Tom Kenyon

Copyright, Spirituality and Piracy

Background

In July of 2010, a video artist used one of my musical compositions as a background for her video without my permission or consent. While the video was of spiritual intent, the act of taking a copyrighted piece of music brought me face-to-face with my own thoughts regarding the issues of spirituality and copyright.

My Position

I have no doubt about the video artist’s pure intentions when she created the video. That is not the issue. The issue is that she never asked me if she could use the song included before posting it on YouTube®, and neither did the person who emailed it to her entire email list. I consider the actions of these two individuals to be ill mannered and simply put, illegal, since my music is protected by International Copyright (as are most musical creations that are recorded).

The fundamental reason for me asking this person to remove the video from YouTube® was the simple fact that I do not license my music to be used by anyone for any purpose—period, end of sentence. In this case, not only did the video producer take my song, but she also added a voice, her voice, reading a meditation over it, along with an alteration of the engineering by adding an additional layer of reverb, all of which are illegal actions according to international copyright law.

Ironically, I am quite generous with my music by offering many of my sound creations, in the Sound Gifts section of my website (www.tomkenyon.com). These are posted, without charge, for persons to listen to as they wish, as long as it is for their personal use only.

I think that part of the issue for me is a philosophical one. In the New Age movement, the idea of Oneness (i.e. we are all One) is a prevalent idea. In some ways I agree with this concept, with at least one caveat. In the world of duality, here in the material universe, there are also boundaries. And it has been my observation that some in the New Age don’t appreciate the need for such things as boundaries or accountability when they think they are being “moved by spirit.”

For me, spirituality is rooted in our biology. Thus, the cells of our bodies express an inherent wisdom that we would do well to consider. Each cell has a boundary between it and other cells. It has a cellular wall and tiny molecular doorways. If the cells of our bodies suddenly decided that they were All One, they would dissolve their cellular walls, and you and I would suddenly be pools of protoplasm.

What allows us to have distinct differences is essentially cellular differentiation within our bodies. But cells are not isolated from each other, even though they have protected boundaries. They have complex systems of communication, some of which are related to nerve pathways and others to subtle energies that flow from cell to cell. And as I said earlier, cells also have molecular doorways that allow nutrients and oxygen (that which gives life) to enter. Those same doorways also allow toxins and carbon dioxide (that which gives death) to leave. Thus, at the cellular level, the one trillion or so cells that make up our bodies are constantly making decisions about what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to. And when the cells of our bodies cease to make these differentiations, death is quick to follow.

The odd thing about human existence (from my perspective anyway) is that while all this cellular yes/no stuff is taking place, we also exist simultaneously in a realm of being that transcends all of this biological reality. In this realm of the Self there is no self. By that I mean that there is another part of us that is non-local and transcendent to the duality of this world. This is the inexplicable place that has no location, where we are all interconnected seemingly as One.

I believe that our civilization is at a crossroads. We are finding our way to live in two worlds, much like toddlers who are discovering how to walk in the midst of gravity. One world is the world of differences and boundaries between people. The other world is the world of interconnectedness beyond the Maya of our individual lives.

I believe in the power of synergy. And something robust happens when we merge the reality of duality and boundaries (the Maya of this world) with the reality of our interconnectedness (the Maya of the spiritual world). I used that word Maya, meaning illusion, in both cases on purpose.

As I see it, this world of duality that we live in is essentially an illusion brought about through the play of subatomic forces. But the spiritual world is also an illusion, brought about through the play or lila of light. The true reality (in my mind) is that we are pure consciousness experiencing ourselves as both matter and energy, bounded and unbounded, individual persons and interconnected.

As odd as it may sound, this philosophical underpinning is what was behind my request for my music to be removed from this “spiritual video” that I was never consulted about. The truth behind the scene is that although the video artist credited me at the end of her video, she chose to use one of my songs without asking me first. Not only was this poor manners, it was illegal.

And so at the philosophical level of things, I was faced with the task of choosing to either honor the necessity of boundaries, or let someone continue to use my music for a “spiritual intention” even though that person had no legal or ethical right to do so. I chose boundaries.

I know that a lot of stirring up is occurring in our sangha (spiritual community) by this action on my part, and also, I might add, by how my request was presented to the sangha by someone who knowingly participated with the video artist. In other words, not only was the video posted illegally on YouTube®, this person additionally sent the video to her entire mailing list.

Some people who read our private email to her were upset by the directness and language of the cease and desist order. While this type of strong language may have been upsetting to some, it is required when dealing with legal issues.

One of the things I found of interest regarding her action was how she chose to honor our request to email those who had received the video. We had simply asked her to let them know that the music had been used without permission, which is why it had been removed from the video production. Instead, she sent out an email to her entire list showing our private cease and desist order. Not only this, but she failed to include our explanatory note. We were trying to get her to understand the various complications that would arise for us if an unauthorized release of my music were to continue. But she chose to delete that portion of the email. The end result was that our communication to her was placed out of context for her readers. What could have possibly been her intent in doing this?

It never occurred to me to announce to the world that she had been involved in an illegal activity thereby publicly bringing into question her credibility and reputation. But that seems to have been her intent given how she dealt with the situation.

The actions of this New Age teacher were, to me, both in poor taste and of highly questionable intent. Indeed, this person seems to have set out to demean and defame my character.

I absolutely refuse to stoop to the level of this individual by naming her publicly. She knows her identity, and anyone who has received her email will, I suspect, be able to tell to whom I am referring.

Sadly, this entire affair could have been avoided, had the creator of the video and the person who has slammed my reputation simply had the honor to ask me if they might use my music for this project.

Putting the questionable actions of this New Age teacher aside, I wish to return to the fundamental philosophical issue in all of this.

It is truly my hope that by my choosing to honor the legal boundaries around my own music, it will help all of us to consider more deeply the paradox of separateness and interconnectedness. I imagine that this will be an on-going inquiry for our culture as we find ways to honor the interconnectedness of all life and the right for those who create to be consulted when others use their creations.

Tom Kenyon