Interview | Alex Sayf Cummings: Music Piracy, Alternative Remuneration Models, Blurred Lines, SOPA, and Out of Control Copyright Terms and Penalties

Alex Sayf Cummings is a historian of law, technology, labor, public policy, and American cities. A leading voice on pop culture and public history, she has published on a variety of topics, from music history to the information economy. Her teaching focuses on the history of media industries (such as music, publishing, broadcasting) and American legal and political institutions (such as copyright). She covers the music industry’s role in pushing for IP rights, talks about music piracy and how Napster pushed rightholders into the streaming model, and explores how alternative remuneration models are far more beneficial for creators. Alex also talks about the Blurred Lines case, the revolt against SOPA, how copyright terms and penalties have been out of control and why we should resist extending these protection terms. Finally, she calls out music companies’ bluff that they fight on behalf of artists.

Do you prefer watching our passionate interviewees talking about the 21st-century walls blocking access to culture? Then check out the vlog below.

Video highlights with timestamps:

00:00 Intro

01:12 Alex shares her efforts to backtrack the origins of music piracy and bootlegging, and how this led to her book: ‘Democracy of sound’

04:27 Alex explores the music industry’s role in pushing for IP rights

11:06 Alex reflects on how we went from bootlegging in the 1960s to Napster pushing the music industry into streaming, and how streaming continues to keep artists locked into in the same battles as before

16:40 Alex explains why alternative models, such as Bandcamp or Patreon, are better for artists by cutting out the record labels as middleman

20:03 Alex discusses the lawsuit around the Blurred Lines song, and how this is a problematic case that could harm creation

22:45 Alex pinpoints the US Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) as a tipping point against rightholders’ continued demands for more stringent copyright rules

26:42 Alex goes deeper into the revolt there was against SOPA from both citizens and tech

30:56 Alex talks about the shift that there has been towards targeting the wires and circuits of the Internet and why this is bad

33:18 Alex reflects on a particular moment that she experienced and where she felt that she hit a wall, as she talks about information scarcity

37:35 Alex brings up the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act’, pointing out that copyright protection terms and penalties have spiralled out of control

46:08 Alex highlights how there is no need for the current conflictual copyright environment that is putting fans and artists, consumers and producers against each other. She also calls out music companies’ bluff that they fight on behalf of artists