Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Is Youtube Destroying Music?

Pianist Krystian Zimmerman stopped in the middle of a performance in Essen, Germany, when he spotted a member of the audience filming him using a mobile phone. When he later returned to the stage, he told the audience that the posting of performances on Youtube is destroying music, that it is robbing musicians of recording projects and contracts, because something “has already been on Youtube.”

Ever since the advent of tape recorders, video cameras, and now mobile phones with high quality recording ability, musicians have had to contend with their performances being recorded without their permission and knowledge. In concert programmes, there is inevitably the statement telling members of the audience that recording and photography of the performance is strictly forbidden. Today, smart phones are so small that anybody can easily record a live performance without anyone being any the wiser.

But to record a live performance without permission is simply intellectual theft.

With the advent of the Internet, we have indeed opened a Pandora’s box when it comes to the invasion of privacy as well as the violation of intellectual property. Today, Youtube and Facebook have made the computer a part of everyday life, rather than a tool for research. On Youtube, we find anything from movie trailers to full-length movies, from cooking demonstrations to instructions on how to fix a leaking sink, from parents of little children taping them playing their first pieces on the piano (the rationale of anyone posting anything of one’s own children in such a public forum is beyond my understanding) to concerts, interviews with and documentaries on great artists.

I have been as guilty as anyone in watching musical performances on Youtube, performances that I would otherwise not have had an opportunity to enjoy. To be able to, with the click of a mouse, access great performances by Karajan, Bernstein, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Gould, Klemperer, Walter, just to name a few, is indeed difficult to resist.

As a musician, I am very much aware of respecting intellectual property. On principle, I buy original CD’s and DVD’s, and I buy scores of pieces I want to play, instead of photocopying them from a borrowed copy. However, Mr. Zimmerman’s recent outburst has reminded me that watching posted videos on Youtube can be, in a way, robbing artists and musicians of their livelihood. A lot of materials posted on Youtube are meant for free public consumption, but a lot of it is not.

To post a musician’s newest CD on Youtube is, essentially, robbing what the artist should rightfully be earning.

We have lived with the Internet being part of our lives for more than a couple of decades now. However, I am sure that laws governing what can or cannot be posted on the web still leave a lot of grey areas. Musicians should not have to be in a position to have to police the audience for inappropriate behavior.

Artists, computer experts, and lawmakers need to have a serious dialogue in coming up with ways to regulate the availability of materials on the Internet. With the sophistication of computers and the large number of people who are computer-savvy, this might seem like an insurmountable task.

But we should and must begin the process of trying to protect those who bring beauty and enjoyment to us, and not to exploit the fruits of their labour.