what happened, allegedly...?
Just as I began to think that I had satisfied all of the relevant parties regarding the plagiarism issues at the site, along comes another threatening e-mail. This one was more aggressive than the previous one and it mystified me in many ways. Why do these people feel so threatened by Soulwalking? I am rewriting the texts, uploaded the 600 (or so) artists that don't appear in their book and I am updating any mis-information.
All of this is beginning to feel as if there are other issues going on here.
The last 150 years (yes, I know that this has a feel of 'War and Peace' looming on the horizon but please humour me!), there have been a great many things transpire if you are a Black resident of this planet. Look at the images below. All were taken within the 150 year period.
These first two images were taken in the first third of those years. On the left is a slave that had been whipped on a cotton plantation in Louisiana in 1863. The gentleman on the right is called Buddy Bolden. This is part of the only known photo of his band and was taken in 1905 (the full image is at the end of this piece). Bit fuzzy, but Buddy played a big part in Black History. There you are. One part of Black History that should never be forgotten, another that should be celebrated. I don't know who the man on the left is, with his back in tatters. Buddy is credited as being the spark that ignited Jazz Music. The inflections he added into his cornet playing led to a newer freestyle of musical performing that set the stage for the next 100 years.
Declaration Of Independence 1776 (click on the image)
Now do bear with me concerning these timelines, there is a thread of thought of which you will have your own theory's. Jazz became one of the most influential parts of the tapestry of the singer and song, however, by the time the genre had hit the Forties (bear in mind, Black folks were segregated from their White counterparts, whilst serving during the Second World War) and Fifties, it had been picked up by a wider audience. A White one. Now to make the music acceptable to these new party goers, Black people had to change their demeanour. Lena Horne, for example, had to 'whiten up' her appearance before performing on stage. Even by the Sixties, if you spoke of Jazz Singers, White people would cite Frank Sinatra and his kind as examples. Many of the Black Jazz artists had retreated to the underground scene by that time.
Above are the 1960's versions of the earlier images. The unacceptable face of bigotry, offset by the person that speaks their truth quietly and clearly. Sure, by the end of the Sixties many of the men in white hoods had taken more of a back seat. Coloured folks could sit where they liked on buses and in restaurants, something that had not been possible up until that time. Problem solved...or had it been?
The following decades saw some of, what the White establishment viewed as the acceptable faces of the brother and sisterhood rising to positions of power and influence, non more so than within the sporting arena and the arts. The 1968 Olympic Games produced a peaceful protest of Black Power and that was deemed to be O.K. by the White establishment although, if any of these guys got out of hand, people like Malcolm X, they could always be disposed of one way or another.
These timelines all became about controlling the Black person. Socially, today, if you are Black and young, the temptations to become involved within the drug 'industry' are great. Drugs became readily available within the Black community and some argue the dealers receive the nod from the political powers that be. Now if the White man could pit the Black person against his brother, then the Black community could 'kind of' police themselves. Throw in a few guns and there you have it. Chaotic.
What about the cultural side of things? Buddy's musical kick off led to various forms of Black Music becoming hi-jacked by White audiences. How many popular songs, from the Fifties onwards, have you heard and thought that you were hearing the original, only to find out at a later date that the song was originally written and recorded by a Black person. Hundreds out there. The music industry is full of businessmen and women who do not have the vested interests of the artist at heart. If you can control 'the generators' of the music, there is money to be made. Music, lyrics and....books.
This return of the legal machinery smacks of control and power.
Another $150,00 dollars? As before, I am not going to name names. The most recent messenger referred to her 'predecessor'. The previous deliverer of bad tidings. Wonder why she went on to other pastures?
As far as the plagiarism issue goes, well, I was informed that Aaliyah's and Luther Vandross's resume's were the offending ones this time round. I looked at the resume's and certain phrases were similar, however, they have to be. If you are asked to write a book regarding the life and times of Malcolm X, are you going to change the date of his birth or his religion so as not to appear to be copying someone else's work? Of course you are not.
O.K. Let me try to make some sense of this.
A journalist friend very kindly called me and told me that a couple of sentences within the pages in question might be construed as plagiarism from their perspective.
Had I been wrong all along?
Sat up for a while and kept thinking about the guy and his 15 colleagues who contributed to another book within this series. They got in touch last time round and had some interesting anecdotes.
