Once More, With Feeling: Copyright Is Not A Welfare System For Musicians

from the how-many-times-does-it-need-to-be-repeated? dept

The purpose of copyright is clear: it's to provide an incentive for the creation of new content. As such, it makes absolutely no sense to ever retroactively extend any sort of copyright. The government, backed by citizens, made a deal with content creators: you create content and we give you a monopoly for x number of years -- and clearly that deal was considered fair by the content creators, or they wouldn't have agreed to it and created the content. To go back and change the terms of the deal at a later date is unfair to everyone. It's renegotiating a deal against citizens' best interests. It's as if you bought a car for a price you negotiated, and three years later, the car company comes back to you and says that you need to pay more, because they, alone, decided that they didn't make enough off of you. Even worse, they get the government to force you to pay, saying that you need to do so.

Sounds ridiculous, right? But that's exactly what's happening with copyright extension in the UK.

We've covered this before. Performance rights in the UK only last 50 years, so music performed in the 60s has started to move into the public domain, and some musicians are freaking out. They first tried to push for an extension using some famous musicians, like Cliff Richards and Ringo Starr, but later realized that people didn't have any sympathy for aging millionaire rockers, demanding more money. So, after that proposal failed, they switched tactics, talking about how poor studio musicians needed copyright extension as a form of welfare.

This argument is incorrect for a variety of reasons. First of all, copyright was never intended to be a welfare system. Studio musicians knew the terms of the deal, and if they chose to rely on earnings from a single performance in 1958 for 50 years, it's difficult to see why the government should bail them out for their own short-sighted thinking, and their decision to live off of a single performance for all those years. If they performed regularly for many years, then they should still be earning plenty off of royalties from songs they recorded less than 50 years ago, so it's difficult to see what the problem is. And, of course, the whole thing about poor studio musicians is mostly a myth. A recent study showed that if performance copyrights were extended, the vast majority of the money generated would go to major record labels, and not to these studio musicians. At best, most studio musicians would earn less than 27 euros per year from the extension.

But, of course, that won't stop the propaganda fueled by the record labels who stand to make a nice, totally unearned, profit from an extension. They've put together a video of these "poor studio musicians" begging the government for a handout. They don't even try to disguise it, admitting that they're asking the government to "show a little gratitude." So, basically, you have musicians who made a fair deal fifty years ago, now being manipulated by the record labels who apparently didn't pay them enough for their session work when it occurred, asking for a handout at the expense of everyone else. The UK government should reject this blatant and unfair renegotiation of terms, and tell the musicians if they want to ask someone for a handout, why not turn to the record labels who apparently didn't pay them enough in the first place.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Lonnie E. Holder, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 9:55am

    From the doing-something-once-does-not-entitle-you-to-a-lifetime-of-benefit-dept.

    Thus far I have mostly kept out of the copyright debate. I believe that, in line with the intent of the Constitution, that copyrights should be granted for music, movies, and written works for a limited period of time. However, why is copyright so overbalanced in favor of the creator?

    Patents last effectively 17 years, considering the length of time they take to issue. For most industries (perhaps excluding pharmacy), this length provides sufficient payback to foster future invention. A great football player may make a mint, but when his career is over, if he has planned poorly, it may be really over. Most of us have an income stream only so long as we actually work, but for a copyright holder, they may obtain a lifetime of benefit from one work. I fail to see how anything beyond a reasonable modicum of time (I would be in favor of pushing copyrights back to 20 years - considering that the cost of creation is low, if it is going to sell, it will have sold by then) benefits society.

    Musicians can line up behind architects, potholder manufacturers, and everyone else in the world whose income stops when their work stops and quit their whining.

     

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    SteveD, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:06am

    Its worth noting that the lobby group is gaining little traction right now, with larger issues overshadowing the video. Previously this had made headlines and interviews on BBC current afairs programs.

    Its also worth noting that the only goverment department to comment on the issue did not think it a good idea:

    "A spokesperson for the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills said: "We are sympathetic to the European Commission's goal of improving the situation for performers but we don't believe that the current proposal achieves this aim."

