Copyright is about leverage–and control

Anyone with an Internet connection can access a broad universe of music, movies, and e-books. As I recently explained to my teenage boys, when I was your age, my entertainment consisted of radio, vinyl records and Saturday morning cartoons. Nowadays, anyone can listen, view or read pretty much whatever they want to find in cyberspace.

However, the professional (though often struggling) artists who create these pieces own those pieces. The songwriters, movie producers, and authors get to decide how to connect with other people and share their work. Hey—listen to my song! Check out my cool video on YouTube! I wrote a book, so please download a copy! The people who create these pieces own them, period. That’s called artistic license; the artist controls how you get to the product, which is theirs to control and copyright.

Taylor Swift is a timely example. At age 25, she was the 18th most powerful celebrity in 2014 and the 64th most powerful woman in the world this year, according to Forbes. She created one of only three platinum albums this year. Last week, she convinced Apple, the world’s largest company, to change its policy concerning royalties to musicians during its Apple Music trial period. Forbes magazine quoted her post, “ ‘We don’t ask you for free iPhones,’ she wrote in a Tumblr post titled “To Apple, Love Taylor” yesterday. ‘Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.’ ”

I completely agree. I’m a professional writer, and I don’t work for free. If I do, I choose how and when to volunteer my time, talents, energy, and money. I don’t give that decision to other people. I also have the experience and talent to leverage my ability to make that decision.

Creative license is about control and choice. Some emerging artists are willing to give up some of their control to spread the word about their pieces or even spread The Word. I thought I read somewhere that Billy Joel’s first manager stole a lot of money from him, and now is name is trademarked, but that isn’t mentioned on his official Website.

Now let’s put powerful media powerbroker Ms. Swift in a time machine. Let’s take 10 years away from this music mogul and put her back 10 years ago in Reading, PA, where she grew up. She’s now 15 years old in 2015, and she spends every weekend night performing country songs for anyone who will listen.


I would be willing to bet you lunch that emerging teenage musician Taylor Swift would get on the spreadability bus in 2015. I think this savvy teenager would be willing to “sacrifice[e] some ability to share and control the routes at which [her] music reaches the public” (Jenkins et all, p. 235) and her intended audience. I think she would recognize how to spread her music as cheaply as possible to as many people as she can reach on the Internet, with the hope that listeners would reciprocate in kind by offering donations.

What’s the difference? The 25-year-old Taylor Swift in 2015 has the talent, experience, and a whole lotta money to leverage her “pay me or else” stance. The 15-year-old Taylor Swift in 2015 lacks the ability to control her destiny—at the moment. The younger musician is probably likely to exchange some of that control to her audience as a gesture of goodwill and request for reciprocation.

Greenburg, Z. O. (2015, June 22). Taylor Swift’s Apple win cements elite powerbroker status. Forbes. Retrieved from


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