£400 for 16 resume's were their payments for their efforts at the time. That is £25 per resume. If the resume took a day to collate, we are talking about a payment less than the U.K. national minimum wage. Something didn't feel right.
One other thing my friend mentioned became circulating within what is left of my grey matter! If I was a manager at that company and there was a guy in London constantly updating the resume's at his website, who is going to go out and buy my companies book? After all it is nearly 7 years old now. Lot of water under the bridge...Barry White, Curtis, Johnnie Taylor, Aaliyah passing, Luther becoming unwell etc.
Then one other thing kept spinning around in my mind. Why the pressure on me to pay them to add their name to the ownership of the texts at the site? O.K., one or two sentences don't amount to a whole resume and after all, I was crediting them the first time round and linking their book to Amazon so people could buy the writings? What would be the repercussions of me paying them to put their name all over the site?
Go back and think about the other guys writing for the other book in this series? If the company in questions name became imprinted on Soulwalking, They will have killed two birds with one stone. They would have the rights to everything at the site. 600 resume's that don't even appear in their book. An amount that would have cost them £15,000 (based upon the amount that the other contributors were paid...poorly for that matter and a long time previously) for free and they also have the other resume's updated for free, additionally. Not bad for a couple of threatening e-mails?
I don't have a problem with these guys taking the resume's. After all, I said the information should be free to all. 'Free to all' is the watchword here. If their company have the data under their copyright control, then the artist doesn't get the exposure they deserve. Someone else has to pay them for access to these facts or they just get screwed.
Why try to reign in publicity for some of the most oppressed groups and singers on the planet?
I know that I am sounding like a stuck record here, however, Soulwalking makes no profit. I am not making any money from anyone and I am not crediting myself regarding any of the biographies. I am just collating information, that's all. If you wish, look at this as a hobby. That's all it is. It is just a hobby that I feel passionately about. If my daughter paints a picture of a car that looks like a Ford, and I posted it at the site, would it be fair for that company to send her a lawsuit for $150,000 regarding reproduction of a company design?
This company can take whatever they want from Soulwalking. That is great. More exposure for many criminally ignored artists.
As I see it, if these companies have their way, they would lock up and throw away the keys on these great singers and performers, only showing any interest when the dollar bill beckoned.
Buddy Bolden's influences would fade into the rich historical tapestry of Black Culture and none of these people would take a blind bit of notice.
buddy boldens band in 1905 (rear: william warner, willie cornish, buddy bolden, james johnson - front: frank lewis and jefferson mumford)
I don't know, you get up in the morning, take a look at your electronic mailbag and go try to help a few of those lesser known labels and artists. My life for the last two and a half years really. In between that, I was told by my wife to go earn a dollar!! LOL. You go to the soul shows to help support these singers and spend a fair-sized mortgage on a record collection. An outlay that could have supported a small countries economy over the last 30 years!
I guess that day the threats of lawsuits arriving, would come one day or another. What surprised me was that it would come from words and not music? This industry, if it teaches you one thing, is you are walking on eggshells, all of the time. LOL. In the case of audio, I tried real hard at the outset to make sure that it streamed, so that I wouldn't do the artist, or company, out of their royalties. Really wanted to avoid a Napster or Audiogalaxy scenario, that's all. Streaming seemed to be the answer, so that was the route I took. Audio sorted? Who knows? Maybe for now.
Texts are a more contentious issue. What I decided to do at the outset was to name all of the reference points that I referred to for information within the biographical section. So as not to upset anyone, I did not put my name by any of the writings. Hard thing to get around, however, I have learned that facts and discographies are not copywritable, so I thought I was O.K. on that issue. The grey area's arrive in how texts are written. Hard not to write 'Marvin Gaye was killed by his father', if someone else has written the same texts and not be accused of something or other. 'That's the way of the world' as Earth, Wind and Fire once sang.
One thing that I always had stuck in the back of my mind was this. If you are at college, where do you go to write a piece on, say, Stevie Wonder? You go to your local library, go on the Net, or pick up a book, take some photocopies etc. We have all done that. It is called learning. The student takes facts and writes them down. Just what I was trying to do. If an author, to try to ensnare the other scribes out there, purposely, writes an inaccuracy, who does that help in the long run? Errors are a very different 'kettle of poissons'.
