The “Blurred Lines”/“Got to Give it Up” judgment is the latest in silly copyright cases (here’s a good musicological argument against it), but there is one detail that has been mostly ignored:
The $7.3 million number beats the record high judgment in a copyright infringement suit.
A relevant counterpoint from my book (Chapter 7):
. . . where art intersects with commerce, progress traps occur too. In a capitalist system, artists, labels, technology companies, and other music professionals naturally seek to grow their profits. (“If you sell fifty million records one year and seventy the next year,” notes Jeff Gold, describing the expansion of Warner Music in the 1990s, then soon someone is going to ask “how are you going to sell eighty?”) As elites become more efficient at producing, marketing, and selling music, that increased efficiency stresses the system. Music becomes, as William Patry puts it, “a zero sum game, where the more people vie for the top, the fewer make it, but the rewards are disproportionately greater.” In the process, the thoughtful listener is left with a nagging feeling that just as we cannot understand music outside of recording, or our own thoughts about it outside of writing, it is now difficult to even conceive of it outside of money—outside of our transactional roles as producers, consumers, or both.
My friends complain about modern pop all the time. I wish I could evaluate it in aesthetic terms. But I feel like I can’t even hear it. It sounds like money to me. I hear the money that went into the production. I hear the money that went into the promotion. I hear the money that is being exchanged every time it is performed. I hear the money that is expected as a kind of birthright. Lord help me, I can’t get past the money.
Call me crazy, but I think that’s a problem.