the right to play #2

I don’t know of a freedom or right to infringe musical copyright in the role of a listener. That seems like bullshit to me. You want to listen to some band, you’re attached to the consumerist feeding tube, pay up.

I do know of a freedom or right to make music. Musicians have an inalienable right to play. Nothing can disable that. Law should respect it, but it doesn’t either create or destroy it.

The right to play is universal. It doesn’t apply only to famous people, to performances made with the intent to profit, or even to the talented. Anybody who feels like cackling a tune in the shower has just as much right as Justin Timberlake does to sing live at the Grammys.

6 thoughts on “the right to play #2

  1. While I’m totally onboard with this right-of-musicians-to-play bent, I’m not sure it’s as simple to separate from the right-to-listen as you’re implying. Do you have the right to play a Madonna song in your living room for a few close friends after dinner? What about at a house part in your basement? What about in a small club?

    Also, where do you draw the line between the publishing that makes this kind of performance possible (hard to learn to play a song if you can’t get the music for it anywhere), creative remixes that take the raw material of the song as the “score” to “perform”, and simple reproductions of the song for you own pleasure (the commercial feeding tube). Are mixes/curation a creative act deserving of this kind of freedom?

    I’m not arguing with the logic of the right to playing music being unassailable, I just think that belief will inevitably draw you to a more radical position with regards to the “rights” of “consumers” in general, especially if you put yourself in a position of empathizing with people who lack traditional technical musical talent and so can’t reproduce songs they like themselves with their voices and bits of wood and metal.

  2. The idea is rooted in economic freedoms. You do have the right to try to make a profit, you don’t have a right to make a profit. You do have a right to play, you don’t have a right to have someone else play to you. Your rights are in the active role.

    Ok, so what about people who can’t play for themselves — do they have a right to hire somebody to do their playing for them? It’s similar to the idea that you can delegate your economic rights to your employees.

  3. About the right to remix or curate, I’d err on the side of increase. Any place there’s a tradeoff, I’d give it to new work.

  4. Let’s try this way:
    Non-commercial performance of anything by any private person should be deemed “fair use”.
    This whole issue could be avoided by simplifying the definition of fair use.

  5. Playing music is an inherent part of the form. That music can be turned into goods and sold as a product is a relatively local and recent development.

    But, even those goods aren’t music until someone “plays” them. In fact, artistically at least, one could argue that the truly creative and musical part of the CD is not the music recorded on it, but the acts of making the disc play in so many different places for so many different reasons–which is done by “everyone else” other than the so-called right holders.

    Anyway, part of the issue with the requirement that we play music (it’s much more than a right) is that all music is only music because we play it–even when we’re justing pushing play on a CD player.

  6. A relevant post from my other blog, at

    “When … records first circulated, the very notion of recorded music was still a novelty. All music had been created live and tied to particular, intimate occasions. How were listeners to understand an impersonal technology like the phonograph record as a musical event? How could they reconcile firsthand interactions and traditional customs with technological innovations and mass media? “

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