UK Decides Against Copyright Extension -- Pity The Poor Musician Who Can't Live Off His Work From 1955 Any More

from the phew! dept

Following a long debate on the topic, it appears that over in the UK they've wised up to the fact that continuous copyright extensions don't make sense. They're set to shoot down a plan to extend copyrights to last 95 years rather than 50 years (as it is today). This is interesting for a variety of reasons, especially since it's one of the first times we've seen a copyright extension plan not sail through easily. This is, in part, because this is an issue that's finally gotten enough attention that people care about it. In the past, it wasn't thought about widely, but that's definitely changed more recently (in part due to the efforts of folks like Larry Lessig). It also could mark the end of the sneaky game of leapfrog played over the years, where Europe and the US go back and forth extending copyright further than the other, thus getting the other side of the Atlantic to push to extend copyrights to "catch up" to the other side.

There are some fairly ridiculous quotes included in the BBC piece about the UK not going forward with copyright extension, claiming that this is somehow a "blow" for the industry, and suggesting that copyright limits of "only" 50 years doesn't make sense any more because it was set in an age before popular culture (no, seriously). Apparently, the fact that the purpose of copyright is to put in place incentives for the creation of content is secondary to whether or not some musician can keep milking some song he wrote fifty years ago: "You can make a record in 1955 and have been getting royalties... been living on that and suddenly they're gone." Boo hoo. What other job in the world lets you do something in 1955 and still make a living on that work today? Most people who got paid for something in 1955 had to do it again in 1956, 1957, 1958 and every year forward if they wanted to keep making a living off of it. The quote also completely ignores all of the additional content that was created in 1955 that no one can hear or read or find any more because it was locked up by copyright (which is a vastly greater amount than those still supporting someone with royalties). With all that content moving into the public domain it opens up new opportunities for people to do something with it to make it available again.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Jezsik, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 3:03am

    Where's the damage?

    It would have been nice if the BBC had been considerate enough to interview someone who is personally affected by the change. I guess they couldn't find anyone.

     

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  2.  
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    kneeslider, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 3:31am

    Copyrights

    "Most people who got paid for something in 1955 had to do it again in 1956, 1957, 1958 and every year forward if they wanted to keep making a living off of it."

    True, but don't forget, many types of work, by their nature, have little residual value and no one directly benefits from it the following year, which is why it is done over and over.

    Very long term copyrights may be not be a good thing, but some kinds of work benefit others decades in the future in the same way they did the day they were created. That needs to be kept in mind especially when arguments against copy protection begin or when everyone wants to "open source" the work of others. Copyrights, patents and other protection of intellectual property recognizes the difference and tries to protect the incentive of those working for long term benefits instead of only short term profit.

     

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  3.  
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    Boris Jacobsen, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 3:40am

    Performance not writing royalties

    I believe this ruling only affects performance royalties, not writing royalties which remain in place until 80 years after the composer / lyricists deaths. The people who are complaining here merely performed the music.

    The most high profile complainer is that greedy third-rate Elvis impersonator, high profile Christian, hoarder of vast sums of cash and property and friend of Tony Blair, Cliff Richard. He's still recording and performing and earning more than most people can dream of but is upset that soon, he'll no longer be paid for going into a studio and singing someone else's song in 1958.

    I think you've had long enough to set up a pension fund by now, Cliff. Do us all a favour and retire.

     

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  4.  
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    Boris Jacobsen, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 3:45am

    Analogy

    This is a bit like saying that if someone builds a house - and who's going to argue that a house doesn't continue to benefit people for as long as people live in it - then not only does the architect (composer) and his / her heirs continue to be paid until 80 years after his / her death, but also the BUILDERS (artist) continue to be paid for 50 years. 50 years seems enough if you put it like that, doesn't it?

     

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  5.  
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    Someone, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 3:59am

    BBC

    In fairness to the BBC they had a hude article with two columns, one a quote from a pro extender, the other from an anti extender.

    IMO it should be reduced to 15 or 20 years. Songwriters too (thats life +50 years here in the UK). Particularly for patents, that gives enough time for a business to exploit an idea, enough to encourage inverstment, and if they can't do anything about it in that length of time, give someone else a go. I also think software piracy should no longer be piracy after 20 years or so. The only thing I think shouldn't have this link is trademarks on products and company names.

     

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  6.  
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    George M., Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:04am

    Sampling

    There are however, many hit records lately that have made heavy use of samples (sometimes the Entire recording) - and because of a technicality, nothing went to the original creators.

