Tuesday, July 17, 2012



Do you have a few moments to listen to John Cage's 4'33? Well, tough shit. Youtube just went and pissed in your cereal bowl...

But hey, how about we listen to a remix version or a dubstep edition of it...

Wait, you're not getting the joke? Oh... well, you see experimental composer John Cage made a song called 4'33'' which is usually played on a piano. The piece contains no notes whatsoever for the entire song which is 4 minutes and 33 seconds long. The sounds of the song is instead the background noises of the place where it is played.

So in a sense, or in all the sense, youtube just blocked silence. But hey, it's copyrighted and people have been sued before for it.
The internet is riddled through with music copyright infringement lawsuits, like a great big illegal swiss cheese. You’re probably pretty used to reading about people ripping off music and getting sued for it. This one might shock even the most lawsuit-jaded: in 2002 the composer Mike Batt made a six-figure, out-of-court settlement for infringing on John Cage’s 1952 work, 4’33″.
Yeah, that 4’33″. The silent one.

It started when Batt and his band The Planets released a Crossover-Classical (Eugh. I hate that term) album called Classical Graffiti. Batt wanted to explicitly separate the tracks at the end from those at the beginning, because they were done in a different style. He thought it would be fun to do this with a track called “One Minute Silence (after Cage)”. This was credited to Batt/Cage.

Shortly after the album was released (and went to number one in the UK classical charts) Mike was contacted by Peters Edition, the publisher of Cage’s work, demanding one-quarter of the royalties from the sale of the song.
They argued over this for a while – interestingly provoking the kind of discussion which Cage had originally intended when he first performed the piece: does it truly qualify as a work? If not, why not? There was even a side-by-side concert performance of the two pieces in London, so that the, errr, differences could be illustrated.

Batt eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum. However, he pointed out that Peters had acknowledged they didn’t have much of a case, and that he was donating the money out of respect for John Cage — to the John Cage Trust.
I suppose the real issue wasn’t so much the copying of silence (otherwise there’d be a hell of a lot more lawsuits…) but the fact that Batt credited Cage as a writer.
Incidentally, Batt ended up re-registering the track using his pseudonym “Clint Cage”. Also incidentally, Batt was the guy who came up with the theme tune to the Wombles, as well as the music for the famous Art Garfunkel “Bright Eyes” track in Watership Down.

And then we get into the legal battles..

A bizarre legal battle over a minute's silence in a recorded song has ended with a six-figure out-of-court settlement.

British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, "A One Minute Silence," on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.
He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition "4'33"" was totally silent.

On Monday, Batt settled the matter out of court by paying an undisclosed six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust.
Batt, who is best known in the UK for his links with the children's television characters The Wombles, told the Press Association: "This has been, albeit a gentlemanly dispute, a most serious matter and I am pleased that Cage's publishers have finally been persuaded that their case was, to say the least, optimistic.
"We are, however, making this gesture of a payment to the John Cage Trust in recognition of my own personal respect for John Cage and in recognition of his brave and sometimes outrageous approach to artistic experimentation in music."
Batt credited "A One Minute Silence" to "Batt/Cage."

Before the start of the court case, Batt had said: "Has the world gone mad? I'm prepared to do time rather than pay out. We are talking as much as £100,000 in copyright.

"Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds."

Batt gave a cheque to Nicholas Riddle, managing director of Cage's publishers Peters Edition, on the steps of the High Court, in London.
Riddle said: "We feel that honour has been settled.
"We had been prepared to make our point more strongly on behalf of Mr Cage's estate, because we do feel that the concept of a silent piece -- particularly as it was credited by Mr Batt as being co-written by "Cage" -- is a valuable artistic concept in which there is a copyright.

"We are nevertheless very pleased to have reached agreement with Mr Batt over this dispute, and we accept his donation in good spirit."

"A One Minute Silence" has now been released as part of a double A-side single.

copyright infringement over complete silence.

Then again, the point of the original recording was to capture the increasingly uncomfortable and confused audience reaction to buying a ticket and getting dressed up nice to only be seated staring at a guy doing nothing at all at the piano for a whole 5 minutes.

So it's not so much silence as it is the intention to use the ritual of performance to try and take people to a new level of awareness of their surroundings - which is the point of art after all, right.

Still, it's rather silly to copyright silence.

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