Copyright And Classical Music: The Exact Opposite Of The Intended Purpose

from the promoting-progress,-not-limiting-it... dept

Earlier this year, we discussed a recent article about the impact of copyright on classical music, where it was noted that the music that is still considered the absolute best of that particular era mostly came from countries that did not have strong copyright protection. That article noted that there were a number of composers in France (strong copyright protection) who became rich, but that the music they produced has not stood the test of time. Meanwhile, Giles Thomas pointed us to a review of one chapter in Boldrin and Levine's Against Intellectual Monopoly that discusses how the introduction of copyright correlates almost exactly to the end of successful classical music composition in England. It is only a correlation -- the reasons could be many -- but it is worth noting.

Along those lines, a friend recently pointed me to a new research report on the emergence of musical copyright in Europe, by Frederic M. Scherer of Harvard, that highlights many of these same points. The report notes that there seems to be little indication whatsoever that copyright contributed to greater classical music output (its intended purpose). And, it's not as if the author was looking to make that point -- he was actually trying to prove the alternative. As part of the research, he pointed out (a point that has been raised by Levine and Boldrin as well) that Giuseppe Verdi composed in an era both without copyright and with copyright -- but as soon as copyright came into play, he drastically slowed down his production of new works, since he could live off the royalties from older works instead:
The reduction in effort cannot be attributed to declining ability; some of Verdi's great operas are among the handful of late compositions. Rather, his correspondence makes clear, the higher "price" elicited for each opera made it possible to reduce effort along a classic backward-bending supply curve.
That, of course, is the exact opposite of what copyright supporters insist should happen. Even then, Scherer notes that he expected this decrease in production might be offset by Verdi's wealth attracting many more people into the field of composing as they, too, hoped to get wealthy. So, his initial expectations were that even if Verdi slowed down his production, others would pick up the slack thanks to copyright. No such luck in the data, however: "With my sample of 646 composers I attempted a statistical test, but I have to confess failure." There was no support at all for the theory in the UK (as noted above). There was some correlation in France, but Scherer notes that seems more likely to have been due to a different variable: the French Revolution and the establishment of the Paris Conservatoire, which quickly brought in and trained hundreds of composers.

So, once again, it has to be asked. If copyright is supposed to be increasing the creation of content, and the evidence suggests the opposite happens, why do people keep insisting that it actually works? Even worse, why does anyone believe copyright system supporters who declare self-righteously that without copyright, there would be no professional content production. As Scherer concludes in his paper: "The world would be full of glorious music even if copyright laws had not come into being."


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  1.  
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    moore850 (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:25am

    Copyright increases profit opportunities

    Copyright doesn't increase the production of content at all. From your example, it clearly increases the profit that you can get from existing "good" content.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:27am

    Apostrophe typo

    (it's intended purpose) should be (its intended purpose)

     

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  3.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:30am

    Heliocentricity

    If the Earth revolving around the Sun results in a simpler orrery, and a better explanation of the solar system, why favour a geocentric rather than a heliocentric explanation?

    People don't like the rug being pulled from their feet.

    The chance to have a monopoly is highly appealing, given it is plainly lucrative. What people happily brush under the carpet is the loss of everyone else's cultural liberty, and the consequential greater expense to the rest of society (given cultural suppression and legal costs of enforcement).

    If you try and persuade people that whilst they do have a natural right to exclude others from their private domain (and the works in it), but that this doesn't extend to controlling what others do with the works one gives them (publication), this simpler explanation of the nature of intellectual property conflicts with their 'geocentric', self-centered view of how everyone should revolve about them.

    Let's not forget that those who tried to advance the theory of heliocentricity were regarded as heretics and lucky to avoid being burnt at the stake (I was recently accused of being evil by a lawyer, myself).

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:41am

    Currently copyright isn't routinely applied to blogging and blogging output is prodigious. If copyright was invoked then perhaps output would decline accordingly, on the other hand that might also enable bloggers to put more effort into each output and then perhaps later blogs could represent some of the bloggers' greatest compositions..... but perhaps I'm just dreaming.

     

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  5.  
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    RD, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:43am

    And....

    Cue the Industry Apoligitards(tm) in 3, 2, 1....

     

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  6.  
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    Shawn, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:45am

    Well . . . what about . . .

    "Even worse, why does anyone believe copyright system supporters who declare self-righteously that without copyright, there would be no professional content production."