    So, there is another side to their concerns.

     

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  7.  
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    Someone, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:14am

    Re: Sampling

    Thats a completely different issue

     

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  8.  
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    Daniel, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:49am

    I quite fancy spending a short while doing something for now, and then sitting about for the next 50 years living on the proceeds (and having the rights to sue for larger sums to help increase my fortunes if someone imposes on my copyright), whats wrong with that?

    anyone got any ideas though? nothing too radical, i'm still a little on the lazy side

     

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  9.  
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    Shag, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:55am

    Copyright

    The trouble with long-term copyrights is that no-one else cam make money, or another chance at the story.

    If Shakespeare had a copyright, we wouldn't have seen "westsideStory'
    Or even all of the continuing re-makes of his classics. How many Theatre Companies wouldn't be where they are, if they had to pay royalities, on that kind of stuff?



    there are only so many notes, eventually we will run out of ways to make new music. How many times do we hear something, that sounds like something else? Fortunately you can copyright a genre, otherwise, we wouldn't have had the Ramones.

    I agree that someone should et residuals, and all that. Its easy to complain that artists get these, until one finds themselves in this situation. Of course they will try to defend their lively hood, thats a natural kind of thing to do. If we work together, and I keep telling the boss what a lazy, useless worker that you are, I'm pretty sure that you'd come after me in some way.

     

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  10.  
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    Dosquatch, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 5:51am

    Re: Analogy

    This is a bit like saying that if someone builds a house then not only does the architect and his heirs continue to be paid until 80 years after his death, but also the BUILDERS continue to be paid for 50 years.

    Ah, so you've seen my mortgage, have you?

     

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  11.  
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    RedBeard, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 6:06am

    Excellent, now I can enjoy the Big Band Era from the 1940's!

    So, in a few years, can I play The Beatles 1st album in Britain but not in U.S? Do both the U.K. and the U.S. have copyrights on it? And does it depend on the soil I am standing on OR the year when I play it as to whether I pay royalties or not?

     

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  12.  
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    Rightsight, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 6:15am

    Stars

    Everyone gets up in arms about Cliff Richard lobbying on this one. However he is just the first living popular music star to be affected by this and therefore if you are pro term extension he is exactly who you would make into your poster boy.

    However, most musicians write or perform their music and have to make another living anyway. It is a small number who can retire on royalties.

    Royalties are small units of money that only add up when you get a lot of them. Many musicians rely on royalties to compensate for small session fees.

     

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  13.  
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    Paul, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 6:40am

    BBC misleading, TheRegister clarifies

    the 50 limit on copyright statement is disengenuous if not downright lie... see TheRegister for more details.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/11/27/copyright_not_extended/

     

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  14.  
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    jeff, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 7:25am

    Royallties

    I think the right to recieve royalties on your work should be extended even further maybe 200 or 1000 years because its YOUR work. If you want to sell those rights its your business. The scriptures tell us a workman is worthy of his hire. People who had no part in the creative process are not entitled to benefit from it financially unless the composer says so.
    A lot of people seem to think the world owes them something but the world doesnt owe you a thing. And if you want to make a wonderful song that people can listen to and use for free and record for a small fee that will help you to leave an inheritance to your childrens children I say more power to you!

     

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  15.  
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    jsnbase, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 7:29am

    Musicians are the problem?

    Boo hoo. What other job in the world lets you do something in 1955 and still make a living on that work today? Most people who got paid for something in 1955 had to do it again in 1956, 1957, 1958 and every year forward if they wanted to keep making a living off of it.

    Why on earth would you turn this into an attack on musicians, most of whom don't make a dime? Musicians are not to blame for the perversions of copyright law we see today, but I guess you weren't going to hit your snark quotient for this one otherwise.

     

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  16.  
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    Mike (profile), Nov 27th, 2006 @ 7:41am

    Re: Musicians are the problem?

    Why on earth would you turn this into an attack on musicians, most of whom don't make a dime? Musicians are not to blame for the perversions of copyright law we see today

    First of all, that's not an attack on musicians, especially not those who don't make a dime. It's an attack on those who pervert the purpose of copyright and make it out to be about something it has nothing to do with. Every time this story comes up, people talk about those poor musicians who recorded a song fifty years ago -- but it's hard to see how extending copyright encourages them to write that song 50 years ago any more, which is the entire purpose of copyright. The point is to show that the argument used to support extensions is flat out wrong. So, please, tell me how that's a general attack on "musicians." It's not. It's an attack on a bad system.

