Monday, 26 January 2009

Sing for your supper a footnote to the previous post.

The main argument put forward for copyright extension from the musicians and the music industry is that it will provide income for less well known artists and session musicians when they get to pensionable age.

While it's probably true that as a pensioner it's nice to get a little extra at the end of the month I have to say that anyone that's worked from age 20 to age 65 ought to be expected to have made some provision for their retirement during that time. To say that an individual is dependant on the creative work they did when they were twenty is simply put, sad - and copyright income from their thirties, forties and fifties will continue to roll in over several decades of retirement.. . And to say that they will still be dependant on that income when they get to be 115 is absurd.
(There are a great many innovative and creative people in many walks of life that get paid by the hour for their talents... the ability to get paid many times over after the event is a rare privilege!)

Artists - the one's that aren't just doing it because it's fun or cool - make records to get rich now. They want to become famous and they want their song to be public property - played everywhere on the radio, in bars and in clubs. So, now you've had 50 years of living off your five minutes of stardom... Book closed.

Unless of course you consider that for fifty years record companies have been cutting deals with musicians that don't make adequate provision for their future pension requirements. That you might consider exploitative on the part of the record company - and somewhat short sighted on the part of the artists.... but surely that's something they ought to sort out amongst themselves??

Rights and wrongs

Pretty soon the EU will be considering proposals to extend copyright on music to 95 years from the present 50 years... It's a proposal that's being pushed by the music industry -unsurprisingly - so you might think that it would be good for the music industry as a whole and for musicians in particular. Artists will earn more, and we will get a strong and vibrant music industry - won't we? Somehow I am unconvinced.


What does it mean for artists cutting records today?? Well... in fifty years time you can continue to earn on your records for a further 45 years. .. and if not you, then your descendants - at the very least your record label. Well, the fact is that the majority of artists struggle to GET rich on their current success, and earn very little from back catalog sales - and artists themselves see issues with these proposals because of dilution of revenue to go to artists estates, and problems with orphan works..

Anyway most artists trade some or all of their rights to income to their record company in return for someone who will (while it suits them) promote and distribute their music. So 95 years of rights must be worth more than 50 years right? Which means artists can get more when they sign away their right, right?

Well not exactly, that's the rub. Simple economics says that the 'net present value' of a return in 50 (or 90) years time is next to nothing. There is negligable economic benefit to justify any investment now in an asset that matures in 50 years... particularily with no clue as to whether an artist will be of interest then.

So what is the benefit then?? Well... record companies with back catalogs of titles that are 45 years or more old can see an extension of their chance to income from those old works. s soon to be worthless --- and by a stroke of the legislators pen they get to put millions on to their balance sheet.

But now lets assume that the consumer only has so much money to spend on entertainment... and that a record company normally spends a fixed proportion of it's budget on marketing and sales. The tempatation - nay, the clear intention - is that the record company will spend money to market and exploit the back catolog they're sitting on. This has two effects... money they draw in from consumers is money that's not available to be spent on new artists and new creativity. Moreover, because the media giants are focussed on milking their existing assets they are not investing in bringing on new talent and reinvigorating the market.

The nett effect? Today's culture loses out - the sources of revenue for new artists are lower - the opportunity for new artists to reach a wider audience are fewer, and the exposure of the audience to new music is less. We are culturally poorer - and fewer musicians are able to earn their daily bread.

Copyright is a limited monopoly granted by society to protect society's cultural interests by allowing artists to be supported from their creativity. But it's clear that for the most part this proposal does nothing to further the publics interest, nor even that of most artists... it is quite simply a protectionist measure which benefits two groups...

First there are the music companies that today have a soon to be worthless back catalog that can expect to get in effect free money from a change in the existing rules.

..and yes, there are some artists that continue to be popular and sell in volumes two generations after their initial work is published - but to be honest, songs that have been around for fifty years - especially well known and popular ones are very much part of the public domain. An artist or his/her record label have had more than enough time to rake in a reward for the months, weeks or minutes it took to produce.

Or as one academic put it... this idea is good only for "record companies, aging rock stars or, increasingly, artists' estates. It does nothing for innovation and creativity."

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

He who pays the piper...

Musicians ought to be able to make a living from their skills and creativity....

..but I find that I increasingly side against the music industry in the debate on use of copyright material.

Why? Well
.... the music industry are trying very hard to establish a monopoly position controlling both the music rights and the means of distribution.
.... they are seeking to use that position to the detriment of the consumer
.... I really don't agree with their position on what I get rights to when I buy piece of music.

Basically I think they are being greedy, and that their position is out of balance with 'natural justice'. Moreover, in their desire for profit they are lobbying, all too successfully, for unprecedented measures that violate hitherto sacrisanct concepts of privacy. I find that both offensive and objectionable.

Pizza with a song?

A pizza restaurant in Malmö is being prosecuted for not paying for a performing rights licence to be able to play the radio to their customers.

They have been asked several times to pay for a licence but have repeatedly declined using the feeble excuse that they don't have a radio...... Apparently no-one from STIM has actually been there to check.

..and you have of course noticed that a radio station in any case already pays for the right to broadcast music to the public?

[Errata: Apparently it is not STIM but SAMI, and it's not a radio it is a TV, and it is actually there - but only used to show sport - and hence there is no or negligible music]

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Virtual rights

There is lots happening to regulate use of the internet - and allow unwarranted surveillance of individual use of the medium. Rick Falkvinge has written an excellent piece that highlights the fundamental point that use of the Internet should have the same rights and protection as conventional media. Something that seems to completely have passed regulators by...

..but as it's written in Swedish I'll put my translation of it here:

"People talk of a the Internet being a lawless land with Internet advocates wanting different rules to those that normally apply "In Real Life".. but they are missing an important point - we want the complete opposite. We want the same rules on the net as apply outside the net.

Since the 1960s it's been possible to copy for example a poem or drawing and send it to someone through the post. It is absolutely forbidden for anyone to open a letter to see if it contains a photocopy of something, notwithstanding copyright. The integrity of the post is sacrisanct.
We demand that the same rules apply on the net as off it.

Since the 1700s it has been possible to send letters anonymously and act anonymously to drive social or political questions, send tips to reporters etc.
We demand that the same rules apply on the net as off it.

Since the 1850s it's been possible to get access to all current culture and knowledge without limits, even without paying for your own copy, by using a library.
We demand that the same rules apply on the net as off it.

It is completely tabu for the state or others to register who sends letters to each other or to monitor who reads what at the library.
We demand that the same rules apply on the net as off it.

Since roman times there has been full immunity for the bearer of messages. That's to say that the bearer has no form of responsibility for the content of communication carried between two other parties.
We demand that the same rules apply on the net as off it.

Ever since there have been post and telephone companies it has been absolutely tabu to try and restrict communication to or from specific adresses or telephone numbers based on any moral other viewpoint.
We demand that the same rules apply on the net as off it.

The lawmakers don't seem to understand that civil rights apply even to communication that citizens conduct on the Internet. That lack of understanding sets the whole concept of civil rights at risk."


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