Monday, January 13, 2014

If musicians were small businesses, and implications

There is an interesting difference in our world between content creators and businesses. Composers in this world don't own their work. They will have a contract with the publication business, but the publication business owns their work for as long as copyright allows, and as long as the company is in existence or has been bought out by another company (when all of its property, including copyrights which are intellectual property will be owned by the new firm) which means that until copyright stops being lengthened we will likely see that nothing will enter the public domain for ever. The usual method for musicians to get published by companies is they have to sell their ownership of their work in order to get advertising, and a small paycheck based on the sales as determined with the company for a contract that will vary.

I have a small business, and when I looked at my microeconomics textbook I looked at a graph for the business of the revenue for the company and their costs versus what the content creator wants to be paid. I have a small business and have a few advertising contracts. I see the contracts between these companies and the artists as scams, swindles, and a total double standard. When I pay a company to market my company I retain my business license and ownership of all the parts that go with my business, but if I was to publish music I would have to sell my entire work. I would be locked into a contract forever and have no legal rights to the work I spent months creating.

The current situation of how music is published presents a lot of ethical quandries and questions for me. Personally, I think authors should retain their copyright for their work, and hire companies for contracted time periods the same way small businesses in any other business hire advertisers and other types of contractors, because that is all a publication business really is. They function like an advertiser in that they take something that already exists and then market it to other people. The contract would be legally binding and the artist/author and publisher would be bound by it for the time period specified in the contract (just like any other contractor). This is the way it currently works, that neither party can change the contract without the others approval. Nothing should ever change in this matter.

However, there are problems with authors/artists selling their copyrights. The biggest one is that if the author dies the copyright remains valid in perpetuity. You can't easily find George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue or American in Paris, and if the content creator has decided to stop selling the work because they find it unprofitable you can't just go legally purchase the work unless you find it in some used bookstore. There are thousands if not millions of old books and music pieces that are now out of print but not out of copyright. This needs to be rethought because it is bad for the economy and destroys potential production. Selling the copyright to the company means the musician/author can't then go find another producer for his/her work unless the contract states so. Since publishers of desired works don't usually go bankrupt, and when they do they will be purchased by a larger company. The company has no legal requirement to keep producing the work in order to retain ownership which means it is unavailable. If musicians/authors were like small businesses who sold the marketing rights to other companies but retained copyright they could sell it again when the contract expired, but the current system doesn't allow this.

There are a few solutions to this. The first is to amend copyright law requiring that the owner of the copyrighted work needs to keep producing the work at a certain interval or the work will be in the public domain, or the artists retain the copyright and when the contract expires they can find another seller. Since the artist retains the copyright for the work once the artist is deceased and the contract runs out the copyright will be nullified so works can be in the public domain when their creators are dead. As a musician this is important to me (Prokofiev is 40 years dead and the copyright owner said that my orchestra could not play Peter and the Wolf) and as someone who likes old books, this is important to me. Content should be available to use. The purpose of copyright is to "promote the progress science and useful arts" according to the US Constitution, and having a copyright on an old piece of work that no one publishes does not promote its progress, or have any use.

No comments:

Post a Comment