University of Iowa
School of Library and Information Science

Intellectual Freedom Fest
Addresses Copyright & the Freedom to Create

Most of the members of the Intellectual Freedom remix panel at the Iowa City Public Library don’t go by their given names because the work they are doing is illegal according to US copyright and broadcast licensing law.

About 40 people attended the discussion, Wednesday Oct. 7, which centered around how tracking down and paying for copyright permission and licenses stifles creativity in the world of music and radio broadcasting. The panelists also touched on industries like film and publishing that are being affected by copyright law in new ways due to the low cost of technology.
Kembrew McLeod is a professor of communications at the University of Iowa. He studies copyright law and its “chilling effect” on freedom of expression. In fact, McLeod copyrighted the phrase “freedom of expression” to make a point.
He says the cost of being able to perform in mass dialogue today is preventing intellectual freedom.
“[It] determines who gets to speak and who doesn’t,” he says.
Tack-Fu and the Chaircrusher are local hip hop producers who sample other musicians work to create new music.
Tack-Fu brought his 8 track to the panel to show the audience how beat chopping and blending could create new sounds. He says even sampling one note or tone is illegal under current copyright law, and paying to get “cleared” samples is unrealistic unless you are making a lot of money.
“I’m being more careful than ever because I know what’s at stake,” he says.
He says he has to make sure the copyrighted samples are unrecognizable when he is done, so he doesn’t get in trouble with the law.
Chaircrusher says the music industry has always had a history of stealing from other artists. All you have to do is look at a record to see the layers of authorship, but even a decade ago, all those “authors” got paid. Now millions of dollars worth of records are not being sold, so many artists and labels are protecting their copyrighted material more stringently.
“How do you quantify a unit of sound as belonging to a particular person?” says Dr. Ontology, a DJ for Pirate Radio in Iowa City.
Pirate Radio operates independent of an FCC license, meaning they are not legally allowed to be on the air or to play songs without a music license.
Under current U.S. copyright law, even a “beep” taken from another artists’ work is illegal.
Dr. Ontology says the startup costs for getting FCC approved equipment (only available through two contractors in the country) are more than $5,000.
“When money is involved, it ceases to be intellectual freedom,” he says.
And he says Pirate Radio found on 87.9 FM in Iowa City is providing a different kind of service than commercial radio.
“In one case you’re paying money in order to hear a song [through advertising], in another you’re paying nothing to be part of a landscape,” he says.
He views his work and that of Tack-Fu and Chaircrusher to be an act of civil disobedience.
In recent years, there have been grassroots movements to increase awareness of fair use and create a more open sharing of ideas.
“Every time a new technology comes along whether it’s the phonograph, radio or whatever, it creates anxiety in the established industries,” McLeod says.
And now, the low cost of technology has creation tools in the hands of more people, but the established industries also have more lobbying power than ever. According to McLeod, that is creating a class system for public communication and expression, and making many artists, musicians, filmmakers and authors criminals.
The panelists said most artists want their work protected, but not necessarily to the extremes that is being done now.

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