    Having worked as and knowing several professional musicians I know this idea is false. That being said I think we can all agree that musicians deserve to be compensated for their work. The issue seems to get complicated when publishing interests try to justify a system that pays them over and over again 'ad nauseum' for the same work. While in a musician’s case they can certainly be compensated for performing (which for most musicians is actually the dream) but might not some "copyright" protection be in order for this or a similar profession as well, almost as an issue of personal property. Just as an example, if an artist (say Bruce Springsteen) doesn’t want Exxon using one of his songs in an advertisement, should he not have some say in denying them the ability to profit from his creation (having nothing to do with whether or not this is a good financial move)? While I agree with the reasoning of copyright hurting the arts creatively more than helping them financially, I also believe that one maintains an interest in their personal expression to some degree. The creation of music can be a very emotional and personal thing, great artists put their inner most thoughts, fears and feeling on the line for everyone to see and judge and it can be a very painful thing to see that distorted and manipulated for the profit of someone else.

     

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  7.  
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    RD, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:47am

    Not really

    "Currently copyright isn't routinely applied to blogging and blogging output is prodigious. If copyright was invoked then perhaps output would decline accordingly, on the other hand that might also enable bloggers to put more effort into each output and then perhaps later blogs could represent some of the bloggers' greatest compositions..... but perhaps I'm just dreaming."

    This presupposes, with no evidence I might add, that current bloggers are somehow "holding back" their best work, that they arent putting in much effort. While that appears to be the case in some cases (there are some lazy blogs out there) it does not necessarily follow that the opposite will be true. Just like the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy, the opposite of "doing better" is not necessarily MORE copyright law. There is NOTHING currently preventing a blogger from "doing his greatest work" right now. There are AMPLE ways for him to profit from such work, if he turns his efforts to it, and NONE of those require more copyright for him to do so.

     

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    Dave, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:48am

    Big Bucks

    "If copyright is supposed to be increasing the creation of content, and the evidence suggests the opposite happens, why do people keep insisting that it actually works?"

    By "people" I'm guessing you mean "multi-billion dollar corporations" ?

    As a consumer, I think the copyright system SUCKS. In it's current form it favors large corporations or wealthy artists, not the struggling inventors and artists it was originally intended to protect.

    Politicians insist that copyright "works" because the media corporations throw craploads of money at them.

     

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    qhartman (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:50am

    Incentives

    This again undercuts the idea that payment is the sole, or even most powerful, incentive for effort. Based on this information I imagine Verdi's perspective on wealth to be somewhat similar to my own. I make enough money to live comfortably. As a result of that, the prospect of more money has become a relatively weak motivator for me. In fact, if I were offered a raise at work, I would likely counter-offer and try to get more time off instead so I would have more time to pursue my other interests. If Verdi didn't need to keep cranking out work to pay the bills, I'm sure there are other things he would rather spend his time on.

     

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  10.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:55am

    Re:

    Just because copyright isn't routinely applied to blogging don't mean that it can't be. As we all should know by now, copyright is an opt-in system, meaning that everything created is copyrighted already. This would point to the bloggers deciding for themselves that enforcing copyright just isn't worth it to them, as Mike has previously stated about TechDirt before.

     

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  11.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:59am

    Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    Ah, you are venturing into the remit of moral rights, which are natural (though sometimes their legislation overreaches).

    There is a natural right to truth (against the impairment of its apprehension). Thus in the case where an artist via the use of their work may be (mis)represented as endorsing a product in an advertisement, this does require either that the artist truly does endorse it, or that it is very clear that they don't (not just a disclaimer in weeny smallprint).

    So, even without the transferable monopoly that the privilege of copyright grants to publishers (attached to original works), artists don't lose their human rights.

    Copyright doesn't protect against plagiarism.

    Plagiarism is a rights violation to be protected by law, it is not a privileged exclusion.

    Unauthorised reproduction of a published work is a copyright infringement.

    There's a big difference between sharing or building upon another's work (cultural liberty suspended by copyright), and misrepresenting another's authorship or opinions (plagiarism, misrepresentation).

     

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  12.  
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    Jon, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:00am

    Re: Heliocentricity

    But you are evil. I have pics. !!! :)

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:11am

    What would a world be like without copyright? Easy, one in which other methods and legal theories would be employed to fill the vacuum. It seems that many are so focused on the "evils" of copyright that they tend to overlook the "evils" that would certainly arise in its absence.