     

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    mudlock, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:08am

    "if they want to ask someone for a handout, why not turn to the record labels who apparently didn't pay them enough in the first place."

    Good point. The government isn't stopping the labels from giving these musicians more money. If the labels are so concerned, they can feel free to take care of the problem.

     

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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:12am

    61 million people want their liberty back

    The record labels are the ones who reap the rewards from a monopoly on the reproduction of copies of recordings. These are the guys who want copyright extended - even if they send videos purporting to be on behalf of some of the session musicians they so poorly reward.

    The session musicians are paid by the labels for their performances. If the musicians want more money they should make better deals, e.g. such that they get more than a tiny fraction of the reward received by the label.

    One could just as well send a video on behalf of 61 million UK citizens who'd like their cultural liberty returned to them so that they can share and build upon some of the great music published during their lifetime - ideally the moment it's published, not so many decades later that they're senile, deaf, or six foot under.

     

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    Sergio, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:34am

    Wow

    I don't see how anyone can argue with that article. Perfectly written.

    If anything, the opposite is true for the rest of us. As an IT Administrator, if I were to write or configure software that could do my job, chances are, I'll be out of a job (We're far from the point were a computer can replace an IT department, but we are in a world where better computers and systems are shrinking IT departments).

     

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      Simon, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 12:01pm

      Re: Wow

      I agree, great article. The only thing I would change is that they agreed to the deal originally, not that they necessarily thought it was fair.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 6:02am

        Re: Re: Wow

        I'm not sure that's a pertinent distinction to make. I agreed with my car dealer on the terms of my auto loan; whether I thought it was far or not doesn't matter, though it's generally implied. If I didn't think the deal was "good enough," I wouldn't have agreed to it. granted, I wouldn't have a car, either, but that's part of the deal, isn't it?

         

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    Steve R. (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:34am

    Perpetual Welfare

    Forbes Magazine article: Top-Earning Dead Celebrities

     

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    Erv Server, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:35am

    musicians

    I don't think I've seen anyone else whine as much as musicians do.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 11:20am

      Re: musicians

      I have. They are the entitled youtube generation.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 11:22am

        Re: Re: musicians

        I have a better bunch of whiners. The anti-Prop 8 people in California.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 1:11pm

          Re: Re: Re: musicians

          Damn Right.

          They need to accept the vote. Even if it was made by largely uninformed voters for largely religious reasons, with no thought given to logic or fiscal concerns. Sure, it kind of flies in the face of the whole separation of Church and State, but hey, it's what "we"want, right?

          If they don't like it, they can move to a state that allows this sort of thing.

          I mean, hell...40%+ of the population can't generate *that* much income for the state, right?

          ...and if they don't move? They can shut the hell up, right? If they don't? Take away their right to free speech. They've already been told, "No.", right?

          Majority Rule = Mob Rule for a reason, the very same reason the US is not a "Majority Rule" government. The Majority has proven generation after generation to be completely incapable of rational thought.

          Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 2:08pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: musicians

            Or the idiocy of people who rant away about things they do not understand, especially regarding 'separation of church and state'... the most misunderstood concept by liberals in general and the anti-religious crowd in particular. It would be somewhat entertaining if it wasn't so sad to see pure ignorance flaunted so plainly.

             

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              mischab1, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 4:26pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: musicians

              Really? What precisely are we missunderstanding?

               

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                Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 6:12am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: musicians

                The misunderstanding is that "separation of Church and State" is never laid out in the Constitution. The First Ammendment states, "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," and is the only spot that religion is addressed at all. Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter which says that the Ammendment sets up a "wall of separation" between Church and State, and the courts have made use of the quote afterward.

                There's been a big discussion on what the meaning of this is when it gets down to brass tacks, and I think that's good, but there seems to be a sense that voters ought not voice their own moral and religious convictions when voting for this or that, and I think that's wrong. The clause is there to keep The Government from mandating or outlawing religious practice, but that doesn't mean that I should vote in support of things I'm morally against.

                 

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              Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 8:24pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: musicians

              "Or the idiocy of people who rant away about things they do not understand, especially regarding 'separation of church and state'... the most misunderstood concept by liberals in general and the anti-religious crowd in particular. It would be somewhat entertaining if it wasn't so sad to see pure ignorance flaunted so plainly."


