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Composer Jason Robert Brown wants to protect his unintellectual rights

As a musician and fan of stage musicals, I must proffer this disclaimer about American theater composer Jason Robert Brown: he’s terrible. Brown is a poster child for the music industry’s common mediocrity, of commerce’s habitual triumph over art. Now Brown has appointed himself defender of intellectual property rights, holding that teens should not use the internet to pirate his sheet music. Of course, I can only wish him foolproof success.

American musical theater saw a golden age in the 1940s, with notable glimmers of resurgence since then, in ever infrequent cycles. I don’t think anyone would argue that in-between was constant dreck –to which “show tunes” owe their stigma. Defenders of Andrew Lloyd Webber will find themselves similarly unrestrained enthusiasts for popular music, popular fiction and television. To each his own slop.

I have particular antipathy for contemporary composers of awfulness because they drive the inartistic music publishing industry where it does irreparable harm. School bands and theater departments are influenced to pay royalties for the performance pieces whose rights are most profitably leveraged, at the expense of older works of renown. Instead of seeding young repertoires with melodies and lyrics to enrich their memories, teachers pollute their students with forgettable claptrap, courtesy of bards like Brown.

I have the same prejudice with regard to literature. Why aren’t today’s students reading Stevenson or Poe instead of Blume or Rowling? Of course, composer JR Brown is more on par with author RL Stine, he’s that horrible. But don’t take my word for it, have a listen.

That said, here’s Jason Robert Brown championing not just the exclusive right to sell online what his publishers hawk through their network of scholastic pushers, but he wants the same markup. If ever a commodity could change hands for its true worth, Brown’s entire catalog should be ventilated for free through file sharing. Instead he’s personally joining various trading websites and then emailing each and every member who appears to be trading in his goods.

To paraphrase: Hello, I’m Jason Robert Brown, yes, The Jason Robert Brown, and I’d appreciate it if you stopped illegally sharing my music, since it deprives me of my rightful royalties.

Brown has posted some of the ensuing email exchanges on his blog, without any mention of offering remuneration for their contributions. Most laughable, but consistent with the weakness of his music work, Brown has engaged chiefly teens in his discussion of intellectual rights. He lists one discussion in which he compares his stolen sheet music to a loaned screwdriver, a Xerox’d book, and a copied CD.

Mr. Brown, might I direct you to the innumerable organizations which argue that intellectual property rights are not inalienable. They are restraints to trade, impediments to idea sharing, and diametric to elevating community wealth.

You have every right to contrive a product and sell it by whatever connivance, but your monopoly ends there. Whoever were your customers should have the right to do with their purchases what they will. What right have you to tax the use of your thought fart as it passes from ear to ear? Home Depot can’t charge multiple times for a screwdriver it’s already sold; to use your example.

Consider also that your melody was plucked from the ether of shared cultural experience. Should a rights police attach royalty liens on every whiff of inspiration you borrowed? Better to admit we are all channels of a community expression.

Mr. Brown, please be satisfied to exploit the business advantages you’ve built. Your Tony Award is indication enough of that accomplishment. Insisting that you deserve more only invites scrutiny of your ouevre. Your arguments may find refuge with fans of the “Twilight” caliber, but I am not about to underestimate the sophistication of your own musical taste. If you love Broadway, you know the incredible deficiency of the songs you are peddling. Describing your “music sensibility [which] fuses pop-rock stylings with theatrical lyrics” is faint self-praise enough.

Young stage enthusiasts. To you, JRB may appear a “genius” but what else would we expect of a generation raised on High School Musical. For superior fare, check out the pre maudlin days of Broadway, the shows which see regular revivals. If you want something further afield, look to lesser known works by those same composers. Even their obscure productions eclipse the best efforts of hacks today. Much of this material is freely available, but you’ll find that real showstoppers will have you showing no reluctance to part with your lunch money.

Jason Robert Brown, please stop your indecorous whine about the new leak in your traditional income monopoly. Leave your fans to trade them for their real worth.

4 thoughts on “Composer Jason Robert Brown wants to protect his unintellectual rights

  1. Ok, so that was putrid. I got through about three bars of “Being a Geek” and had to shut it down. What, is the guy wanting a job writing for Disney?

    I mean, not everything can be Ode am die Freud… in fact only Ode am die Freud possibly CAN. Of course, Beethoven almost went broke for about the umpteenth time in his life promoting it, even though it’s a masterpiece. It’s just not something that’s amenable to mass marketing which is why the various symphony orchestras (orchestrae?) don’t often play it and when they do it’s One Show Only.

