Grand Theft Intellect

Posted: July 30, 2008 in Music tech
Tags: , , ,
I was recently contemplating selling my Nord Rack synth – I rarely use hardware modules nowadays and have spent well into four figures on soft synths, including a Nord Lead emulator from Polish software company Discovery. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite an exact emulation (Discovery’s website is amusingly contrary on the subject, claiming the software is “not a reverse engineered Nord Lead” whilst allowing the import of Nord Lead data), in practical terms it simply lacks bass, so I’ve had to keep the Nord. But as I was trying to wring some sub-bass from the import of the dive bomb sound from Facilitator, my mind began to wander as to the moral, and not just the legal situation with such faux emulators.
As far as I’m concerned, the decision to use legal software is a moral one – I know where and how to obtain cracked software as do most people. And I know that were I to use illegal software I would be very unlikely to be prosecuted for doing so. So why is it OK to use (in this case) Nord’s work to create the software and then charge for it? I’ll stop picking on Discovery now as they’re a small and rather affable company, but look at TC Electronic and Native Instruments with the TC-01 synth and Pro-53 respectively. Both cloaked emulations from relatively large companies who have a fearsome attitude towards protecting their intellectual property. However, in the cases of these particular synths I would argue that it is at least in part not their property to protect, but rather that of original manufacturers, Roland and Prophet. The problem is more widespread than a few plugs – look how many 909 drum sounds are routinely included with dance music sample libraries. On what moral grounds can these sounds be sold and resold again and again for profit without their original creators being paid? Taken to its logical conclusion, shouldn’t Bob Moog be paid a small royalty on every soft synth sold? Looking at other media should THQ, makers of the videogame Saint’s Row, be kicking money upstairs to the Rockstar Games, makers of its vastly superior inspiration, Grand Theft Auto? Counterfeit music artists are also commonplace – ripping an MP3 by girl group The Saturdays may be illegal but I cannot see how that squares morally with their unpaid usage of an image and production sound based around that of Girls Aloud. Is their music data not, at least partially, stolen goods?
The idea of paying for pure data and no physical product is still in relative infancy, and there is much real as well as “convenient” confusion from consumers. But eventually perhaps we will see a situation of a fairer payment system, whereby the actual creators of data and its origins are financially compensated and not just those immediately involved.
Meantime, there will be many who profit from the direct or indirect ideas of others and taking a moral high ground on copyright issues whilst doing so.

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