     

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  14.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    I should add that the moral right to integrity also falls out of the right to truth, i.e. that an artist's modified work not be misrepresented as the original, or the work of the original artist. That covers distortion to some degree.

     

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  15.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:20am

    Re:

    That's why it's important to have a system that recognises fundamental human rights, e.g. the US Constitution.

    Unfortunately, people have assumed that copyright is constitutional, or rather they are quite happy to do so, and uncomfortable at the idea that it might not be - see my Heliocentricity comment.

    People have already suggested that contracts could recreate copyright if it was abolished. Fortunately, one cannot alienate oneself from one's rights through contract (hence 'inalienable'). It takes a legislated privilege such as copyright to suspend the public's natural right to liberty.

     

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  16.  
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    Shawn, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    “Ah, you are venturing into the remit of moral rights, which are natural (though sometimes their legislation overreaches).”

    Yes you got me exactly right, I was talking about the more expansive Lockean idea of property. As I am sure we can agree one of the reasons we have a government is to protect our basic property rights from the encroachments of others (who are presumably bigger and stronger than us). While I like your idea of “Truth” I am not sure it actually accomplishes anything. If Exxon made an ad using Springsteen Born in the USA for example, in an image add with waving American flags and pro Exxon images as a pro domestic drilling sentiment, I am not certain they would be guilty of plagerism (after all they are not claiming credit for writing the song), or even untruthfulness, they are not interpreting the song for you, they are simply associating it with other things. While I like your “truth” idea, I just don’t see how it would really work. It seems to me Techdirt has a position of “no copyright” because there is too much harm done for the limited benefit. While I am very tempted to agree, I have trouble reconciling this particular sort of potential exploitation with that idea.

     

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  17.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    If an advert using his song doesn't imply that Springsteen endorses Exxon, or any other falsehood (such as that they sponsored Springsteen), then what complaint against it could there be?

    Springsteen may well despise Exxon, but why does this give him any right to dictate whether or not and how they or anyone else may use his work? I daresay people would like control over how their work is used, but where does the natural right to such control come from?

    Even copyright wasn't about granting the author control over the use of their work, only about enabling the publishers of it to have a monopoly over its printing. If you bought a copy of a newspaper you could wipe your bum with it and run it up a flagpole.

     

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  18.  
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    Shawn, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    "If an advert using his song doesn't imply that Springsteen endorses Exxon, or any other falsehood (such as that they sponsored Springsteen), then what complaint against it could there be?"

    This is the idea of an artist pouring thier soul into something. Maybe Bruce just doesnt want them using a heartfelt piece he wrote about his dead brother and his relationship with his father. In a world of "no copyright" how does he prevent that (aside from never publishing it in the first place - which is what we all want to avoid). Does anyone even agree with me that he has some inharent interest in preventing such commercial use of his personal experssion? Maybe this is just the price we have to pay to reform copyright? I dunnno . . . Im asking . . .

     

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  19.  
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    LostSailor, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:51am

    Quantity and Quality?

    The reduction in effort cannot be attributed to declining ability; some of Verdi's great operas are among the handful of late compositions.

    So, after copyright he produced fewer works, but also some of his greatest work. Hmmm... Seems like the extra financial protection provided by copyright allowed Verdi to concentrate on the quality of his work rather than the quantity. Seems like a good thing to me.

     

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  20.  
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    Joe, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    disincentive to create

    >>but as soon as copyright came into play, he drastically slowed down his production of new works, since he could live off the royalties from older works instead

     

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  21.  
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    Joe, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 11:59am

    Re: disincentive to create

    my comment got cut off it should have read--
    ""but as soon as copyright came into play, he drastically slowed down his production of new works, since he could live off the royalties from older works instead"
    That's one of hell of a point! The argument in favor of stronger copyright laws (and intellectual property protection in general) has always been that they promote innovation and creation. In fact, the point is taken as gospel by the courts. Any evidence that destroys this as myth is very important IMHO.

     

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  22.  
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    Flyfish, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 1:06pm

    Attempting to tie the subjective 'quality' of compositions to copyright law is a fallacious argument. Correlation does not imply causation.

    Mike you need a new hobby, your obsession with demanding free entertainment is tiresome.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 1:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    I'd be curious to see Mike weigh in on this.

     

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  24.  
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    DanC, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:07pm

    Re: Quantity and Quality?

