Well, I didn’t actually meet him — he’s in New York and I’m in BC, Canada — but thanks to Bill Hudson, a friend of mine who knows him, Pete and I had a long, thoroughly enjoyable (for me, at least ) telephone conversation.
I went online in the mid-1990s because I wanted to connect with other musicians. This was just after I’d discovered MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), soundcards and software synthesizers. (And email ).
As I posted here, I could be an entire band AND use the Net to share MIDI files with people around the world. It meant jamming online. Very cool. So how could I NOT have heard about P2P? And how could I not want to be a small part of this online communications revolution which I could see was going to allow ordinary people take back their rights?
Equally, how could I avoid hearing of the depredations of the corporate music industry — ie, Vivendi Universal (France), Sony (Japan), EMI (Britain), and Warner Music (US) as they terrorised their own customers, even calling children as young as 12 criminals and thieves?
The late Bill Evans was already famous online as the first person to seriously attempt to take Big Music on, detailing their vicious attacks on their own customers as they attempted to gain control of the net as their exclusive distribution vehicle. He and I became friends and through him, I came to know Bill Hudson, one of the first people to sign up for a2f2a and another musician who’s a devout believer in the concept music should be shared freely.
He and I were talking on the phone about project he’s involved in. Under it he, and other like-minded people, collect musical instruments to give to children in America’s still-recovering storm-ravaged Gulf Coast, also working to organise live concerts to help take people’s minds off their troubles.
Billy Bragg, too, believes in the restorative power of music and has his own project called Jail Guitar Doors, which aims to provide musical instruments to help rehabilitate people locked up in jails.
Bill Hudson and I were saying how interesting it was that both he and Billy are deeply involved in projects which depend on the power of music to make positive change, and Pete Seeger’s name came up.
The Pete Seeger Connection
‘Iconic’ is these days used to describe virtually any performer, irrespective of standing. Rarely is it deserved. One of the exceptions is, however, Pete Seeger, the iconic American folk singer and activist.
A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early ’50s as a member of The Weavers, most notably the 1950 recording of Leadbelly’s ‘Goodnight, Irene,’ which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950, says the Wikipedia, going on:
In the 1960s, he re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, and for environmental causes.
As a song writer, he’s ‘best known as the author or co-author of ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’, ‘If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)’ (composed with Lee Hays of The Weavers), and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn!’, which have been recorded by many artists both in and outside the folk revival movement and are still sung throughout the world.
The Wimoweh connection
At the age of 91, Pete’s still going strong and in May, along with the dozens of musicians who showed up at Madison Square Garden to celebrate his 90th birthday were Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie — and Billy Bragg.
Bill Hudson said he’d mentioned a2f2a to Pete and thought it’d be interesting if he and I connected. And when I phoned to arrange a time, Pete’s wife, Toshi, told me she and Billy Bragg were ‘kissing friends’.
Pete wasn’t around at the time because he’s in the studio, recording, she told me, giving me a time and a day when I could be sure of reaching him.
When we later connected, he told me the studio was a small one in the town where he and Toshi live, and that these days, his ‘live’ performances are mostly for local children.
During our talk — it wasn’t an interview — he mentioned two things in particular, Mbube (Wimoweh) being one, and his support of the Committee for Public Domain Reform Plan — Every country needs a public domain commission to help decide what money goes where — being the other.
When Pete Seeger was recording songs like ‘Wimoweh’ with the Weavers folk quartet in the 1950s, he didn’t give much thought to the fact the people who originally created the music generally got nothing in return, said a Reuters story back in 2004.
It went on, Now Seeger is lending his name to the Campaign for Public Domain Reform, an effort to create a system for part of the royalties from folk tunes to reach the corners of the world where the songs originated.
He was 85 at the time, and he’s still lending his name to the cause. The item goes on to quote him as saying, When a song is in the public domain and you record it, it’s standard practice in the music industry to say ‘adapted and arranged by’ whoever sings it. Why let the record company keep all the royalties? They didn’t write the song.
