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Luciano Pavarotti died today... A music-less tribute, thanks to copyright law
Thursday, September 06 2007 @ 07:12 AM EDT

Luciano Pavarotti just died. I adore Pavarotti's singing. I have some of his CDs and I attended a concert once where I had the exquisite pleasure of hearing him sing live, which is nothing at all like hearing him on CD.

I asked an opera singer, a friend of mine, who studied with the same coach as Pavarotti, what made the difference. Because there were many singers on that stage at that concert, and only one of them made my ears tremble pleasurably with their singing. Literally. He said it's a technique of tongue placement, placing it right behind the bottom teeth. It doesn't sound so romantic, telling it that way, but I assure you it's an experience I'll simply never forget, because it was unique. I'd never experienced it before, and I never have since. It's not every man who can say he can do something for a woman that is unique.

It's fair to say my favorite single piece of music is him singing Nessun Dorma. I wrote to him once, because I just had to tell him how I felt. I asked a friend to help me so I could write it in Italian. I wasn't looking to meet him or anything like that. I just wanted to tell him and share a thought or two. And he wrote me back, a very warm and friendly note. He'd written it on an old fashioned typewriter, the kind you have to bang on to get the keys to hit the ribbon, like my mom prefers. And he'd signed it personally. I still have it. Of course.

So when I read that he had died, I cried. Next, I started wanting to hear him sing once again. But I wanted to see him too. So I looked on the Internet, and I found two videos I decided I wanted to share with you, on a certain website that shall be nameless in this context, one of my favorite, Nessun Dorma, and another of him and James Brown (It's a Man's World) in a collaborative duet, Pavarotti in Italian, and Brown doing his thing. It's very special. But, then I was stopped in my tracks. My paralegal brain started working. I started thinking about copyright law.

Can I safely link to those video clips? Maybe not. Maybe someone will claim copyright infringement. How about I don't link, then, but I just do text urls? No? Still could get sued? I could hint, give the title and the artists and the website and you could find it for yourselves, brainiacs that you are.

That might be bad. What if the website reads Groklaw and removes the videos for fear someone's lawyer will sue? Or someone sues the guy who uploaded it, and I'm to blame for his sorrows? No, that's out. I'm a straightforward person. I don't want to be devious.

But it's an outdoor concert. Surely they gave instructions to the audience on what they could and couldn't do. What if they did but someone cheated? Or they said nothing. The default is no copying. It's so complicated [PDF], the rules on paying, even if you know who to pay.

What if I think it's OK and I link to it and some friend of SCO's or Microsoft, drooling to cause me pain and trouble, proxy-sues me for putting a link to content that allegedly infringes someone's copyright?

Right. Like they wouldn't.

Or the RIAA gets wind of it and sues me for millions, a dollar for each of you who clicked, according to Media whatever that outfit calls itself nowadays they hire to collect IP addresses badly, and they say I'm getting the special deal they only offer to people willing to sign a paper acknowledging my guilt and promising never to link to Pavarotti again as long as I live, on pain of God knows what penalty next time. Kidding. Not about the suing part, though.

I next tried to find any CD that might have the duet for sale. At least I could point you in that direction. I can't find it for sale anywhere.

Whose copyright is it? Let's think it through. Pavarotti? His widow? The concert hall? The TV station that aired it? James Brown's heirs? I don't want to tangle with that mercenary crew. They couldn't even get him buried while they wrangled with each other.

What about fair use? Does it apply? Let's review the factors...

How do I know? Nobody knows until they get sued.


I spent four hours thinking it all through. I want to respect the law, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, but what is it?

But I really want you to see this man sing. I wanted to pay tribute to his talent. And this is history. Hmm. Maybe that makes it fair use? I can do commentary, and Groklaw is noncommercial, and it's a news story. Maybe I'm overreacting and giving up fair use rights I actually have, like Bound by Law says.

Yeah, but music. They sue people for three notes. What has the entertainment industry wrought, this terrible fear of sharing culture?

So, I went searching for some legal way. I hunted and hunted for some evidence that the clips were ever sold anywhere. Not that I could find. So, I wouldn't be undermining any commercial venture. Except folks do sell Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma and James Brown singing It's a Man's World.

I tried his official website. Maybe they'd have clips to share there they want you to sample. Many artists do. No. It's shut down, just a picture of Pavarotti. Google shows a cached version of what it normally looks like, but you can't enter the site right now. That is their tribute, no doubt, but it meant I couldn't find anything to share with you from that source.

I next found out, after much searching, that the James Brown duet was part of a charity concert in 2002, one of a series that Pavarotti hosted in his home town of Modena, to benefit Angolan refugees. It was aired on RAI UNO television live. So, I reasoned, does that mean I can show it to you? They aren't collecting money for that purpose from it now, after all. Maybe?

What if some television guy has some deal to be the exclusive source of Pavarotti and Friends videos? And they're up all night right now editing it with dreams of making a mint in the wake of Pavarotti's death?

Lou Reed sang at that same concert. And he was quoted as saying this about the experience:

Reed shrugs. 'I don't know. I'm afraid to commit to saying anything that aggressive, that I know what wisdom is. But I'm trying. And at least I know the area I'm trying in now. I was doing this thing with Pavarotti - this is five, six years ago - and James Brown was there. I'd met him before. So we got to talking. This is James Brown .... James! Brown! And he says, "You know, Lou" - he calls me Lou, right; last time before that we met, he says, "Hey, Wildside" - and I say, "Yes, Mr Brown," because you always call him "Mr Brown"; he says, "Well, Lou, you know what the difference is?" And I say, "No I don't, Mr Brown, what is the difference?" And he says, "The difference is, now we know why we're doing what we're doing."