    So, after copyright he produced fewer works, but also some of his greatest work. Hmmm... Seems like the extra financial protection provided by copyright allowed Verdi to concentrate on the quality of his work rather than the quantity. Seems like a good thing to me.

    And yet, as the linked paper mentions:

    Even without the benefit of copyright, opera composers Gioachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti behaved similarly, reducing their composition effort as they accumulated from their successes sufficient fortunes to abate further income-earning desires

    Other composers followed a similar trend to Verdi, without the protection of copyright. So it's also entirely possible that copyright had no effect on the quality of work.

     

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  25.  
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    Weird Harold, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:43pm

    "creation of content": Is the playing and re-recording over and over of the same classical music pieces creation of content, or just wearing down the same old rut?

    Perhaps someone should write some new "classical" music instead of just retreading what is already there.

     

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  26.  
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    Mike (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    This is the idea of an artist pouring thier soul into something. Maybe Bruce just doesnt want them using a heartfelt piece he wrote about his dead brother and his relationship with his father. In a world of "no copyright" how does he prevent that (aside from never publishing it in the first place - which is what we all want to avoid). Does anyone even agree with me that he has some inharent interest in preventing such commercial use of his personal experssion? Maybe this is just the price we have to pay to reform copyright? I dunnno . . . Im asking . . .

    In many cases with EXISTING copyright law the artist has no say in the matter. If a politician Bruce Springsteen hated wanted to play a Bruce song at a political rally, Bruce has no legal way to stop it.

    So I don't see how things would be all that different.

    But, there is another factor: peer pressure. If Bruce freaks out about Exxon using his song, why not go public with his complaints about Exxon -- creating much anger and illwill towards Exxon. Even without copyright, many users of songs for such purposes will likely be better off getting official "ok" from the band, to avoid a publicity nightmare.

     

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  27.  
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    Mike (profile), Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:46pm

    Re:

    Attempting to tie the subjective 'quality' of compositions to copyright law is a fallacious argument. Correlation does not imply causation.

    Um. Ok. You might want to try reading the actual research before brushing it off in such a way that shows you didn't read anything.

    Mike you need a new hobby, your obsession with demanding free entertainment is tiresome.

    I am not demanding free entertainment in the slightest. Explaining to people the potential for a better business model, while also highlighting how protectionism causes harm is hardly "demanding free entertainment."

    Either way, you are free to stop reading -- or to offer some ACTUAL response. It's always obvious when someone's decided he has no real response to counter the tons of evidence: he resorts to insults. Must make you feel big, huh?

     

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  28.  
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    Easily Amused, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 7:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    In a perfect world, the company who wants to use an artist's work would seek permission and pay a suitable royalty because it is the right thing to do, not because it is legally required. Like tipping your waiter for good service.

    Back in the real world, with the speed and breadth of communication available, they would hopefully seek permission because if the artist did not agree with the use of the piece it would be made public and the community of supporters around the artist would give the company lots of bad press.

     

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  29.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Mar 13th, 2009 @ 1:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Well . . . what about . . .

    Opprobrium, reputation, etiquette, politeness, decency, respect, these are all factors that govern people's treatment and attitude toward each other. However, they do not define rights.

    This is why it's essential to have a clear understanding as to what are fundamental rights and what aren't. Life, privacy, truth, and liberty are fundamental rights. Respect towards one's neighbour is a matter for the individuals concerned.

    It is also worth noting that corporations in not being human (and thus not having rights) may also need additional regulation to ensure they are sociable rather than sociopathic, consequently it is possible one could require corporations to seek permission in their use of published art where an individual wouldn't be so required, but one would need to be careful to constrain the corporation only to be respectful, not to significantly disadvantage it from an individual (who would suffer opprobrium from disrespect in a way the corporation wouldn't).

     

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  30.  
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    Xiera, Mar 13th, 2009 @ 6:31am

    Re: Big Bucks

    Correction: politicians insist that copyright "works" because, as far as they know, it *does*. They just don't seem to realise that a lack of copyright would "work" better.

     

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  31.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh, Mar 13th, 2009 @ 8:07pm

    Copyright

    "Giuseppe Verdi composed in an era both without copyright and with copyright -- but as soon as copyright came into play, he drastically slowed down his production of new works, since he could live off the royalties from older works instead"
    It is hard for me to defend copyright as it exists, since I believe it is seriously broken, due to the practice of buying legislators.
    However, arguing that it is good to keep someone poor so they will produce more is even more repugnant.

     

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