UK Culture Secretary Pushes Copyright Extension With Questionable Logic

from the can-I-get-paid-the-rest-of-my-life-please? dept

SteveD points us to the full text of a speech given by UK Cultural Secretary Andy Burnham, pushing for copyright extension on performance rights. The speech itself is interesting, in that Burnham at least pays some tribute to other ideas, even quoting John Perry Barlow on the nature of information. However, there are still plenty of troublesome (or downright incorrect) statements in the speech. Even though he kicks it off by saying that the government generally should stay out of the music business, he then goes on to mostly ignore that:
But, the truth is, government intervention in the music business does not have a glorious history. To paraphrase one of our greats, mixing pop and politics is not a straightforward business and, indeed, can be a bit embarrassing for all concerned.

The British music business has been a major success story with government at arm's length, or further - in something of a state of mutual distrust.

Over the second half of the last century the industry grew into one of real economic and cultural significance -- and its output for many defined us internationally -- yet without significant government intervention or political help.

But I'm going to make the case this morning that necessity means that the old order of things needs to change.
You would think, having admitted that when the industry has been successful without intervention and admitting that when the gov't does get involved, things tend to get messed up, he'd have a pretty rock solid reason for saying it's time to change. But he doesn't. His focus seems to be on the fact that musicians need to get paid for every song listened to -- which is simply not true. That may be the way things worked in the past (actually, that's not true -- because most record labels never handed that money over to musicians, but...), but plenty of musicians have figured out other ways of getting paid. Burnham seems to ignore all that, and posits the fallacy that if musicians don't get paid from each use of a recorded song, they don't get paid at all.

While he talks about new and innovative business models that can come about due to the internet, he then makes the mistake that all music industry business models must be based on copyright:
Copyright underpins the music business -- and all our creative industries -- and the right response when it's put under pressure is not to abandon a system as outdated, but to make it work better.
And then he goes for the "moral" angle, which makes very little sense:
There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime.
There are numerous problems with this sentence. First of all, no one has ever said that performers don't benefit from their work throughout their lifetimes, even if they're not paid for every single use. But they should be the ones who set up how they benefit -- not the government. If I performed on a hit song in the 60s, there are plenty of ways to benefit: such as by convincing others to hire me by noting "Hey, look, I played the guitar on this number one hit from 1968..." or whatever.

But, Burnham is making a totally fallacious argument: that if you're not getting paid directly and repeatedly for the work, then there's some sort of moral code broken. On that, I think many people would disagree. Most folks get paid for their work once. They don't continue to get paid directly for it throughout their lifetimes. They're expected to keep working, and to save money so that eventually they can retire. Why should things be any different for performers?

And, the worst part is that Burnham leaves out the truly "moral" question of copyright extension: that it's taking content away from the public domain. The musicians who recorded performances fifty years ago entered into a deal with the public -- the public that Burnham is supposed to be representing, though he seems to think he represents the artists. They would perform the music and retain exclusive rights over it for 50 years. Then it goes into the public domain. To retroactively and unilaterally change that deal is completely unfair to everyone. It's saying that a deal that was entered into fifty years ago can be ignored and changed to benefit a single party against every other person. How is that possibly moral?

There's a lot more in the speech that is equally troubling, but it's just repeating the same old talking points. The speech also ignores the research that has shown that copyright extension won't actually give very much to the musicians, but will dump millions into the coffers of the big record labels. It's not surprising, because we've heard this before, but it's a speech that ignores reality and paints a fantasy picture of both what's happening in the industry and the entire purpose of copyright law.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  •  
    identicon
    Greg, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Why is it that you feel that every time someone produces a creative work, you are entitled to look at/ listen to it whenever you see fit? I have no problems with your arguments against copyright but as an analogy (perhaps not totally apt) if I were to create a device, I could keep leasing it and making money from it for the rest of my life (provided I maintained it, obviously).

     

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      Rose M. Welch, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

      Re:

      Dammit, Greg, you are absolutely right! When I creatively use my mind and talents to create writing, I should be paid every single time someone looks at it! I am going to call my tax return art and start charging IRS employees to look at it, and sue them for even more money if they leave it where their coworkers can see it...

      Oh, wait, that's stupid.

      Art isn't any more or less valuable than any other service, be it plumbing or secretarial work. A plumber who installs a toilet shouldn't get paid per flush, should he?

      Or, to make it even more accurate, an engineer who creatively designs a toilet shouldn't get paid per flush because they were already paid for the design.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 3:18pm

      Re:

      Why is that every time someone produces a creative work, they feel they're entitled to GET PAID each and every time someone looks at it or listens to it? Why do they feel their children, grand-children and great-grand-children should get paid for it? Based on the average life expectancy in the US, copyright extends for nearly 140 years (author's lifetime plus 70 years), longer if you're female. Why? Is copyright some sort of welfare program for the creative? Does it mean that we should support, for life, plus the life of his children, their children, and their children, the creative soul who manages only a single creative piece in their lifetime? Why don't I get to work my job, complete only a single project, and then get paid for it over and over and over again, for the rest of my life, and then my children get paid after I'm gone, and their children after they're gone? Why is "creative" work treated differently?