That March morning, the legal wheels set in motion, was awful. I felt sick in my stomach. I thought that I had let many soul people down, along with some deejay's, labels and artists. I felt such a fool.
The way I tried to compile the pages was to stick to the facts and not use opinions. I named the reference books, from whence the relevant factual information came from, and stated that I made no money from Soulwalking. I added a link to Amazon so folks could go buy these books or I added weblinks to the various relevant sites. Just thought that was fair.
A $150,000 dollar law suit? Strikes me that the World we live in rewards those who behave poorly and discriminates against those who...to quote Spike Lee...try to 'do the right thing'. On the other hand, bear in mind, that is purely my perspective. Others have theirs and they are all part of the bigger picture. All opinions are relevant.
So what happened after the initial contact? Well, I was asked for a phone number here. No-one got in touch...then the soul site's visitors e-mails started arriving. Some with financial support (which I declined. Nice thought, from good people, however, I was never in it for the money. That is the 'man in Wall Street's' bag!).
There were some offering legal advice. Kind as well. Some from the authors of other versions of the series (very interesting), some from artists who had featured at the site, some from the BBC, some from U.S. legal teams, one from ABC, all of which were all very touching.
What made me really lose it were the ones that came in from regular soul fans. They are in this thing for the same reason I am. When someone tells you that they feel they have 'lost a friend', what can you say? My wife got angry with me, my daughter got confused and I realised what I knew all along. The silent majority of people out there are quite magnificent. That word doesn't express the love that I have for these people.
Self criticism? Sure, I screwed up. I don't know the protocol in this strange musical world, however, I have a good idea right now.
I did, finally, get to speak to both companies involved. I called them. I really liked the people I spoke to. Got me slightly concerned that I didn't want them having a hard time, so I asked people not to mail them with complaints. Why should they have a hard time as a result of my naiveity? We should never shoot the messenger.
Many folks asked me to let them know if I was going to upload a precis'd version of the site? One e-mail I took was from a guy who told me he and his wife had stayed up until 4 in the morning checking the audio at the site! Hope it was a smoocher at the last tune!! LOL. There was even a request from one guy who asked me if I could mail him the site! Got to admire his confidence!! LOL
martin luther kings funeral
Two Black site visitors enrolled me as an honorary brother! I am not fit to wear those shoes. A real honor. Lost it again then.
One fantastic person who mailed me and had this to say:
'Long Story short: Your Dream helped me all through high school, and now. I appreciate all your Hard, Hard work to maintaining the site and (as the O'Jay's sing): 'Giving the people what they want.' My parents always tell me, 'You may act like what you are doing is nothing, but you could be touching lives with that same work as we speak!' You and your work have not gone unnoticed, and I just wanted you to know that. Thanks for touching me spiritually and emotionally.... and for having the balls to be one of the only people to come through thoroughly appreciating Black music and from whence it came.'
If this debacle has had no other effect, it has certainly showed me the true spirit of human kindness.
So where do we go from here? Well, the gauntlet has been thrown down and I will respond in this way.
I will re-upload the resume's on artists that do not appear in the book in question. Check those texts. Then I am going to do something that will confuse the major's, totally, out there. I will go through each of the remaining resume's and perform some more 'textural stripping'.
In 2 or so years the database will be complete with facts and nothing else (which was where I thought I was at already, however, got that one wrong mate....!).
As Soulwalking's biographical pages will all be facts and no opinion (I will leave that to the relevant page at the site), the material will not be subject to any copyright. Anyone from a student to a biographer can access, cut and paste and utilise the material however they wish. I will, as I already did at the site, not put my name by any of the texts.
The point that I am making is that I am in this for the music and not profit. This will make that crystal clear. I don't get paid for loving my wife and daughter. Why should I? I just love them. I love Soul Music. If I can help a High School student, then that is just great by me. If I can help an artist all the better. There are many sides to the beautiful 'Soul Walk' of life. If a company wants to make any profit from these writings, then great. It means the artists are receiving the exposure and respect they deserve.
Can't say fairer than that, my friends, and I will be none the richer. I am rich in family, friends and music. As I said in one e-mail response last week, 'You can get money from any cashpoint. Pure Soul Music you can't. It is more precious than that'.
Toby Walker April 2003