So who did?
Seeger said he was once told by Joseph Shabalala of the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo that when the word ‘traditional’ is used, ‘it means the money stays in New York’.
I already knew about Mbube (Wimoweh) .
Pete told me he was shocked when he learned the royalties by-passed the African author, Solomon Linda, but he also recognised this wasn’t unique.
He’d collected book and record royalties for a childrens story he’d written in 1952. Called Abiyoyo, it depended on an old Xhosa lullaby, and now half the royalties go to the Ubuntu Fund dedicated to Xhosa children living near Port Elizabeth in South Africa.
While we were talking, I was online looking for Campaign for Public Domain Reform, which I found within minutes.
It kicks off with a statement signed by Pete for the Committee for Public Domain Reform:
Old songs, worldwide, now in the Public Domain are often ‘adapted and arranged’ and the new song copyrighted. We propose that a share, .01 % or 99.99 %, of the mechanical, print, and performing royalties go to the place and people where the song originated. Every country should have a ‘Public Domain Commission’ to help decide what money goes where.
Written in January, 2006, it goes on »»»
Plan for implementation proposed by Music In Common:
The duties or functions of a Public Domain Commission would fall under three main categories. Preservation and Development, Resource Allocation and Accounting and Accountability. Each category is further defined below.
1. Preservation and Development The Conservatory
a. Canon formation
Exemplary works held to be so by general acclamation of the community, tribe, ethnic group or nationality involved would be assembled and performed by similarly exemplary masters of the tradition.
These might be recorded in both print and sound forms but they would necessarily be carried on in oral form to be passed on as they have already been for generations or centuries. (this has been accomplished in some cases, has been partially done in others, and has yet to be undertaken systematically in still others)
2. Resource Allocationa. Funds for training youth
b. Funds for exemplary performance (regular festivals, customary events, etc.)
c. Funds for instrument building and performance space construction and maintenance
d. Funds for sustaining Master crafts people (instrument builders, performers and composers)
To ensure the traditions are kept vital and alive new generations must be introduced to them in a way that honors the music itself as well as those who maintain its highest forms of expression.
Infusions of new energy and enthusiasm must be balanced with the mastery of the spiritual and practical skills needed to perform the music well. Structures suited to local conditions and histories should be constructed to ensure long-term sustainability.
3. Accounting and Accountability
a. Monitoring the health of the music, the musicians, and the community it arises from and serves
b. Monitoring the uses to which the music is put in the rest of the world
c. Collecting funds generated anywhere
d. Dispersing funds correctly according to the principles outlined above
Through international agencies, performing rights societies, governmental bodies or combinations of all three, the uses of music can be monitored and evaluated. That the Public Domain be maintained in the public interest and available to all, as is a library, should not mean that moneys generated by sale somewhere not be returned to their source of inspiration: namely the peoples or countries whence they arose. Indeed, it would be one function of the Public
Domain Commission to ensure that two apparently contradictory purposes are served: to ensure preservation and development of a natural resource for the benefit of all and at the same time limiting use by those seeking to profit from it and ensuring that a reasonable portion of those profits are returned to the source to sustain it.
Ultimately, accountability to the local Public Domain Commission should be the rule. Thus, a universal principle would be applied locally by those entrusted to do so.
The composition of the Public Domain Commission should include music makers (musicians, composers and instrument builders) recognized as masters of their crafts. It might also include musicologists, historians and others sufficiently trained to ensure traditions are honored and healthily maintained.
Educational and administrative functions corresponding to local conditions need to be constructed but oversight should always include music makers.