      It's not so much the concept of copyright, which most of us agree should be provided for a limited time, and extended for a limited time (actively, by the original author, not automatically for some "rights holder"), it's the execution of copyright that's a failure.

       

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      Wrongly Accused, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 7:10pm

      Re: Greg

      Greg,
      To whom are you speaking ?
      I do not understand your point, please explain.

       

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    SteveD, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 3:18pm

    Aurthor of the Gowers review interviewd on a national news broadcast

    You'll love this Mike: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1529573111 (I can't link to the right bit directly, its in part 3 at 12:05). Gowers, author of in important study in intellectual property in the UK (the Gowers review in 2006), is interviewed on one of the main terrestrial news broadcasts. He assets he wasn't consulted, that it didn't make any economic sense (it actually being a very expensive process to collect rights after 50 years) and that the reality was that very little money would actually end up in the hands of the musicians. When the interviewer asked the music industry representative why he hadn't been able to convince Gowers, the chap replies "Well Gowers had only been considering it from the economic perspective...we've been arguing from the moral perspective." Seriously. A music industry rep just quoted the morality of rewarding as more important then economics.

     

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      Not Bob, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 5:41pm

      Re: Aurthor of the Gowers review interviewd on a national news broadcast

      These are the parts that tell you the industry rep is lying through his teeth.
      From Gowers, "...very little money would actually end up in the hands of the musicians."
      From the industry rep, "...we've been arguing from the moral perspective."

      How is charging the public for "old" music and then not even passing it on to the musician a "moral perspective"? I think it's more an immoral perspective. They are thieves and liars and are accusing us of being worse. Pfft to them.

      NB

       

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    mordred kaides, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 3:20pm

    keep getting paid is kind of ridiculus, and they shouldn't portray music as some special form for things like this, if they ut all work under these copyright laws then everytime you use a program, or turn on the tv(ie using the tv) then the creator of the program or tv should be getting paid. why else would they wright a program or make a tv?

    if you count up all these costs of paying old creators then the sum of all these payments would closely resemble zero. but for some reason they see music assomething so special they need to be paid throguh the law in every possible way.

    (just for the record I'm a amateur musician myself and totally love music)

     

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    Joseph, Dec 11th, 2008 @ 7:08pm

    copyright term and logic

    There is no logical term for copyright protection. I issued a challenge some years back for one to be presented and I sill await.

    However, the argument against copyright protection itself is faulty in logic. All types of works under the IP umbrella differ from employment, which is usually following set routines, with some judgement input. Wages vary to take account of that input. The employee has no involvement in decision-making, nor worries about obtaining payment. [Exceptions will not alter this rule]

    IP is entirely from the efforts of the copyright owner and, with rare exceptions, involve considerable effort before music, writing or invention are ready for market. In logic, just as any other entrepreneur will invest without certainty of sales, so does the IP owner.

    The business entrepreneur is free to profit from his investment for ever, why so grudging to the IP owner? Now the issue of rip-offs by companies exploiting IP is another matter, and we may well have points of agreement there.

     

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      Mike (profile), Dec 12th, 2008 @ 2:54am

      Re: copyright term and logic

      All types of works under the IP umbrella differ from employment,

      Why?

      The employee has no involvement in decision-making, nor worries about obtaining payment.

      What does that have to do with... anything?

      IP is entirely from the efforts of the copyright owner and, with rare exceptions, involve considerable effort before music, writing or invention are ready for market. In logic, just as any other entrepreneur will invest without certainty of sales, so does the IP owner.

      How is that justification for IP? That seems like the opposite. Just as an entrepreneur needs to use a business model that works in the marketplace, so should the IP creator. Why should they get gov't protectionism?

      The business entrepreneur is free to profit from his investment for ever, why so grudging to the IP owner?

      That's incorrect. The business entrepreneur is free to profit IF HE CONTINUALLY innovates and continues to provide a product worth buying. That's not the case for the IP creator.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 12th, 2008 @ 7:30am

      Re: copyright term and logic

      If an entrepreneur puts his money into a successful business, he gets returns. If he puts his money into a business that flops, or one that has one big hit and then fails, he loses his money. The government does not guarantee an entrepreneur return on their investment, nor does an entrepreneur earn direct payment on every use of whatever product they've invested in. So... what was your point again?

       

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    Tony, Dec 12th, 2008 @ 9:29am

    What about writers?

    Why is it that musicians and the music industry - and government shills like this guy - seem to think that musicians are a special class of artist?

    Applying the same logic to writers, that means that the author of a book should get paid every time someone READS the book - not just when it's bought.

     

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    Geoff, Dec 12th, 2008 @ 6:00pm

    Because it's not often a book gets used for marketing campaigns, etc. A musician should be allowed control over how their song is used for other peoples profit.

     

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    gene_cavanaugh, Dec 12th, 2008 @ 8:39pm

    Copyright

    I basically agree with Michael. He "pegs" on IP issues to the point that sometimes he is just too far out, but overall he is right. However, he says:
    "Most folks get paid for their work once. They don't continue to get paid directly for it throughout their lifetimes"
    People in high risk enterprises (the original people at Intel, etc.) get stock options, and are "paid directly for it throughout their lifetimes"; so the statement is just wrong. However, I do agree with curbing the greed of the industry (and the politicians they finance). Overall, it IS wrong!

     

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