Broken Links

Jonathan Bellman

Recently I found that a couple of the links in a blog I wrote a few months ago called The Road Not Traveled have been disabled by YouTube. One was disabled without further explanation; another was disabled at the insistence of Viacom, poor starvelings that they are. Yeah, I know:

1) I should have paid more attention when the disabling business was on the news.
2) It isn’t a national tragedy; why don’t I figure out something major to complain about? Cancer, the Middle East, universal health care?
3) It’s their legal right, their property, do I think they’re a charity, or that copyrighted material is shareware? What the hell is wrong with me? This is why musicological naïfs are kept safe and warm in universities so they won’t make idiots of themselves in public.

And yet: who benefits from the UN-availability of live performances from the 1970s by the likes of Randy Newman and Billy Joel available? Are those things going to be available elsewhere? Is the sudden disappearance of white-hot performances down the cosmic memory hole somehow better for the artists and their reputations? People who like hot piano-playing? Corporations, including Viacom? Their legal teams? Calliope and the other muses? Capitalism? America?

I wonder how much profit the corporations think they lost while those artists’ old performances were up on YouTube. (I certainly hope that it wasn’t the artists themselves who are inclined to be this venal.) According to the definition s.v. “Maxims” on (nothing but the most recherché, specialized sources for me), one of the “a collection of legal truisms which are used as ‘rules of thumb’ by both judges and lawyers” is: The law disregards trifles. (Years ago my father, who had a semester or two of law school, taught this to me as “The law does not take trifles into account.” In fairness, when I brought this in my Principles of Law class in high school, the long-suffering teacher Tom Minnock rejoined “Are you kidding? The law is about trifles and hair-splitting!”)

Where was I? Look: Randy Newman doing a nice New Orleans-type solo, Billy Joel whipping off a warp-speed breakdown piano solo…financially speaking, these are trifles. How much money do the corporations, bless them, think they were actually losing? Is it simply the pleasure of control—we have it and you don’t and our legal teams counsel us not to say anything further?

Naught to do but quote Paul Simon (I probably use this every month): “The music suffers, baby; the music business thrives.”

If you didn’t get a chance to hear these wonderful performances, I guess you’ll have to trust me about how great they were. Sorry.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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3 Responses to Broken Links

  1. Lane Savant says:

    Great Ape social hierarchies prevail.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s this aspect: “the sudden disappearance of white-hot performances down the cosmic memory hole” – that I find most upsetting. For a while, the world might have been improved by ready, easy access to such things (which have zero economic viability as DVD releases, etc), but it seems the big corps would prefer a duller, more mediocre life for us all.
    To play devil’s advocate: I think Viacom would argue that the individual videos might be trifles, but taken as a whole, the thousands of them on Viacom warrant legal investigation. Somewhere in here is the disconnect: the individual video to us is not a trifle, to Viacom it is; the mass is (apparently) very important to Viacom, and we couldn’t give a hoot.

  3. (second Viacom should read YouTube)

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