A UN Public Domain Commission
There are three areas where a UN Public Domain Commission would be useful in the implementation of these proposals:
Origins, Jurisdiction and Rights Designation
The origins of much of the world’s music precede the formation of present-day Nations. Indeed, much of the world’s music continues to be made and used by tribal, ethnic or other groupings that reside in different countries simultaneously. Furthermore, there are cases where no national body is recognized or trusted by ethnic groups whose music is in question. In such situations a UN Public Domain Commission might afford the best solution.
This should not, however, be merely a juridical court of appeal.
On the contrary, the principal function of such a body would be to ensure the preservation and development of the music in question in accordance with the needs and wishes of the people actually involved in making it. If no local entity has the capacity or authority to carryout this task then the UN Public Domain Commission should undertake it.
In determining a specific music’s origin the following questions should be answered:
Who makes the music now?
For what purpose is it made? (sacred, festive, work, education, etc.)
How will this be preserved and developed in the future?
In determining what kinds of rights are applicable a UN Public Domain Commission should use the Conservatory model proposed above. The Conservatory’s basic function is to ensure that the makers and users of the music in question continue to flourish.
Prohibition or limitation of use is a secondary function only useful in the context of the successful fulfillment of the first. This means:
Resources from taxation, charitable institutions or profitable sale should be directed, first and foremost, to the preservation and development of the music and music makers involved
Access to music should not be limited unless those who make and use it specifically designate it secret, sacred or otherwise unavailable to the world at large (in which case its unauthorized appearance would not only constitute simple theft but desecration subject to human rights protections)
Respect for the work, skill and creativity that have been and continue to be invested by those involved. This requires public education within and beyond the communities in question to ensure that all who hear the music know the history and present circumstances of the people who made it.
The document concludes with Pete Seeger’s examples, including the Wimoweh tragedy, and ending with »»»
Another example: in 1955 I put together a song Where Have All the Flowers Gone. The basic idea came from an old Russian Folk song, Koloda Duda. Some royalties for the song will now go to the national folk song archives in the Moscow library.
In 1960 I put a melody and three words, Turn, Turn, Turn to a poem in the Book of Ecclesiastes, written 252 BCE. The English translation was done in London 400 years ago. I have decided to send some royalties to an unusual group in Israel which is trying to bring Arabs and Jews together.
In the USA all the royalties for the song We Shall Overcome have gone, for 40 years, to the We Shall Overcome Fund which every year gives grants for African American Music in the South.
Bernice Johnson Reagan (Sweet Honey In the Rock) is the chairperson of that fund.
So — – is there now a long list of countries with their on Public Domain Commissions, oranised under Campaign for Public Domain Reform banner?
And nor will there be as long as the major labels retain their iron grip on the music industry.
In March this year, A coalition of high-profile rock stars say they’re turning their works loose online so people everywhere can enjoy their music without fear, I wrote, going on »»»
The group, called Rockstars ‘R US, includes Paul McCartney, Cliff Richard, Yoko Ono, Barry Gibb, Petula Clark, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, and singing US senator Orrin ‘Terminator’ Hatch.
I already have so much money I’ll never be able to spend it in a million years, says Gibb. Why would I want more?
Music lovers around the world, will now be able to share out music with each other without worrying they’ll be sued, says Clark.
They’re among 4,500 artists who recently celebrated a major victory when a European Parliament committee sanctioned plans to boost copyrights to 95 years.
I’m absolutely fed up with singing Living Doll but I have sung it constantly since 1959 because every time I sing it live it generates sales of the original record and royalties to me, said Richard. But it’s about to fall into the public domain anyway, and I made enough money out of it to buy three Rolls-Royces and a chateau in France, he said of his change of heart. So why worry? -
Declared Yoko Ono, We’re hoping this will encourage other super stars who’ve become multi-millionaires from copyright royalties to follow our example.
Enough is enough, says Ulrich. I have a lot to answer for and this may help. It’s time to thank all those fans who made us rich.
It was, of course, a spoof piece.
[This was first published in a2f2a.com.]
Jon Newton - p2pet / a2f2a.com
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