              Wow ..... now that's what I call off topic - wtf

               

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              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 6:09am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: musicians

              Such as?

              "Congress shall make no law..."

              "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" These words were clear and sensible: the Federal government, through the actions of the Congress, could do nothing to prevent people from practicing whatever religion they wanted, and furthermore, would not interfere with the right of states to keep their officially-established religions.

              A plethora of case-law backs the further interpretation that disallows the government from making *any* law respecting one's rights to practice their religious beliefs, or forcing others to abide by the beliefs of another.

              So... what, exactly, are we misunderstanding here, fruitcake?

              The gov. of Cali just added an amendment to their constitution forbidding the practice of marriage in specific cases...how is this anything but a First Amendment issue?

               

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            Eldakka, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 9:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: musicians

            I mean, hell...40%+ of the population can't generate *that* much income for the state, right?

            According to Nationmaster, 65.3% of income tax revenue is provided by the richest 30% of the population, with the bottom 30% of earners providing 6.3% of tax revenue. Therefore assuming a similiar distribution at the state level, 40% of the population can indeed be a huge hit on income if a significant proportion of that 40% is in the upper echelons of wage earners.

             

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 11:04am

    Music

    "I don't think I've seen anyone else whine as much as musicians do."

    and it's not music to my ears

     

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    Dan Zee (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 11:29am

    Follow the money...

    Follow the money. This extension is being orchestrated by the record labels that want to continue to collect performance royalties forever. Music is culture and at some point you have to allow it to enter the public domain where the people own it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 11:30am

    They don't use euros in the UK.

     

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    artist, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 1:25pm

    Its not the artists wanting welfare...its the labels. The labels, as they continue to downsize, still make their money off their 'catalogues' of old music which still sell...artists who have been signed to a major label spend years 'paying back' to the major labels who provided them with the illusion of being a rock star then kicked them in the butt out the door. and how would all of your lives be without your favorite songs because they probably came from these 'selfish artists'. And many of these artists are not millionaires - its a flawed public perception.

     

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      PaulT (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 3:15pm

      Re:

      I don't think anyone here's arguing that these people are millionaires. In fact, Mike points out that this latest attempt comes after the one using actual millionaires like Ringo and Cliff failed.

      But, that doesn't increase our sympathy. Whichever way you slice it, they've been paid for 50 years for a single piece of work. That's already a lot more than most people get, and it's not our problem if they pissed away 50 years' worth of money. Maybe they should have spend the last 50 years continuing to work?

       

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    PaulT (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 3:06pm

    There's another point which tends to get missed that's worth adding to Mike's excellent argument. That is that it's usually interpreted that once these songs go into the public domain, that nobody can make money from them.

    That's simply not true. it means the opposite, in fact - it means that everybody can make money off them if they work out how. There's nothing to stop these people from remastering the original recordings with extra material (thus creating a new work). There's nothing to stop them making a documentary or writing a book about their experiences at the time - imagine all the interesting information they have about life in a 60s studio, even if names have to be changed to protect the guilty! They can set up a website and share the music with fans, discussing details of how the music was made, maybe selling their services as studio musicians for younger fans making similar music, or creating new merchandise.

    There's one problem: most of these solutions require them to *get off their asses and do some work!*. Copyright is not a pension, and these people wouldn't be in trouble if they had done something worthwhile in the meantime. If they neither did any further work that deserves royalties, nor invested the money they earned in the last 50 years, there is no reason why the rest of us should bail them out. You signed a record contract and agreed to the copyright terms laid out at the time. The architects, builders, engineers, doctors, teachers, etc. working at that time can't get the law changed to give them royalties on the massive benefit to society they've created, so why should a musician?

     

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      Mojo Bone, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 7:04am

      Re:

      @ PaulT:

      "There's nothing to stop these people from remastering the original recordings with extra material (thus creating a new work)"

      Actually, there is; it's called a sound recording copyright, (formerly known as phonorecord) and it's renewable pretty much in perpetuity, unlike a song copyright, which is for the life of the author plus seventy years. (used to be plus fifty)

      If you meant to type 'remixing', they would still need permission from the SR copyright holder to use the original recording in whole or in part.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2008 @ 8:51am

    "I have. They are the entitled youtube generation."

