Artists Want The Ability To Buy Back Their Copyrights If Universal Is Allowed To Buy EMI

from the interesting-idea... dept

As Universal Music Group (UMG) continues dealing with antitrust questions as it tries to close its purchase of EMI, there's a lot of focus on "divestment," or which parts of the combined entity that would have to be sold off. There's even talk of having to sell off the famed Parlophone Records label (home of Coldplay and Radiohead). That would be a big deal, of course, but an even more interesting proposal has been brought up by the Featured Artists Coalition, a UK-based coalition of musicians, who are saying that if the company has to divest, why not let the artists themselves have the opportunity to buy back their copyrights at "fair market value."
Divestments in the wake of mergers should first offer copyrights, at market rates, to the artists who created them. To sell them to other corporations, whether large or small, is just a perpetuation of an old business model, which has seen the recorded music business halve in value over 10 years. During that time, the technological revolution has displaced the old music business players. We do not need to repeat the mistakes of the past.

It would be good to have music business people rather than financiers owning and running music companies again. It would be even better to have artists owning their work and entering into partner relationships with service-providing major and independent record companies with all the finance and expertise an artist needs to develop their own business.
That letter is signed by Ed O'Brien of Radiohead and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. Of course, I imagine that the labels and the artists might disagree about what "market rates" are. Also, given how focused the labels are on fighting copyright termination in the US (allowing artists to take back their copyrights after 35 years), you have to imagine that they'd fight any such plan equally hard. It's no surprise why, though: if the artists who could afford to buy back their rights did so, that would take away many of the "big name" acts, which are pretty much the remaining money makers under the old system. There's no way the labels would agree to this, even if it certainly puts the artists' interests first. Yet another example of how labels' and artists' interests are not aligned at all.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:14pm

    You hit on the real issue when you spoke about the argument about valuation. If the record company is saying that a certain contract is worth $X,XXX,XXX, but they have continued to claim that the records are not profitable, it will have some explaining to do.

     

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  2.  
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    John Doe, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:19pm

    Any artist could afford to buy back their music

    Since by the labels own accounting, all music loses money, it can't be worth too much. So any artist should be able to buy back their copyrights.

     

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  3.  
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    arrow101 (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:19pm

    why dont the artists just download a copy of the songs, like everyone else does...

    stupid hippies

     

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  4.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:23pm

    Re:

    Def Leppard just re-record their music :)

     

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  5.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    They'll need a lot more artists signing that letter before anyone takes them seriously.

     

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  6.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    It's a good idea but I would go further. Artists should have the option of buying back the copyright of their music at any time, not just in cases like this.

     

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  7.  
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    jonny, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:29pm

    Billy Squier got all his publishing back just because a new CEO at Capitol records didn't want him on the label and just gave it to him. Then, hip hop started sampling his stuff and Billy just sits back and reaps the benefits.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    Why do artists even have to give up their copyright in the first place?

    I mean, if it is an incentive for them to create more stuff, they shouldnt be allowed to give it away.

     

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  9.  
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    RD, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    Re:

    "You hit on the real issue when you spoke about the argument about valuation. If the record company is saying that a certain contract is worth $X,XXX,XXX, but they have continued to claim that the records are not profitable, it will have some explaining to do."

    This would be the most awesome thing ever. This would occur in one of two ways:

    1) either the labels have to continue with the sham of "no records make any profits" except for a few big artists

    or

    2) they would have to redo ALL of their accounting, restate and backdate everything to show they made HUGE money on all of them, so they could negotiate a higher sale price, but then they would HAVE TO pay back ALL of that unpaid, restated profits.

    It would be glorious. They get properly shafted either way, as they should for ripping off artists for the last several decades.

    So that is why this will never, can never, will never be allowed to happen. Expect new proposed legislation to explicitly make it illegal for anyone to ever reclaim or repurchase a once-sold copyright assignment.

     

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  10.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:34pm

    Who could buy back

    if the artists who could afford to buy back their rights did so, that would take away many of the "big name" acts,
    Actually, if the market rates are fair, it ought to be equally possible for any artist - since the copyrights of poorer artists ought to be cheaper - unless of course they are poorer because they did a worse deal with the label rather than because their music is less valuable.

     

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  11.  
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    gnudist, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Any artist could afford to buy back their music

    Yes, artists could ask the labels to pay them to take the music off their hands since the music is draining money from the labels taking the copyrights back would be performing a valueable service.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 1:42pm

    'the technological revolution has displaced the old music business players. We do not need to repeat the mistakes of the past.'

    isn't it strange how the artists use the same argument, when it is to their advantage, as customers do, over the old and the new business models, and what is the way forward, ie giving customers what they want 'at fair market value'! instead of constantly fighting against the people, these artists should be joining the customers in the fight against the labels, the outdated business practices and copyright in general. get a win-win situation going for a change!

     

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  13.  
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    anon, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:09pm

    Ohh dear me

    Just the fact that this is being discussed shows how artists have really been following the arguments. It will go nowhere but will be a good bit of evidence when the time comes for the labels to pay what they owe.
    Personally i don't think all label's are evil, but this needs to come out into the open and those that have been ripping of the artists needs to be sued , and if people like Simon Cowel are found to have been using creative accounting then they must be forced to sell every house and every car and every whore they have purchased. Every penny they have ever made must be returned to the artists , even if it meant taking the shirt of there backs and leaving them with nothing to there names.

     

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  14.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Re:

    This is great for other reasons as well. The artists obviously want to buy back their copyrights, so they want the price to be low, but they also want their copyrights to be valuable. If they make it too high, they have to pay more, if they make it too low, they are showing the world how much value they think their copyrights are worth (which is entirely different to how much value the songs actually are, btw).

