March 10, 2020
Continuing to release music of dead artists can raise many questions. There are different perspectives you can look at it from. This includes the perspective of a music appreciator, a legal perspective, and if it is ethically/morally wrong or not. One of these questions is, should we be happy that their music is being released even though they did not want it to be? Think of some music which was released after an artists had passed. Now think about the way it makes you feel and any significant impact it has had on you. If you removed that music from your life do you think anything would change? A follow up question is, do you think unfinished music is a case of fraud or just the work of the artist? If an artist leaves behind only vocal recordings then they are released with other components of a finished song, then clearly it isn’t only the original artists work, but does this mean it is fraud?
Some writers question who is being harmed when we listen to music against dead artists wishes. When these songs are being released, we are listening to music containing recordings that the artists probably thought were not good enough and didn’t want it heard by others. Each of these questions comes from Chris Richards’s “The Five Hardest Questions in Pop Music” and authors respences about this debate from “ARTWORLD ROUNDTABLE: How should we respond to the wishes of dead artists”.
Focusing closely on whether the unfinished work of artists as fraud or not, writer Anthony Cross delivers “I think that Jackson’s estate ought to respect Jackson’s rights of attribution and disclosure by making it clear that any unfinished works to be released are not ultimately attributable to Jackson as finished works” (Cross para 9). Cross is saying that if music is being released containing only vocal recordings, then it should not be credited to only Jackson because it is not only his work. I think this is an important debate because if it is fraud then something needs to be done about it. Releasing music this way seems to be a case of fraud. I would argue that if they are raw recordings of the artists and there are no backup vocals, written instrumental parts or recorded instrumental parts, then yes it could be considered fraud. I think so because when someone adds in all these other features it really is no longer the artists work. Only the vocals are. Maybe the artist anticipated it sounding much different and they wouldn’t like how it sounds today. If someone were to take vocal recordings from an artist still living today and released it as a full song with only the original artist’s name, they would likely be very unhappy.
Anthony Cross makes a point that they could release the music of the dead artist as a remix. If they released it as a remix then I do not think it would be considered fraud because they are putting someone else’s name on the music ALONG with the original artists name. This way no one is putting out this music with the original artists name only which could be fraud because it isn’t their own work they are presenting.
Another author, John Poland is quick to tell what he thinks. Poland’s “first thought is that it just seems like a case of fraud”(Poland para 30). He debates that the final products of the music are less the actual work of Jackson and more the work of professionals within the industry who create a finished product that did not end up the way it was intended. Although this may be considered fraud, another way to avoid that is to have it be a release with a featured artist, which in this case, would be Jackson. Poland expresses that “It might be the case that by simply renaming the release as something that just ‘features Michael Jackson’ as a contributing artist is a permissible way to sell the work.
Releasing these songs as a remix or with a “featured artist” is a way to avoid fraud when it comes to the release of their recordings from before their death. However, these might be the most morally correct solutions to avoid fraud but some will say that no one should be releasing the music at all because it may have been against their wishes. They will argue that it should not be released because it goes against the artist’s wishes but if an artist really didn’t like it then why would they keep it. They could simply destroy the recording but they did not.
In Chris Richard’s article, he suggests he believes “that vaults are meant to be cracked open — and even if they weren’t, it’s ultimately a musician’s responsibility to be clear about what should happen to their music when they die” (Richards para 14).