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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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December 19, 2011

Can Legitmix Remix Copyright? (Hint: no)

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Audioporn Central, my current favorite new-music site, pointed to a new music business site just entering "artist alpha" with the goal of legitimizing sales of DJ sets, remixes, and the like called "Legitmix". The theory is interesting but I can't see it working on a practical scale. Still, let's take a look.

The idea is that the creator who uses sampled music (DJ, producer, cover artist, etc) would not sell or distribute their work directly. Instead they'd go to Legitmix and upload their work, then identify the samples used in it. Legitmix encodes the work into a distributable file that the creator can then sell or give away as desired. When the listener wants to decode the file for enjoyment they have to demonstrate ownership of the sampled sources somehow; if not, they can buy the requisite samples through Legitmix's store. Once you own the components, the theory goes, you own a free-and-clear new composite work.

In a universe where everyone cooperates, this might work for simple mash-ups. Some of these are simple A|B tracks containing only two songs. But a good mash contains a lot more and let's not even talk about the hundreds of samples in a full-length DJ set. The amount of work involved on the part of every listener to demonstrate ownership of, or acquire rights to, every sample in your average hour-long set is nearly astronomical. The end user experience of this is going to be awful.

Of course, we also live in a universe where people don't just cooperate easily - if we did, the damned Copyright wars would've been over years ago. Some people don't want their stuff sampled. Some people want to approve the samples' uses. Some stuff doesn't have an easy license-granting authority in the first place (see "orphan works"). Sometimes you can get a license for the base song, but not necessarily the specific performance that was sampled. Et cetera et cetera. The number and amount of legal and contractual complications entailed is enough to stun even a Cartel lawyers, never mind some random start-up company.

What Legitmix is doing is employing fancy technology to shift the burden of licensing work from the creator to the listener. That means you multiply the amount of work by N where N is your number of listeners. Eww. Now there is some attraction to that, in that you might want to price your sampling fees based in part on the listenership. If someone samples you and nobody listens to that sample you might care less than if 100,000 people listen to it. But really, that's a detail. The complexity explosion remains mind-boggling.

I'm reminded of the situations that led to patent portfolio licensing. If you stop and think about it, companies with lots of patents could probably make more money by licensing individual patents to individual partners. Partners would pay only for the patents they needed, and everyone would be happy, right? Except it's so insanely complicated to keep track of all that it turns out to be simpler just to cross-license the entire patent portfolio. Sure, you pay for stuff you don't need but the amount of time and hassle (and lawyer fees) you save with a blanket license more than makes up for it.

Now substitute "sample" for "patent" in the above paragraph and you'll see why I think Legitmix is a non-starter. I give them an "A for effort" and good on them for trying to think creatively about solving the sample-licensing problem but this one fails the basic smell test.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


COMMENTS

1. Neal on May 28, 2012 12:57 PM writes...

Hi Alan,

Great post. Thanks for taking the time to investigate Legitmix. We now have a new version of the site up and running that I'd love for you to check out.

I think you'll find that the burden on consumers is a lot less work then you have anticipated. Legitmix automatically checks the consumers' music file for sampled source tracks, and it under a minute a fan can own both the remixed track and the original work.

The best part about Legitmix is that it acknowledges and rewards all the creators involved in the music. The DJ can for the first time sell and distribute their work without the complexity (and often impossibility) of sample clearance, the original creator gets promotion and sales, and the fans can enjoy great music while supporting the artist they love.

Feel free to email me if you have any more thoughts or questions, Thanks for reading this and have a great day,

Neal Mc
Legitmix Customer Support Guru
Neal@legitmix.com

Permalink to Comment

2. Alan Wexelblat on May 30, 2012 8:56 AM writes...

Thanks for the comment Neal. I'll mark it for re-review.

Permalink to Comment

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