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A Historical Look At Copyright And Music

from the useful-reading dept

Jon sends in an interesting link from the New Statesman from last month, discussing some of the history of music and copyright, specifically as it concerned 19th century music. The article is something of a response to the ridiculous, unnecessary and dangerous plan in Europe to extend copyright on performance rights, supposedly to protect “session musicians,” but which really just enriches the record labels, and would do very little for the session musicians (who made their deal with the public when they performed in the first place).

There are some notable points in the article, including the fact that since France was one of the first countries to have very strong intellectual property laws for music, many musicians tried to establish themselves in France, but the music produced under that system, in retrospect, isn’t considered even remotely in the same class as some of the music produced elsewhere — even though it was the French composers who got wealthy. In other words, the system of granting monopolies did not do much to encourage better music — but did plenty to encourage a few mediocre composers to monopolize the system to get wealthy. That’s not to say that the alternative business models were good for the musicians in question (the article notes the troubles many faced), but the purpose of copyright is not to make certain musicians rich, but to get them to create better content. And, these days, there are many mechanisms in place by which musicians can make money without relying on intellectual property protections.

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Comments on “A Historical Look At Copyright And Music”

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Anon2 says:

session musicans

I’m not sure why anyone across the pond would be trying to argue that an extension would benefit session musicans. They have never, except in very rare instances involving the most in-demand of them, had any right or any expectation of participation in future revenues. They’re paid a flat per-day (or half-day) fee. Most often it’s based on union rates or better (the rate schedules are minimums; members are entitled to negotiate for higher rates if their services are more highly valued).

It’s basic work-for-hire stuff, and so far as I know it’s been that way for as long as we’ve had recorded music. In some cases, the label owns the resulting recording; in other cases (more and more frequently) the artist or band for whom the session musician is playing owns it.

Nothing about those arrangements will change, whether copyright terms are extended somewhere, or whether the entire system is scrapped in favor of one of the new business models this blog frequently touts. Well, the union rate schedules might go by the wayside, because there won’t be large entities to collectively bargain with, but that will almost certainly result in nothing more than journeyman session musicans being paid less per-day, because more and more often they are doing just that when they go into a recording session at a studio, or home, or wherever the recording gear is set up, that is not bound by the collective bargaining agreement.

Anonymous Coward says:


Where can I buy the cheapest possible MP3 player with a USB port? I don’t want video displays, pre-loaded songs, or any other silly frills. I’ll have at most 3 or 4 songs on it. My style is to listen to one song I like over and over, then not listen to music at all for a while until I find some new song.

Anonymous Coward says:

…but the purpose of copyright is not to make certain musicians rich, but to get them to create better content.

I recognize I am taking note of but a small portion of this article; however, this portion is quite unusual. I do not believe it is fair to say that the purpose of copyright law is to get musicians to make better content. Its purpose is to provide an incentive for them to create content, with the decision on whether it is good or bad being left up to the listener.

Perhaps I misunderstand the context in which this portion was used.

Maya says:

Re: Re:


just a minor comment on the purpose of copyright. Firstly, there is a distinction between the two existing systems, for example, “copyright” system in the U.S., the U.K., India and countries of the Commonwealth, and the “droit d’auteur” system, clearly based on the French example. which is present in continental Europe, and several African and South American coutries. While the so-called copyright system is indeed meant to provide incentive to create and therefore serves the public interest (the public eventually benefits from authors’ creations), the “droit d’auteur” system sees the the right of authorship as a naturally given (this is why, unlike copyright, the right of authorship exists simply on the basis of creation of a work), automatic right of every human being and is meant as a reward for the authors.

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