Thursday, February 14, 2008

Copyright dilution

Copyright is supposed to be an incentive for creativity. The current term of a copyright is so long that people have a reduced incentive to be creative if they have had one or two smash hits (whether music, literature or software). e.g. the oft cited, and rather wealthy, Sir Cliff Richard.

So, yes, change is needed. But not this:

BBC NEWS | Business | Bands set for longer music rights

Extending the term of copyright reduces the incentive to be creative and so dilutes the value of copyright to the public at large, the very same public that is supposed to be represented by people like Charlie McCreevy, the European Union's internal market commissioner.

The commissioner wants to extend copyright terms because, he claims, the moral rights of the performers are at stake, but what about the moral rights of EU citizens? So a few wealthy people want to get even more money from their existing body of work, but what about the other side of the coin - what do the public get out of this that they do not already have?


Reinout Heeck said...

I read something different in that article: the EU proposes to extend the copyright for the artisans who perform someone else's work. Artists who create the work already have life+70 years of protection.

To me this sounds ludicrous - it's like if I have a carpenter lay a floor in my house I would have to pay whenever I invite public to trod on it... (well 'only' for 95 years.)

So it seem even worse than you think, the EU wants to reward some artisans (musicians) lifetime income for one-off jobs but not others (carpenters).

This all seems to have no relation to creativity whatsoever, it rather indicates that we are not prepared to pay musicians sufficient money on the spot while we don't have trouble with that in the case of carpenters.

Bruce said...

Agreed Reinout. And having read even more about this, the another obvious point I missed was that the biggest winners in this will be the recording studios, who hold most performance copyrights anyway.

Once again, the stdios hide behind the "starving artist". And I fell for it!

This proposal to extend copyright terms looks worse the more I think about it.

certifiedwaif said...

Bruce, I've got a couple of questions.

Firstly, how does copyright reduce the incentive to be creative?

Secondly, and this is in response to reinout heeck's comment, how is composing and recording a piece of music (which can be copied digitally ad infinitum) like carpentry? I could understand an analogy between musical performance and carpentry, but I don't think this analogy holds up - composers are not artisans any more than authors are.

Bruce said...


Imagine you are starving, but your copyright income just ran out. You'd go out and create something to eat, right? That's the incentive.

My understanding of Reinout's point is that a performer does a job on stage just as many people do a job at work or as a carpenter does work. The performers work can be recorded and permission to have copies may be sold. The carpenter is paid for his time or the work he produced but there is no on-going income. What makes the performers job so special that he gets to have an income for life for one job?

I think copyright is a Good Thing. I use it to protect my own work. I think we need to understand why we have it, though. It should not be a pension scheme nor a guaranteed never ending revenue stream for corporations.

One might say it's currently not never ending, but ask yourself when it will end if every time something of value to a corporation is about to enter the public domain (e.g. Mickey Mouse) the copyright term gets extended.

Reinout Heeck said...


I was specifically talking about musicians performing a work composed by somebody else. In my opinion these are artisans not artists.

Perhaps it is clearer when we talk about lighting technicians since they will enjoy the same protection as musicians in this EU proposal:

If I do the lighting for a musical performance that is recorded by some other party I will get income for life+ from that other party's recording. But if I do the lighting for a barbecue party that is recorded by a third party I will get nothing...

Tobias said...