    Damn straight!

    Yes, to the entitled youtube generation "where content grows on trees and everything is free"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2008 @ 9:16am

    In fairness to the youtube generation, they do recognize the concept of limited times embodied in copyright law. It is just their definition of limited times that varies from the law. To them it seems to be the amount of time it takes to rip a CD and then place it in their P2P share folder.

     

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    David, Nov 27th, 2008 @ 1:53pm

    Royalties

    Never have quite grasped the concept of royalties. If I do some work, I get paid for that work once, and once only, not a constant stream of income for donkeys' years afterwards into old age. I should be so lucky.

     

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    Not a musician, Nov 28th, 2008 @ 6:37am

    Missing the Point

    It's great hearing all these rants having a go at 'poor musician', etc. but it just goes to show you're reading nothing but this one biased article and doing no actual research on what this is about.

    1) It's not asking for handouts. It's asking for an equivalent treatment for one type copyright holder, compared with all the others.

    2) The money does NOT come from the consumer. The prices set on music are becoming more and more consistant per-track with download services becoming the leading way people purchase music, so whether the track is 20 years old or 120 years old we, the consumer, pay the same. Therefore all that happens is the money from that is divided more fairly between the producers of that music. If anything, the record companies recieve LESS, because musicians can go directly to the music licensing companies without their coffers going through a record company whatsoever.

    3) To say that because people agreed with a law in the past means it should not be subject to review in the present is a total mockery of the entire legal system of this country and the nature of democracy! There have been countless amendments to copyright law in the past 50 years, most of them in the last 10 as the way media has been ingested by the public has changed so dramatically.

    And as my name above states, no, I am not a musician and I stand to benefit in no way from this. It's just my thoughts.

     

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      nasch, Nov 28th, 2008 @ 3:50pm

      Re: Missing the Point

      1) It's asking that the government get even more aggressive about helping them out with their business model, at the expense of the public. Just because it's not a disbursement of cash doesn't mean it's not a handout.

      2) It's not about money, it's about control. Extend copyright, and the copyright owners get to control the culture longer. Leave it the same as it is, and the public can start to benefit more from owning this culture.

      3) He's not saying no law should ever be reviewed. He's saying that people shouldn't complain that they need more money from work they did decades ago, and so they need more time to recoup it. If they needed more money for their work, they should have negotiated for more money. If they payments over the term of copyright when they did the work weren't going to be enough, they shouldn't have planned to live off them forever. And really it's not even about the people who actually did the musical work, it's about the record labels. For them, it's just a pure power grab, they can't even pretend to have child corporations that need new shoes.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2008 @ 11:24am

      Re: Missing the Point

      "2) The money does NOT come from the consumer." This is ridiculous, if the work isn't covered by copyright then you can just download it for free so ALL the money comes from the consumer.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2008 @ 11:38am

    Once More, With Feeling: Copyright Is Not A Welfare System For Musicians

    Nobody has ever said it is, so headlines like this serve no useful purpose.

     

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      Mike (profile), Nov 30th, 2008 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      Nobody has ever said it is, so headlines like this serve no useful purpose.

      Actually, it's EXACTLY what the performers in this case are arguing. They're saying that the royalties are needed to support their lifestyle and that the gov't should guarantee it. That's welfare.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2008 @ 12:00pm

    That's welfare.

    Horse-pucky. Performers apparently have lesser rights under UK law than composers and authors. To ask for parity is most certainly not asking for welfare.

     

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      Willton, Nov 30th, 2008 @ 12:38pm

      Re:

      Horse-pucky. Performers apparently have lesser rights under UK law than composers and authors. To ask for parity is most certainly not asking for welfare.

      Not to say that I don't think performers are valuable, but performers, in the strictest sense, do not create works of authorship; they merely perform them, which are often written by others. Therefore, performers should not have any rights under copyright law.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 30th, 2008 @ 4:51pm

        Re: Re:

        Remember, this involves a matter of UK law, and not that of the US.

