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Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century Hardcover – April 5, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"This book is for music lovers and those of a certain age who remember artists from the Jazz and Rock days of the 1960s when tape recorders and vinyl were in place and bootlegged recordings of Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin were the in-thing to have. You can see how [Cummings] has enjoyed researching the detailed background of music piracy which makes this book a jolly good read providing the history of music piracy from the late 19th century onwards." --Entertainment Law Review


"Offers a detailed narrative account of how [copyright] issues became so complicated - and how, in the face of corporate pressure, they're becoming brutally simpleEL Cummings has provided a usable, musical past." --Jim Cullen, History News Network


"Valuable... Cummings' book makes clear that piracy will continue, and that that is far from being a bad thing." --Reason


"From Supreme Court battles over player piano rolls to the music industry's $75 trillion lawsuit against Limewire, Democracy of Sound shows how we arrived at today's debates about music ownership and piracy. Cummings is not only a skilled historian, but also a lively story-teller who can explain complex copyright issues with admirable clarity. For anyone with an opinion about the politics, economics, and ethics of music copying, this book offers essential perspective." --David Suisman, author of Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music


"Piracy may be the dominant issue troubling musicians and the culture industries today, but as Alex Cummings shows, struggles over appropriation, sharing, and theft have long shaped the entire history of recorded sound and the music business. Combining legal, cultural, and business history, Democracy of Sound elegantly and impartially illuminates how Americans made music into a thing, while fighting bitterly over who would gain access to that music. Anyone with any interest in the future of copyright or in our cultural past should read this important book." --Charles F. McGovern, author of Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945


"Beautifully crafted, intelligently researched, and cogently argued, Democracy of Sound offers readers a compelling analysis of the changing legal status of recorded music in the United States from the 1870s to the present. Many books have been written about intellectual property; few have done more to make its significance accessible to the general reader. It will appeal not only to specialists in American studies, music, and law, but also to anyone who cares about American popular culture, past and present." --Richard John, author of Network Nation


About the Author


Alex Sayf Cummings is Assistant Professor of History at Georgia State University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199858225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199858224
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,033,122 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on March 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The story of music copyright is a subset of the story of the total disregard for intellectual property rights in the USA. This is explored to the fullest in the Smuggler Nation. Music copyright has its own twisted story, but the model fits right in, and is an important aspect of the sordid history of appropriation in the USA. As America grew, smuggling, piracy and copying was not merely ignored, it was actively encouraged - right in the highest levels of government, the office of the president. The nation built it into its genes. With books, for example, there was 25% tariff to help keep imported books out, and since foreigners were also not allowed to hold US copyrights, American publishers simply bought one copy and reset it for sale in the USA. Bravo.

Then, the pendulum swung from that extreme to the other, as the USA became the most lawbound, locked up copyright haven in the world. This is now the land where Brownies get busted for singing Happy Birthday at a beach bonfire in California. And where the record companies got together to sue limewire.com for $75 Trillion, supposedly representing the losses they somehow suffered over Limewire's brief time online, although it would appear to be more money than there has ever been in the whole world in all of history. But US copyright law is now on the publishers' side.

When electronics permitted the democratization of music, the ownership of it suddenly became an issue. Even when the laws changed to finally permit such ownership rights, the police had to be taught and convinced it was even worth pursuing, because until 1971, it was normal. Major record companies accelerated the push, pleading horrific hardship at the hands of bootleggers who were able to sell a few hundred copies.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Alex Sayf Cummings takes us through the entire history of piracy and, most important, copyright of music. He introduces us to some of the more fascinating characters, the notorious pirates, the music lovers who started the idea of sharing music and collecting the work of the greats from Jelly Roll Morton to the Grateful Dead. He takes us through the rapidly changing technology of recording sounds/music, showing us the difficulty the legal system had and still has in trying to keep up and understand the implications of technological changes and how copyright and property rights intersect as politics changed. It is a great book for music enthusiasts and for those who are interested in the concept of intellectual property and what is means in todays digital age.
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Format: Hardcover
The Democracy of Sound: Music, Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century Century by Alex Sayf Cummings (Oxford University Press, 2013, 272 Pages, $29.95) makes a persuasive argument for the positive elements gained from bootlegging and even piracy in democratizing the distribution of recorded sound, particularly music, to the broader world created by the creation of new technologies and its spread worldwide. In a book based on his doctoral dissertation at Columbia University, Cummings examines the history of copyright law back almost to Gutenburg, with emphasis on the legal precedents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the effects from the rise of new media and popular culture through the influence of the counterculture, Deadheads and Hip Hop, and the globalization of piracy. Much of the text is critical of court support for establishment capital and organizations against the urge to democratize sound, but is always balanced and scholarly in its discussion of the role of the courts and business interests. The book is remarkably free of cant and extreme rhetoric in its exploration of this explosive topic. Read the full review on my blog on publication in April.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you love music you should read this book. It is a fantastic way to understand how the music industry has become what it is.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is well written and researched and delivers both sides of the issue. A great book for students of history.
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