Without Copyright Extension, The Beatles Will Never Have Incentive To Write Another Song
from the poor,-poor-ringo-starr... dept
Over in the UK, they’re having a bit of a debate over copyright extension, as the entertainment industry (not surprisingly) is trying to extend copyrights out much longer. In the article at The Guardian, they set up something of a debate between the British Library and someone from the BPI (the British version of the RIAA). The British Library is reasonably worried that all of this copyright stuff is making it nearly impossible to archive data for historical purposes. The longer copyright is extended for, the worse the problem becomes, as plenty of content will simply be completely gone or in unreadable formats by the time it goes out of copyright. It’s a terrible precedent for archiving items. The guy from BPI responds that archiving and extension should be two separate issues, and he’s absolutely right. From there, however, almost everything he says has problems.
On archiving, he brushes off the concern of the library by suggesting that the copyright owners can do a fine job archiving everything on their own, and that there’s really no need for librarians to worry about such petty little things. “The British Library isn’t the only archivist in town. The idea that if it weren’t for the British Library no archiving would be going on is false.” However, if it’s a really big concern, he might, possibly be willing to carve out an exception. Of course, he’s missing the fact that these firms are archiving content only based on commercial viability, leaving plenty of other works out in the cold. A large part of the debate is over how to archive “orphan works” that have no direct commercial value, but cannot be copied due to copyright restrictions. Because commercial entities are only interested in content that has commercial value, they’re not archiving the rest of it. This is just one of the reasons why orphan works laws make sense.
The bigger issue, though, is copyright extension, and again, the guy from BPI is really far off-base. The purpose of copyright is to put in place the incentives for people to create creative works that they might not have done otherwise. Once that work is created, it’s hard to see any reason to increase the incentive. After all, the work has already been created. However, here, the BPI representative totally twists the purpose of copyrights around: “Copyrights are the asset bases of British record companies. If we enhance the asset base, we can go on to make other, more exciting entrepreneurial investment decisions. If we increase the length of the term, we increase the value of these assets.” By this argument, the government should just keep increasing the asset base value of any company. I should be able to go to the government and demand that they give a tax refund for each blog post, as it increases the likelihood that we’ll keep blogging. That’s not the purpose of copyright at all.
The story gets even worse, as they try to explain how poor, poor Ringo Starr with have his royalties dry up if copyright isn’t extended. Note that these are royalties from songs he created in the 1960s — on which we’re pretty sure Ringo has already made a sum of money that’s probably well in excess of what most of us will make in our lifetimes. In almost any other industry, you don’t get paid for what you did in 1960. You get paid for the work you do, not for your past work. If Ringo Starr wants to make more money, he can keep making music — which is exactly what he’s been doing lately. And, that alone suggests that there’s no need to extend copyrights. As it stands, there’s already plenty of incentive to create new works, and we’re pretty sure poor, poor Ringo Starr will get by just fine even if some of the Beatles’ music goes into the public domain in a few years.