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.