Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mortal fallacies

TWO INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS are going on within my user group (NCMUG, the North Coast Macintosh Users' Group). One concerns archival inks for inkjet printers. The other laments the possible demise of internet radio due to increased fees requested by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), which wants to raise significantly the royalties levied on the broadcast of copyright material.

The latter discussion connects to another, about the fees demanded by licensing groups like BMI and ASCAP (Broadcast Music Incorporated; American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) of commercial entities (restaurants, cafés) that present performances or recordings of licensed music in a for-profit context.

All three discussions seem to speak to a common delusion: that the preoccupations of any given Present merit Perpetuity. The worrier about archival ink is an artist, apparently concerned that her work outlast her own life. How many artists, I wonder, are producing graphic work using computers and printers these days? Thousands, I'm sure. Millions of prints, accumulating decade by decade, stacking up alongside all those CDs, DVDs, silver-nitrate negatives, Polaroid prints, shellac and vinyl discs, 35mm transparencies.

Years ago we stood in front of the Maison Carré in Nîmes, marveling not so much at the classic grandeur of the building itself as at its location, nearly a meter below the present-day grade level. I don't think its own weight sank it into the earth: more likely the accumulating detritus of the centuries has raised the city around it. You see this everywhere you study ancient buildings in the Mediterranean countries.

Then there's the concern about copyright, royalties, performance fees and the like. Virgil Thomson had it right: it's the contemporary stuff that should be free of such economic encumbrance, and the more-generally-desired Standard Repertory that should be taxed. If theater companies had to pay royalties to perform Shakespeare, if opera companies had to pay them to produce Verdi, if publishers (and, by extension, libraries, should they continue to exist) had to pay to reprint Austen and Dickens and such); and if fees thereby collected were distributed among living writers and composers, whose own work would be distributed free of royalty...

Why then a current paradox would be resolved: the Past and its glories would be recompensed, the Present and its provisionalities would be supported and published.
On this day, July 12, in 1911, my father was born. His life was difficult, his gifts unresolved and neglected. May he rest in peace.

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