    This is fun. Labels want them valued high for more money, but low so they don't have to redo all their royalty payouts. Artists want them low so they don't have to spend a lot of money, but high so they aren't showing the world how little value copyright's are.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:22pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    All of these reasons is why the labels will only sell to other labels who are in the know of creative accounting.

     

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  16.  
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    gorehound (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:32pm

    Best bet is to not sign on the dotted line with any Big Label.
    The Big Label will not let the Artist "Buy Back" their Music.And if they do so it will only be for some Astronomical Made-Up Figure.
    Pink Floyd buyback at $100 Million Dollars, ETC.

     

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  17.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re:

    3) They do a little paper shuffling/editing so suddenly all the money that the artist is already docked for due to the myriad of 'we don't feel like paying you' fees is suddenly added to the worth of the albums. Do that, and they wouldn't have to pay the artists anything more, while at the same time being able to claim that all albums make a ton of money, and are therefor insanely expensive to 'buy back'.

    Honestly, just looking at what they've done in the past, there is no low they won't sink to if it means they can continue screwing the artist over and keeping as much money to themselves as possible.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re: Re:

    That is one of the smart moves musicians can do, they can cover themselves and retain all the rights to that cover while having to pay a fraction to the copyright owner of the original material.

     

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  19.  
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    TaCktiX (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 2:57pm

    Re:

    I think that Nick Mason and Ed O'Brien are terrific starting points. As a fan of Pink Floyd sight unseen, I'm happy to see their drummer standing up for the artist's right to have access to their own work.

     

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  20.  
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    Michael, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 4:27pm

    Honestly, I don't see the artists acquiring the copyrights to their back catalogs. The artists' 'termination rights' go into effect in 2013 and we already know that the labels are going to fight it out tooth and claw with the artists for ownership (ya know, to *protect* them). Would it surprise anyone if the RIAA/labels loaded TPP with ammunition to serve that very purpose? Hmm.

    Keep your eyes open.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 4:34pm

    Re:

    Quote:
    Why do artists even have to give up their copyright in the first place?


    So "copyright holders" can profit from it.
    C'mon you don't expect a hippie musician, singer, performer to really make money do you?

    The copyright holder will buy the rights for the music and exploit it all the while studying law and accounting so it can better screw the creators and make the creators believe they are getting a good deal, with the sheep rallying to defend the copyright holders which are not artists.

    It works like this, you buy cheap and corner the market those are basic principles that anybody can fallow, you don't need higher education to understand that principle.

    Copyrights which are artificial monopolies creates the best environment for bloodsucking parasites to thrive, and it so happen that they get elected to office and then appoint their pals to occupy key positions in government institutions that don't have elections and are for life and so they capture the regulatory process and screw everyone.

    Now you can see how that makes perfect sense for a very small group of people but not for everybody else.

     

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  22.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 4:55pm

    Re:

    The indentured servitude spelled out in their contracts.
    We pay all for all of these things, so we need something. Let us hold the copyright, and we'll take very good care of it. And you'll be selling millions of records, its easier to let us handle the money.

     

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  23.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 1st, 2012 @ 5:39pm

    Re:

    I was told that if you add up all the labels profits "all" the artists would have re-cooped over 20 times over. But that is just averages and has nothing to do with reality, and less to do with label accounting.

     

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  24.  
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    No One, Aug 1st, 2012 @ 10:55pm

    Re:

    What artists are "constantly fighting the people" other than a few who were ripped to shreds.

    I think most all artists keep their mouths shut.

    I think most artists are more interested in music.

    But I don't think most of them like getting ripped off by a label, or a publisher, or a tech company, or "the people", or anyone.

    Would you?

     

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  25.  
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    JMT (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 1:09am

    Re:

    I would love for some of Techdirt's regular pro-copyright, pro-label shills to attempt to provide an answer your completely reasonable question. But I'm not holding my breath.

     

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  26.  
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    Cagey (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 3:40am

    Who wants 'em?

    I think it's telling that companies with more money than God don't buy up some of these major labels. I mean, think about it. Google/Apple/Microsoft could buy the likes of EMI with front pocket money, and they have the wherewithal to make a going concern of the business with little or no trouble. Yet, they don't. Why is that? Could it be that the whole concept of selling disks has run its course?

     

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  27.  
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    Ninja (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 4:10am

    Re:

    That.

    why not let the artists themselves have the opportunity to buy back their copyrights

    It strikes me as a complete absurd that an artist has to buy the rights back. There should not be the "copyright holder" expression, just "copyright owner". The artists could "rent" this copyright to the labels but they should never be able to sell or give up their copyright. This is one more proof that the system is completely broken and only harms the creators.


    Sure this poses a problem of who owns if many worked in the creative process (do not mistake it with the expression process that is when the music created by some1 is played by a group).

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 6:24am

    I love that idea!! If a company is sold that holds your copyrights you have first dibs. Absolutely!!

     

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  29.  
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    Wally (profile), Aug 2nd, 2012 @ 7:32am

    Buying Back

    I hope that the artists come to realize that they can legally pull the license to sell their music at any time from the record labels and hold the copyrights to the artists themselves to do with what they please.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2012 @ 9:30am

    Re: Re:

    Your analogy is poor.

    You're thinking of labels and "the people" as physically slapping the artist. i.e. The labels have already ripped the artist off, which is a slap in the face. "The people" also slap them in the face through "illegitimate" access to content.

    What actually happens is that if the labels are ripping off artist, the artist doesn't get paid regardless of what "the people" do.

     

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  31.  
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    Jason, Sep 10th, 2012 @ 5:08pm

    I agree, I think they should be able to buy back their rights. I thought most were doing it all their selves though. All you need to do is pay for the studio. With iTunes these days, I would not pay the greedy jerks anyway.

     

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