Real Animal, Manhattan, 2008
  9. Alejandro Escovedo, Chelsea Hotel, Real Animal, Manhattan, 2008
  10. The Beastie Boys, Eggman, Paul's Boutique, Capitol, 1998
  11. Cursive, The Recluse, The Ugly Organ, Saddle Creek, 2003
  12. The Lovin' Spoonful, Summer in the City, Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful, Kama Sutra, 1966
  13. Future Bible Heroes, Real Summer, Memories of Love, Slow River, 1997

Footnotes

chicagotribune.com R. Kelly acquitted nytimes.com Lil Wayne's Road to Pop metacritic.com Tha Carter III on Metacritic salon.com The mash-up revolution allmusic.com The White Album allmusic.com The Black Album dangermousesite.com DJ Danger Mouse metacritic.com The Grey Album lessig.org Lawrence Lessig's stanford.edu Center for Internet and Society freeculture.org Free Culture Foundation wired.com Lawrence Lessig's Supreme Showdown creativecommons.org Creative Commons riaa.com RIAA nirvanafreak.net History of“In The Pines” nirvana.com Nirvana's allmusic.com Bill Monroe's“In the Pines”on AllMusic si.edu Leadbelly's“In the Pines” si.edu Bascom Lamar Lunsford's“To the Pines, To the Pines” allmusic.com Joan Baez's“In the Pines” allmusic.com The Grateful Dead's“In the Mines” allmusic.com Nirvana's“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” allmusic.com Rancho Deluxe's“In The Pines”on allmusic.com Smog's“In The Pines” allmusic.com Clifford Jordan's“Black Girl” amazon.com Mark Lanegan's“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” allmusic.com Dolly Parton's“In the Pines” allmusic.com Louvin Brothers'“In the Pines” amazon.com Youth Gone Mad and Dee Dee Ramone's“In the Pines” usatoday.com Students paying for playing npr.org To Generate Buzz, Clap Your Hands on the 'Net! wired.com Wilco on giving music away: ‘Music Is Not a Loaf of Bread’ alejandroescovedo.com Alejandro Escovedo allmusic.com Beastie Boys amazon.com Paul's Boutique amazon.com License to Ill allmusic.com The Dust Brothers allmusic.com "Superfly" allmusic.com“Bring the Noise” suntimes.com Roger Ebert reivews Taxi Driver imdb.com E.T. angryalien.com Jaws in 30 Seconds filmsite.org About Psycho