|| - 02.20.2007
|“Donum” is Latin for “gift.”
“Mundus” is Latin for “the world.”
Therefore: “Donum Mundus” means, “gift to the world.”
The debate has been heating up for several years. It’s capitalism at its best, or worst, depending on how you view it. Consumers complain about high CD prices, and download music illegally and burn CDs for their friends, all the while justifying it “because recording stars are rich, and record labels don’t need all that money.” Record labels complain that business is dropping off because people are stealing music.
Recently, the sale of blank CDs outgrew the sale of legitimately recorded music CDs for the first time in the short history of CD technology, possibly indicating that more copies are being burned than purchased.
Music magazines, network news reporters, consumer groups, bloggers, and college kids in their dorm rooms are all getting into the argument. Labels are suing individuals who download their music illegally, and winning. The government has stepped in and shut down some of the internet operations that make music file sharing possible. Still, a whole lot of illegal song sharing is going on.
Many people who are downloading and sharing agree that it may be illegal, but they don’t think it’s ‘morally’ wrong, as long as they can get away with it.
The idea of “intellectual property” has been around for a long time. This concept allows the creator of an intangible work of art (such as an idea, or music, or lyrics, or software) to ‘own’ that work and get paid a royalty when copies are distributed. If an artist creates a physical work of art, say a sculpture, and someone comes into their house and takes it, it is obviously stealing. But what about a work of art, say a song, which is not a tangible, physical object? Suddenly it’s not so obvious what happens if someone takes it.
The intellectual property, which is protected by copyright law, insures that even if the property is not a physical piece of art, it still belongs to its creator. So, by this definition, a song can be stolen. Taking something without paying for it is usually considered stealing.
Technology now makes it much easier to copy and transfer a recording of a song without paying for it. This leaves a constantly changing gap between legislation and technology, with legislation always trying to catch up. Laws, especially enforceable laws, have to be constantly revised to keep up with technology’s changes.
It’s a mess, and it has a lot of people speaking out loudly on both sides of the issue.
OUR RIGHTS, YOUR RIGHTS
As writers and musicians, the intellectual property concept has made us aware of our right to financial compensation for our works. This compensation is called a ‘royalty.’ We have fought so hard to make sure we’re getting our royalties, and that nobody is “stealing” our music, that nobody is violating our right to compensation.
While this debate continues, and while technology and legislation go through their perpetual slugfest to find balance and fairness, I have decided to find a purposeful and significant way to re-introduce a long-forgotten idea into the mix.
THE PURPOSE OF MUSIC
The long-forgotten idea is this: Everything we create as artists and writers does not HAVE to be for compensation. Somehow in the debate, we have forgotten that music exists primarily to beautify the world, and that, although important, earning a living from it is secondary.
If I plant a garden in my front yard, I don’t charge people to drive past and look at it. I created it to bring beauty and make the world better in a small way. However, there are landscapers and nursery owners who make a legitimate living, and are a thriving part of commerce and economy from selling the plants that beautify. So, neither is wrong, but don’t forget that flowers and plants exist for beauty before commerce.
Similarly, many of us have forgotten that music exists for beauty primarily, and secondarily for commerce. So how do we get some of the original mentality back?
THE DONUM MUNDUS CLAUSE
I have introduced a new clause (or provision) into my label contracts called the Donum Mundus Provision, which will serve as an example to artists, labels, publishers, and others in the music industry. I insisted on this new legal language in order to call attention to the concept. Here’s the concept behind the provision: In an exclusive recording or publishing agreement, a writer or artist is giving up his/her right to compose or record any work for anyone other than that publisher or label. There is nothing wrong with an agreement like this. But in order to reserve the freedom to create something outside of that contract, for no other reason than to beautify the world, a Donum Mundus clause provides the artist/writer with an exception to the exclusivity. An exception of one song per period, or one song per record, (or any terms agreeable to both parties) that the artist/writer may write or record one of his works to GIVE AWAY, without obligation to the label or the publisher, and without compensation of any kind to himself. Simply as a GIFT TO THE WORLD (DONUM MUNDUS).
This is essentially accomplished by declaring the song, at its creation, a PUBLIC DOMAIN work. That work is therefore free to be used by anyone, anywhere. It is still copyrighted to the composer/author, but no compensation is sought. It is a gift to the world--a concept that has been lost in the shuffle of intellectual property rights.
I still believe in intellectual property rights. I simply want to reserve for myself and other artists the ability to create something, outside of the confines of an exclusive contract, that I can offer to the world as a free gift, no strings attached.
Ok, so maybe giving away music doesn’t eliminate the problem with illegal downloading. But it does remind me that I don’t have to demand my rightful claim to financial compensation for everything I create. I can write and sing a song for no other reason than to give it to the world. To simply add beauty without expecting anything in return. It doesn’t change the industry’s problem, but it changes ME. And it gives an example to other artists.
Here’s where I am with this. This provision is already in my contracts. The legal language, Donum Mundus, has now officially been used in an agreement for the first time in history. A precedent has been set. I will work on explaining this concept better. I will soon be making a bigger deal about it. I will be drawing more attention to it in the near future. I will encourage artists to insist on this one small freedom when they hash out agreements with labels and publishers. I will encourage labels and entertainment attorneys to make this a standard part of every contract in the future. If the idea catches on, maybe we’ll all be just a little more aware of music’s original purpose.
Could make the world a better place.