The National Music Publishers’ Association filed a suit for copyright infringement against Fullscreen, Inc. for illegally using unlicensed musical works. Fullscreen is a Multi-Channel Network that operates on YouTube to exploit videos. According to the CEO of NMPA, “Fullscreen’s success and growth…is attributable in large part to the prevalence and popularity of its unlicensed music videos.” Not only does Fullscreen profit from advertising revenue on the videos on its channels, but it does not compensate the artists or the publishers that the videos belong to. The NMPA’s lawsuit is a move to compensate these songwriters and publishers, to protect their rights, and to move toward putting an end to the copyright infringement of unlicensed works.
The question is whether the NMPA is justified in their lawsuit. Is our freedom restricted by laws regarding licensing? Certainly we are restricted; the government is dictating what the proper way to pay royalties and license work is. But as Immanuel Kant explains in What is Enlightenment?, “We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment?” These restrictions are not harmful to our enlightenment. On the contrary, by using unlicensed music, we are not dispelling our nonage. We aren’t expanding our understanding of the world because we still aren’t thinking for ourselves. One could argue that decreasing restrictions prompt a rise in creativity. Lawrence Lessig talks in his book, The Future of Ideas, about a time when copyright laws only affected publishers. He says that that era was no more creative than ours, only that the constraints were different. He explains, “But except for important subject matter constraints imposed by the law, the law had essentially no role is saying how one person could take and remake the work of someone else.” However, if we choose to follow that logic, the question that arises is whether what Fullscreen is doing can be considered creativity. By simply taking someone else’s work without remaking it into anything new, I would argue that it isn’t.
I think, in this situation, everything boils down to ownership—not necessarily in a legal sense, but in a personal sense. Just as any other artist, songwriters feel a sense of pride in their work; they are proud to call it their own. John Milton explains in Areopagitica that, “Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.” The same is true for music. The songwriters’ art is an expression of themselves. By using unlicensed music, these artists are being undermined. It is as if their sense of ownership is worthless. I fell like, legalities aside, one should want to honor their work by paying royalties or using proper licensing out of respect.