Monday, August 26, 2013

A poorly written document on copyright law

I was seeing that the European Union is proposing to extend copyright law to 95 years (which will come closer, but still be shorter than the length of American copyright law) and found this document written by the British Phonographic Industry Ltd. (which I am certain has absolutely no interest in extending copyright *sarcasm*) which had several major problems.

  1. They claim that they will lose revenue from recordings from the 1950s and 1960s, which will be a significant blow to their revenues. (page 3)  If they can't find new musicians regularly than they need to work harder to get people to come to their corporation. If this logic had been going on, for lets say, 200 years, one could imagine a record label saying in 1865 (or so) "We will soon lose a lot of revenue from the works of Ludwig van Beethoven which will be a significant blow to our shareholders" which continuing this logic would mean there is some fat cat in the City of London or Frankfurt who would now own all of Beethoven's last works, no work needed besides lobbying the government. I am a musician and I was going to play Peter and the Wolf for my last concert in high school (Prokofiev died 60 years ago) but the publisher wouldn't allow my orchestra to play it, which is harmful to the economy because it decreases the number of performances of popular pieces.
  2. Extending copyright for works of which the composers are already dead means that people who want to create new versions of those pieces cannot without permission of the publisher, which given my past experience with these fat cats makes it so I highly doubt that it will be better for the economy as a whole.
  3. The companies might get 3 billion pounds of revenue from keeping old works copyrighted (imagine if one company still owned all of Beethoven's works from the last 15-20 years of his life) but I would bet the reduction of performances and variations on old pieces being written will reduce British GDP by more than 3 billion pounds. (Imagine if the 500 best known pieces from the 1950s and 1960s get a lot more variations written by musicians over the next 15-20 years if this is not extended and each piece will cost roughly 7 pounds. If each of these sells 1 million copies, that is equal to 3.5 billion pounds, which means by extending copyright if these figures are correct will reduce overall British GDP by 500 million pounds. It requires the big picture of the economy beyond these companies bottom line.)
  4. If these companies can only conceive of increasing their profits by protecting their music from (mostly) long-dead composers instead of finding new musicians to publish, than they don't deserve to be in business.
  5. The 3 billion pounds figure is over the next 50 years which means the total impact to these companies' profits will be on average 50 million pounds annually across the entire recording economy. Getting one new album to sell 10 million copies globally (or a global market penetration of about 0.1%) for 5 pounds each year will make up this difference.
  6. The most ludicrous of all their claims is that extending copyright makes pieces more available. There are a few channels on Youtube I really enjoy listening to, (predominately GoldieG91) that have music written by early 20th century composers who are not well-known. When I try to find the music to these pieces in stores, and sites like musicnotes online where I want to purchase the pieces to make variations of them, I can't find them because the companies that own the pieces don't publish them a lot. With lesser known pieces I think the probably see no profit in marketing these beautiful pieces they own. If the pieces were out of copyright someone would find the piece and put it on where everyone can find it. As a musician, I have observed that copyright actually decreases the availability of lesser known old pieces, and has absolutely no impact on the availbility of cultural standards like most of George Gershwin's works.
I am in favor of limited copyright, but the current attitude of the recording industry is that they need to keep all of their older pieces which means they have little to no incentive to find new works. Keeping copyright on old works forever hurts musicians, composers, and everyone but the shareholders of the companies, and the shareholders might actually be losing out because the companies have absolutely no incentive to find new pieces which will boost their revenues beyond what extending copyright will provide because most people who want these older pieces already have them. All in all, this is a really absurd article.

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