    But then, Beethoven had a funeral that was bigger than the Emperor of Austria’s funeral. I don’t remember the Emperor’s name either. I think that a hundred and eighty-four years after he dies, Mr Jason Brown isn’t going to have anybody doing a memorial concert of his music. I wish him continued luck, but if he’s making money off his music he’s doing better than the vast majority of musicians and should be thankful for it.

    Instead of merely greedy.

  2. Men At Work were just successfully sued by a music publishing company for using a riff, a series of notes played on one instrument, from a copyrighted song “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree”. Since the composer of that song, Marion Sinclair, took those musical notes from the natural song of the kookaburra bird, does that mean God can sue the Larrikin Music Company?

    Larrikin Music, which owns the copyright to Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree, had sought 60% of royalties.

    The company argued successfully that Down Under’s flute riff was stolen from Marion Sinclair’s original song.

    The band has to pay “only” 5% of any royalties they get from the song. The publishers, Larrikin Music, got the “rights” to the flute riff simply by agreeing with Mr Sinclair long generations ago to publish his arrangement. They were paid once for each book they sold, from the customer’s pocket. Literally bought the “rights” for a song and then bitched and whined that somebody “stole” from them.

    Capitalism = Government enforced Theft.

  3. How is JRB a triumph of commerce’s triumph over art? He has never had a hit, and he is often heralded as the best stage composer of his generation, and perhaps the best composer since Sondheim.

    I am not going to try to tell you that Jason Robert Brown is better than Gershwin, Porter, Rodgers or certainly not Sondheim. He’s not. But he is in NO way a hack, and in the opinion of not just myself but a majority of theater critics and professionals–a major talent.

  4. Sounds like he’s got a paying customer.
    Which could be a good thing. There’s a trend to cast people into the category of “failed” artist. Hitler painted, did architectural essays of mostly places in Vienna. Apparently he painted what he saw. Much like his contemporary Picasso did with Guernica. Guernica shows some really disturbing images like body parts protruding in what a mathematician would call “The Wrong Angle” but you see, it was about the effects of large amounts of high explosives doing what they were designed to do, really close to humans and animals.
    That’s what it looks like.

    Hitler painted some really ugly architecture because that’s what was presented to him. Some of the building now look quite presentable because they stopped the practice of people heating their homes with either coal or wood furnaces. In the Interbellum years Europe WAS a dark place, soot turned even the trees dark grey.
    But Hitler was portrayed later as a “Failed” artist. He got paid for his work, which a lot of people don’t.
    Charles Manson and David Koresh are portrayed as “failed musicians” because they played guitar but didn’t make any money off it. It’s just that people want their Personal Villains to be completely negative, without a trace of what they perceive to be normal human thought or expression.

    I play a wooden flute, not for profit. Anybody you hear singing a song while out walking could be a “failed” musician, if you put the right spin to it.

    Henry the Eighth of England played the recorder as well. Same type I play. He didn’t make money from it and died with a collection of about 80 of them. He also murdered people and had far more than an order of magnitude (the original number squared) more people murdered and/or enslaved at his orders. But strangely, wasn’t painted dark as a “failed musician”.

    All that having been said, JRB gets paid for what he writes, good on him. His publishers get paid far more. that’s “Commerce over Art”. Did the guy who drew the M&Ms characters or the Hamburger Helper three-finger Talking Glove get paid billions of dollars?
    No? Not on any Forbes List? Funny, that, because those characters made many billions of dollars for their Corporate Owners. Who would sue the living dogshit out of me if I were to use one of their images in a political satire about just any elected or appointed or wannabee Public Official.

    One of our contributors has received threats and the person making those threats, a “Christian Fiscal Conservative” running for a political position wherein she’ll get to make Budget Decisions for the City, and pass ordinances for the City, should the voters be retarded enough to actually elect her, or if (more likely) one of her friends gains more power and hires her, on the public funding, as a “consultant”.
    But, here’s what ties that to the discussion.

    One of the excuses she used for using Public Funded cops as though they’re her private Goon Squad is her face being transposed onto a movie poster for a really awful movie from 1971. And the other shows the County Seal from El Paso County used as a backdrop for three of her Rich Bitch friends pretending to be Redneck Retards with an automatic rifle.
    “Copyright” violations. Shit, if the movie gets ONE extra customer purchasing or renting a DVD of it they’ll be doing good.
    as for EP County Commissioners, well, they’ve made their own bed and chose the flea-infested dogs they choose to lay down with. Too bad so sad and all that.

    That being said, “Being A Geek” is a putrid song. It’s also supposed to be the keynote for the Pop-era in which it’s performed. Good freakin’ luck with that. Maybe Jason’s corporate handlers can make some money off it, maybe Jason does too. Good. Keep them off welfare or competing for real jobs.
    Sorry I can’t join your adulation of his genius. But I was exposed to Bach and Beethoven first so after that everything is downhill.

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