        As for a performer "merely perform(ing)", many excellent works of authorship would be consigned to the dustbins of history were it not for performers who present them in a compelling manner to the public.

         

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          Willton, Nov 30th, 2008 @ 6:44pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          As for a performer "merely perform(ing)", many excellent works of authorship would be consigned to the dustbins of history were it not for performers who present them in a compelling manner to the public.

          I'm sure that's true, but that does not change the status of the underlying works' authorship. I can see why one would think the disparate treatment between authors and performers is warranted.

           

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      Mike (profile), Dec 1st, 2008 @ 1:49am

      Re:

      Horse-pucky. Performers apparently have lesser rights under UK law than composers and authors. To ask for parity is most certainly not asking for welfare.

      It most certainly is. They're asking for a handout from the gov't after an agreement was already made many years ago, for the purpose of getting paid, not for doing more work, but because the world somehow owes them.

      They're asking for a handout, and that's welfare.

      If they wanted "parity" then they should have bargained for it BEFORE they agreed to the deal.

       

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    Mojo Bone, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 6:36am

    For the record, I am a musician, and not in favor (at the moment-I reserve the right to change my mind) of extending copyright, but a fundamental flaw of the original argument is that, unlike a car, a song or a performance of such can actually increase in value over time, but only if and when a lot of people invest a great deal of time and money promoting it and making it part of the culture. Leaving aside whether they're overpaid for this service, it's what record companies and publishing companies do.

    There seems to be confusion on the part of some posters here between copyright and performance royalties, possibly because of the use of the word 'content', which doesn't discriminate between a song and its performance, which under current law are two very different things and are dealt with differently; for example, songwriters who are also copyright holders in a given recording are entitled to public performance royalties when their song is broadcast on terrestrial radio, while studio musicians who played on the recording are not. Not arguing that they should, either; studio musicians have collective bargaining, pensions, health insurance, etc., and the artists who do the creating most often do not.

    I'd like to see some examples of how a song entering the public domain "frees up" a culture or benefits, well, anybody.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 1st, 2008 @ 9:57am

      Re:

      For the record, I am a musician, and not in favor (at the moment-I reserve the right to change my mind) of extending copyright, but a fundamental flaw of the original argument is that, unlike a car, a song or a performance of such can actually increase in value over time, but only if and when a lot of people invest a great deal of time and money promoting it and making it part of the culture. Leaving aside whether they're overpaid for this service, it's what record companies and publishing companies do.

      And that success increases what the musicians can charge to be a part of future performances. There's no reason they should keep getting paid for what they did in the past. Instead, they should use that fact to increase how vauable they are on future deals.

       

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    Reality Guy, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 10:34am

    Copyright in UK

    One thing that seems to be overlooked in this debate is that the copyright varies country to country. It would be equitable I think to have at least the major democracies share a given set of copyright laws.

    If the song "White Christmas" is protected by US copyright until 2047 and is public domain in UK, there will be a temptation to get the free UK version over the internet as opposed to having to pay the copyright owners even if this was obtained in the US. A standardization of time of copyright would eliminate that problem.

     

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    anymouse, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 4:36pm

    Once you feed a greddy bugger, you never get rid of em, and their buddies just keep showing up

    "They're asking for a handout from the gov't after an agreement was already made many years ago, for the purpose of getting paid, not for doing more work, but because the world somehow owes them."

    So they looked around at the current financial situation and said, "Gee if the government is giving everyone else money to support their failing business models (if the models weren't failing they wouldn't need to ask for money in the first place, so don't go there - and if it's the management and not the model, then why the hell aren't all the managers being held accountable?), then I better ask for my chunk now while it's still available".

    How many people in this economy think that they should receive money for doing nothing? Banks, Insurance Companies, Investment Companies, Musicians, Auto Makers, GW Bush.... I'm just waiting for the buggy whip makers to ask the government for their share, since their business is obviously failing without a government handout (or bailout if you prefer).


    Waaaaaa, I wrote a song and now I need a government handout or I'm going to starve, since I obviously have no concept of actual work.....

     

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