Gowers Slams Out Of Touch UK Cultural Secretary Over Copyright Extension Plan
from the learn-some-economics dept
Last week, UK Cultural Secretary Andy Burnham laid out a highly questionable argument in favor of copyright extension on performance rights in the UK. The logic he used made little sense, and seemed to be based on a odd belief that musicians had some sort of moral claim on money more than 50 years after they recorded songs — ignoring plenty of evidence that any extension wouldn’t actually benefit most musicians, but would enrich the major record labels.
Now, SteveD points out that Andrew Gowers has responded to Burnham’s suggestion and trashed the idea impressively. Gowers, you may recall, is the former Financial Times editor who was asked to explore issues having to do with copyright by the UK government. After spending quite some time researching the issue, he produced the so-called Gowers Report, that explained why copyright extension was a bad idea. Later, Gowers admitted that all of the evidence suggests copyright should actually be much shorter, not longer.
Gowers response to Burnham is worth reading in its entirety, as it skewers pretty much every point that Burnham put forth. Here are just a few tidbits:
As political speeches go, this is pretty silly. A moral case? You might just as well say sportspeople have a moral case to a pension at 30.
Copyright is an economic instrument, not a moral one, and if you consider the economic arguments — as I did two years ago at the request of Gordon Brown — you will find that they do not stack up. All the respectable research shows that copyright extension has high costs to the public and negligible benefits for the creative community.
Consumers find themselves paying more for old works or unable to access “orphan works” where copyright ownership is unclear. Small businesses that play recorded music such as hairdressing salons and local radio stations face a hidden extra “tax” in the form of higher music-licence fees. Do they really need this at this time?
Mr Burnham will no doubt find such arguments uncool. But even on his terms, the case for extension does not work. Twenty years’ extra earning power in 50 years’ time does nothing to put more money in the pockets of struggling performers now: two thirds of lifetime income from an average compact disc comes in the first six years after release.
And it will not alter the incentives for creation one jot. As Dave Rowntree, Blur’s drummer, told my review: “I have never heard of a single band deciding not to record a song because it will fall out of copyright in only 50 years. The idea is laughable.”
The rest of it is worth reading as well, and near the end he puts in a key point, addressed to the music labels: “Please focus on innovation, not on trying to eke more rent from the successes of yesteryear.” Indeed.