'Now I happened to know what he meant. At that point I'd come far enough down the road to know what he was talking about. He'd figured out why he was out there doing music. Why he's out there in the middle of God knows where doing this thing; why Luciano is out there doing It's a Man's World with him. That was amazing. James Brown and Pavarotti singing together, with an orchestra.'

So I went to RAI UNO's website. Maybe I could find a contact email and I could ask if they'd mind. No -- that would take too long. He died today. Three days from now is too late.

Well, maybe they'll have a clip of him, since they aired his concerts.

So I tried. The videos I wanted to show you, I can't, as I don't see them there. But there is on the RAI TV home page a video of Pavarotti that you can view for free without getting arrested and thrown in jail.

Victory at last!

So I tried to play it myself. But alas! You need Windows Media to view it.

The way I feel after the MS OOXML ISO shenanigans, I feel like I would rather die than watch my beloved Pavarotti with Windows Media at the moment. But at least I can give you a link to it, so you can watch it if you feel less emotional.

Is copyright law not ridiculous? I lack the power to change the law. So it's obey or not. And I do. I always do my best.

Culture dies when you can't see it, build on it, be affected by it, share it with your friends. Creativity is born in such soil. And culture is dying, thanks to laws that don't think about that. When all you think about is money, you lose sight of the need for culture, what it does for the human heart. Not all humans on this sad old earth have money for culture, though. It's that simple. Is the world a better place if they can't taste it? Pavarotti wasn't born wealthy. He decided to become an opera singer when he heard opera sung on the radio. What if there was no free radio for a poor youngster in a small town in Italy to listen to? Imagine what the world might have lost.

Pavarotti was criticized during his lifetime for giving free concerts, doing opera on television for the "masses", and doing the Pavarotti and Friends concerts of "lowbrow" music. But he didn't care, because he *wanted* people to enjoy music and be exposed to opera in particular. I should have written to him again while he was alive. I know... I *know* he would have granted permission. Because he was out there on that stage with James Brown singing It's a Man's World, knowing what he was doing: he was sharing culture freely with anyone who wanted to enjoy it. That is the ironic part of this frustrating tale, and it's why I decided to write my own music-free but deeply heartfelt tribute to him.

But music-free. I don't dare share with you the links to those videos. And so a little bit of culture is lost, and millions of people who read Groklaw, some of whom might never have seen the videos I wanted to share, miss the thrill of listening to this wonderful talent with me, in two short videos that no one is even selling, because I'm too worried to share them with my friends here on the day that Luciano Pavarotti died.

Update: The BBC to the rescue (if you have Real Player) -- Pavarotti singing with his father, an amateur singer. And a report on the famous concert in Hyde Park in 1991, which some criticized. And finally, a brief taste of Nessun Dorma at the end of this clip about his life. At least a taste! Even if it isn't the Torino 2006 performance.

And being Groklaw, I can't resist highlighting this geek memory of Pavarotti from Groklaw member jumpman, on his encounter with Luciano Pavarotti:


Wow you jogged the old cranium on this one...

Believe it or not I have met him as well, under extremely similar circumstances. I was working as an engineer for an AV company at the time and I was assigned to designing and final configuration of the sound system in that hall. It was put in specifically for him and was immensely complex, far past what was necessary for the day to day stuff the system would be used for. The College went all out, not because he requested it, but because WCSU wanted to give him a system that would be worthy of someone of his talent.

I spent 20 hour days, 6 days a week, for three weeks behind racks doing adjustments and setting EQ curves. The final 5% of the adjustments are always the worst, and cinder block walls and cement floor with thin carpeting made the acoustics....interesting (in the same way feeding X-lax to a dog makes a dog walk interesting). Compounding the issue was Mr Pavarotti's vast vocal range, forcing me to make adjustments in frequencies that are hardly ever used by the human voice (including rock concerts, and I have configured more than my share of those).

It was coming down to the wire and we were expecting him at any moment to go through his rehearsal. At this point I had not seen my family or my girlfriend for the past month, and I was voicing how much I was missing them to a co-worker when I feel a hand on my shoulder and a very warm voice say, "I can wait a few hours, go home and see your family."

Standing over me, with a warm smile on his face, was the man himself. After my heart went back to it's proper location (seeing as it jumped clear up to the top of my throat) I asked him if he was sure. He asked me how long I have been working on the system and how long have I been away from my family. After I told him, he playfully slapped me upside the head and told me to go home. He told me something that I will never forget. "Family is everything, there will always be more work."

Never have I been treated with more respect and treated more like a human being from a Star.

He left a lasting impression on me and my staff.

He will be dearly missed.


That's all people want from the entertainment industry too, to be treated like a human being with more respect. And please don't misunderstand my point. I think copyright law is important. I benefit personally from its protections. But could you please do something about the fair use wiggle room we've lost in the digital world? Fair use is part of copyright law too. I want to be a law-abiding person with a chance to enjoy that part of the law too, but no one knows where the line is any more, and we need to know. We know what the music industry thinks. They are like SCO. They'd apportion 100% to them, 0% to us. But I know that isn't the balance the law was designed to strike.

Update 2: Charlie Rose has some of his wonderful interviews on YouTube now, and I found the best interview of Pavarotti there. It's from 2003, and he talks about his career. There are three interviews on that segment, and his is the final one. I wish to say thank you to Charlie Rose for sharing these interviews freely with us.

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