Tag Archives: File Sharing

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.