    And, if you don't believe that many musicians are at the forefront of making these changes, you haven't been paying attention.

     

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  17.  
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    Wizard Prang, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 8:12am

    Re: Royalties

    You're missing the point. Royalties are intended to encourage producers to produce - not to provide them with a lifetime income.

    Copyright legislation was originally intended to protect the public domain from private "it's mine forever" interests. Somewhere along the line it got turned around.

    Think about it: If thousand-year copyrights were in effect, Walt Disney could not have made "Snow White", "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin" etc.

    Yes, the workman is worth his pay, but nowhere in scripture is a workman entitled to an income stream. Imagine what the bible would look like if the scriptures were copyrighted as you suggest.

    Above all else. protect the public domain. We'll miss it when it's gone.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re: Analogy

    well, a mortgage is paid to a bank/lending institution.

    when you have a mortgage, you get a lump sum of money. that goes to the contractor/builder/architect. after that, the mortgage payments go to the lender.

    what is being compared to is making payments to the "builders" over time. it would be like paying a fee every year to keep your degree. you spend thousands of dollars on tuition and fees, and then have to make payments on the licenese of your diploma. fair? i think no.

    i have more to say, but i have more important thing to do right now

     

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  19.  
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    Seinfeld haha, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 9:12am

    I would imagine Michael Richards wants copywrite extended until at least he dies. Its not like he will be getting paid for anything going forward.

     

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  20.  
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    Sanguine Dream, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Musicians are the problem?


    It's an attack on those who pervert the purpose of copyright and make it out to be about something it has nothing to do with.


    I agree. Most of the people arguing for extensions are people that had nothing to do with the creative process.

    I got no problem with George Micheal making money off his song for a few extra years, it is his song.

    I got no problem with George Micheal kids inheriting the money he made off the song while he was alive.

    I do have a problem with George Micheals great grand kids thinking the world owes them for their great granddads creations.

    And I definitely have a problem with the record executives at George Micheal's label trying to get an extension so that they can continue making money off of George Micheal's work.

    It's just like the whole downloading thing. I had no problem with Metallica getting mad a people downloading THEIR music. Problem is the main opponents of downloading have been executives that do nothing but sit in board rooms and collect the lion's share of the profit from artist's hard work. And I have yet to hear an answer to, "If downloading is so bad and hurting so many artists like the industry says, why aren't more of them complaining?"

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:24pm

    Re: Analogy

    well, a mortgage is paid to a [snip]

    *sigh*

    My comment was an attempt at levity regarding the timeframes mentioned. I apologize for leaving the "lame joke here" tags off.

     

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  22.  
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    misanthropic humanist, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:50pm

    scriptures

    Jeff, much as making personal remarks leaves a bad taste in my mouth I think you are being an idiot. Your ill constructed argument makes no sense because you are using "the scriptures" as your guide instead of a modecum of common sense thinking.

    And I speak as a published musician whose work you have probably heard when I say that copyright is irrelevant in the 21st Century.

    Can you say the same?

     

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  23.  
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    James Touchi-Peters, Nov 27th, 2006 @ 4:57pm

    Re: Copyright Extension

    I am signing this comment with my real name (which I usually do not do online) because of my position in the music industry and my relative expertise on this subject. Although I am a composer myself, it may surprise you that I *completely* agree with your stance on this issue. In the U.S., our constitution allows content creators a copyright for "a limited time" (quote from said Constitution). In the last few years, though, our courts have allowed Congress to set this "limited time" as *way longer* than the life of the author (life plus 75 years, in many common instances).

    It is plainly clear that this is *not* what the Founding Fathers intended. The idea is exactly as you state: to compensate creators for *a limited time* for their contribution, which should then fall into the public domain to enlighten and encourage more of similar creation. Even as a composer, it is just absurd to me that something I might have written 50 years ago could still be making me money. (You want to know how much money is involved: Merv Griffin personally wrote the one-minute "Jeopardy" theme song - you know, that "tick-tock-tick-tock" music they play during Final Jeopardy on the TV show? He wrote it 40 years ago, and to date he has made *$70 million* dollars from it. No, that's not a typo. And because of our copyright laws, he'll get yet another check from ASCAP next quarter, too...)

