Two friends of mine recently got married and gave every wedding guest a mix CD they’d burned. The disc is full of songs easily identified with the bride and groom. Some of it is music you might hear at a party at the couple’s house. Some of the songs from the CD were played that night at the reception as we danced and reveled towards morning. Other songs on the mix are just great tunes seemingly written about this particular couple. All of the music reflects the sentiments of their wedding day, the love and romance that the bride and groom shared with each other and their friends and family.
Of course, handing out this CD—this nice gesture towards the wedding guests—was illegal. Copyright law, you know.
Even before this CD was distributed, music had already played prevalently at the wedding. From the soft tunes piped through a PA system from the groom’s PowerBook before the ceremony to that chart-topper “The Wedding March,” we rejoiced in music throughout the day. This should come as no great surprise, as music has played a role in celebration since the dawn of time. Wedding traditions are rife with music: Who among you happily married folk can’t recall Your Song from that first dance as husband and wife? Have you ever stopped to think about who “owns” Your Song?
Music ownership is not the black-and-white issue that the RIAA and other corporate interests would have us believe. Any work of art, especially commercially produced music, is a two-way communication between artist and audience. (Yes indeed, music played in the woods where no one can hear it earns no royalties.) The value in this relationship actually comes from both parties; how we interact with and relate to music is important. Hopefully we as a society keep this in mind when the RIAA and its lawyers start their thugging and suing in order to exert more control over the populace.
Of course, maybe I’m wrong and when we get married we should all be paying a fee to the corporation that absorbed Wagner’s sheet music company.