Archive for February, 2008

EU commisioner proposes to extend copyright for performing artists to 95 years.

Posted in copyright, freedom, ifpi, riaa on February 15, 2008 by qplqyer

And yet another copyright post.

Today the news was announced that an EU commissioner might consider extending copyright for “performing artists” to 95 years. It was assured that this was not for the known and rich artists, but to support the anonymous, unknown, “session musicians” that played on recordings that later became hits. According to the EU commisioner, it would be necessary to extend the copyright given to these artists since people live longer and therefore would otherwise have no income from successful songs that they record in their late teens, which is most of the time their only pension.

Now, first of all there are absolutely no reasons to give session musicians copyrights. Copyright is (or better: was supposed to be) a balance between artists and the society, where a monopoly is given to the artist for a limited period of time (this is probably not totally correct regarding the European interpretation; according to Lawrence Lessig in “Free Culture”, copyright in the EU is regarded as a natural right, not as a trade-off between artists and society, but I find that a resentful thought) to give an incentive to create. All fair and square one would think, since this prohibits an evil company from taking a song from someone and producing it much cheaper, therefore hindering that person for profiting from his own works.

But, copyright should never be allowed to exists until infinity: music and other works should be released as a public good once enough time has been given to the artist to be able to gain an income(*) from his creation. After this work enters the “public domain” (i.e. is free for anyone to copy, alter, etc) the artist can still make money from his work by performing, selling the number through his website etc. (he will face competition, but that is only in the best interest of society, since this results in lower prices, without leading to bankruptcy of the artist, unless he chooses to never release a number again. But if the artist never releases a number again, the copyright did not succeed in creating an incentive to create, rather it succeeded in creating a one-time incentive and thus this is bad for society).

(*) Note that I did not say the word “profit” here. In my opinion, it is not a task of society to make sure someone makes a profit. Rather, it is the task of society to make sure artists can cover their living, therefore a “breaking-even” should be necessary. In fact, maybe copyright should be abandoned once the artist has surely made a break-even.

Now that we have gotten out of the way what copyright actually means, consider the case of session musicians. These are people who get paid to play songs other persons have written. Either on a record or in a performance. Knowing what copyright is supposed to do (creating an incentive to create by allowing one to not go bankrupt while pursuing a career as an artist), why would any session musician need copyright? If one wants to profit from the fact that he played in a successful number, he can change the contract he signed regarding his performance to include a fee for every record sold. Furthermore, if a number is successful, then he probably can be asked to accompany the performer on the road, hence gathering an income that way.

So, any session musician can get an income from any number he played and get a higher income if the number he played on was successful. Why would they need a copyright then? I surely cannot provide any answer to that, since any reason for introducing the burden of copyright can be solved by means of a contract.

Furthermore, this extension is supposed to give session musicians a pension, since royalties are most of the time their only income. Now let us pause for a moment. There are probably tens of thousands of session musicians. Most of them will never have played on a successful number and hence will never have made big money from their royalties. So these artists will not benefit from any copyright extension as well. It can be assumed that these musicians will have made sure to have a pension when they are old, through means of some pension scheme, savings and other incomes. Then, why would we have to place an extra burden on society for a monopoly (tax even) that only benefits the musicians that would not need this pension the most? Or to give a monopoly to persons who should have ensured their pension during their career instead of counting on an extension further on?

The EU commisioner tries to obscure the fact that these copyrights were only introduced a couple of years ago by stating that people live longer now, making it seem as if he just wants to update an old law to come to terms with the current state of affairs, but who can honestly believe that the drafters of the former law did not know that people ten years from then would all of a sudden live longer than 50 years? And if I would be wrong, and there were laws for these musicians before the EU directive that I know of, then these laws can maximally only have been drafted when the concept of a session musician on recordings has occurred, which is in the 20th century, when the recording industry and recordings emerged. I do think that people back then had the same problem of a pension than they did now (if not earlier, since they started working on an earlier age).

The only reason I can think of why this copyright extension would be needed, apart from greed from the session musicians of those records, (but it is pure speculation) is that the recording industry, in all of their greed, persuaded a lot of sessian musicians in their late teens to play on a record without a contract, without a big renumeration, but with the guarantee of royalties. Session musicians would sign a contract in which they signed away all of their copyrights to the record company and so the record company could make a recording at a very low rate, only having to pay people for a recording if a song was successful.

But is that a good reason to extend this copyright? This again shows that these copyrights for session musicians do not benefit the session musicians, but, as in the case of regular copyright, only the recording industry wins from this. And again, if this were the case, then these people knew long beforehand that they would not get royalties from this 50 years from then. So they should have made sure to build up a pension.

So, instead of extending this copyright, we should be abandoning it. Its only use is of a tool for the record industry to pay lower wages to session musicians, but all of this can be done with contracts instead of the burden of copyright. Who wants to try and make this clear to some other (or this) EU commisioner and change this absurd race for copyright extensions we are seeing?


Why copyright should never exceed an author’s lifespan.

Posted in copyright, freedom, ifpi, mpaa, riaa on February 4, 2008 by qplqyer

Whilst reading the excellent book “Free Culture” by Lawrence Lessig, I came across a paragraph where he briefly mentioned a possible reason as to why copyright would need to exceed the lifespan of an author. The reason that was mentioned (not put in stone, Lessig did not say it was a necessity, but only mentioned it in passing) was to give an income to the widow of an artist.

This is however an argument that holds no water at all. Copyright is a provision that a society gives to an author to ensure they can have an income, this means royalties stemming from copyright should be seen as a paycheck given by society to the author. If copyright is a paycheck given by society however, then copyright should end when a person dies, since I don’t believe any widow gets a paycheck from the employer of her husband when her husband dies. Pensions were designed to give people who cannot work due to their age still some form of income and it is a pension that the widow should receive as a gift from society, not copyright. Furthermore, if the widow does not want to live off of a pension alone, then, like any other person that works for his or her money, it is the artist itself that should create savings, created out of royalties or other work, to pass on to his offspring and/or widow when he passes away. It is not society (i.e. the employer of the artist) that should carry the burden of the siblings and spouses of these persons after his life, but the artist himself. Exactly as any other person.

There is simply no reason to differentiate between artists and other persons in this case, because the only discrepancy that existed between the income of regular persons and artists was solved by introducing the copyright for this person.

Likewise, there is no reason that when a person receives pension from society, he would still need to receive royalties from works and in this way getting paid double by society. This is the reason why copyright should also be limited in time, shorter than the average lifespan of an author. We can consider a renewal term however, which though should have a negative impact on the pension a person can receive as to make sure only works that will still have an economic value get a renewal of copyright. The same could hold for widows of artists.