    In the U.S., this problem exists primarily because some of the major entertainment corporations - Disney in particular - have lobbied Congress to continually lengthen the "limited time" period of extant copyright, so that, e.g., the animated film "Snow White" doesn't end up in the public domain. In Disney's defense, however, this issue is more compex than appears on the surface: From what I understand, what they really don't want to lose is the rights to the animated characters starring in these movies. And personally, I understand and partially agree with that - an argument can be made that a "character" is different from an entire "creative" work". But if that is the case, maybe we need a whole new set of laws to handle "corporate creations" as being different from "creative works". (I doubt the Founding Fathers ever anticipated something akin to Mickey Mouse...)

    At any rate, I very strongly agree with you that these time periods need to be cut back. I agree even though I am one of the people who would directly not benefit from a change. My thanks for bringing this situation to the public light.

    James Touchi-Peters
    Conductor Emeritus
    Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra, Minneapolis

     

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  24.  
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    Pieter Hulshoff, Nov 28th, 2006 @ 1:28am

    No harmonisation

    What is often overlooked in this discussion is that aside from this difference (50 vs 95) having increased during a "harmonisation" of US copyright law to European copyright law, that even if the terms were equal we would still not have a harmonised copyright law.

    The US differentiates between copyright for individuals (life+70 years) and corporations (95 years). The EU differentiates between copyright (life+70 years) and neighbouring rights (50 years). This means that even if the terms were equal, we would still have works that are in copyright in one region, while being out of copyright in the other. Thus talking about "wanting the same rights as in the US" is a strange thing.

    What's also interested is that they're not really talking about "wanting the same rights as in the US", but in stead the artists complain about "wanting the same rights as US artists". They already have this! Both US and UK recording artists get life+70 years of copyright in the US, and life+70 years of copyright and/or 50 years of neighbouring rights in the EU. Both US and UK corporations get 95 years of copyright in the US, and life+70 years of copyright and/or 50 years of neighbouring rights in the EU.

     

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  25.  
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    Dosquatch, Nov 28th, 2006 @ 5:36am

    Re: Re: Copyright Extension

    And personally, I understand and partially agree with that - an argument can be made that a "character" is different from an entire "creative" work". But if that is the case, maybe we need a whole new set of laws to handle "corporate creations" as being different from "creative works". (I doubt the Founding Fathers ever anticipated something akin to Mickey Mouse...)

    Maybe copyright isn't the right thing to use to protect Mickey Mouse. Now that we've munged copyright and patents to the point of near-unusability, perhaps we can torture trademark law into protecting the likes of Mickey. Maybe if we can make IP law reach critical mass, something cosmic will pop us out of the other side of this rabbit hole.

    Merv Griffin personally wrote the one-minute "Jeopardy" theme song 40 years ago, and to date he has made *$70 million* dollars from it.

    For what, "creatively" adding a crescendo to the middle of "I'm a freaking Teapot"?? You've gotta be kidding me! (if you doubt me, hum "I'm a little teapot" the next time you're watching Jeopardy)

     

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  26.  
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    james-42, Nov 28th, 2006 @ 9:35am

    Disney

    James Touchi-Peters,

    I appreciate you input and agree with your point of view, except where Disney is concerned because they represent a complete hypocrisy. Old Walt would have been nothing had he not been able to use pre-existing work, like Snow White. He benefited from the very system his company has helped destroy, the reuse and reinterpretation of works that have fallen into the public domain.

    Otherwise you are spot on.

    And jeff, "A lot of people seem to think the world owes them something but the world doesn't owe you a thing." Yeah, like copy write holders who think they are owed some form of protection by the law, which they get, to a point. In return they are supposed to release their creations into the wild after a reasonable period.

     

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  27.  
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    ray king, Dec 7th, 2006 @ 11:44am

    BOO HOO

    Ii am a composer FULL STOP.I write songs FULL STOP I havve no other income but PUNY royalties FULL STOP Why should my ideas, my lifeblood be GIVEN AWAY to all and sundry to reissue and make money for them while I get nothing?BOO HOO your goddam self

     

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  28.  
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    JEFFREY TOBIAS, Jun 18th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    COPYRIGHTS-84 YEARS

    As my Grandparents, wrote 400 Songs,good till 2020.That was 84 years,or 28 years,three times.Its with Gratitude,ill have his Copyrights,untill im over ,100,as it sits now.I like the ,US,Copyright Laws.If you have a Cerrebellum,Nobody said not to ,Create Music,and make lots of Money,Just do it,Nike says. Jeffrey Tobias
    Charles Tobias,a Great Lyricist,Google it.

     

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