Debating Copyright Extension In The UK

from the missing-the-point dept

Shane Richmond, who writes about technology and media for the Telegraph, recently handed over his blog to Martin Kretschmer and Horace Trubrudge for a debate about copyright extension (which is currently being discussed in the UK). Kretschmer is an intellectual property professor who is against copyright extension, while Trubrudge is the Assistant General Secretary of the British Musicians’ Union, and (not surprisingly) favors copyright extension. You can read the back and forth as follows:

Unfortunately, the debate is a bit haphazard and goes all over the place at times. Kretschmer, unfortunately, doesn’t do a great job picking the key points for why copyright extension is bad and sticking to them (i.e., the fact that copyright is a deal struck between the public and the creator, and changing that deal at a later date steals from the public). Instead, he focuses on the fact that most of the money will go to the record labels and big name musicians — which is a worthwhile point, but it leaves it open for Trubrudge to basically say, “so what?” Trubrudge’s point is that even if the record labels and some big artists will benefit the most, other musicians will still benefit somewhat, and his job is merely to make sure that those artists benefit. He also pulls out the “moral rights” argument which is a total red herring.

It’s too bad the debate went in that direction, as the question of copyright extension is a really important one — especially considering that it breaks a contract that the public made with musicians on the terms under which that content was created. It also ignores how such extensions limit the ability of new artists to build on older works — which is a key component to many newer artists creating their own unique works of art. As an example of this, I point (again) to James Boyle’s excellent discussion on how Ray Charles invented soul music by effectively “ripping off” other musicians, and how others have then built on Charles’ work. Stringent copyright protection at the time may have prevented soul music from ever coming about. There are plenty of similar examples as well — but unfortunately the debate doesn’t seem to touch on that aspect at all.

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Comments on “Debating Copyright Extension In The UK”

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Weird Harold (user link) says:

I can’t say that it is clear that stringent copyright laws would stop the authors of new music. Ray didn’t just repeat someone else’s music, he expanded it, changed it, and made it entirely his own.

Music is special because there is only so many notes, and styles often require many of the same notes in the same patterns. But it is that combination of notes, orchestration, lyrics, and other nuances that make musical performance unique in their own way. Mentioning Ray Charles creates a certain “oh my god” and gollification of the problem, but isn’t particularly on point because we cannot go back and re-write history.

The only good news? If the rules were that strict, we would only even of hand to suffer through one gangsta rap tune.

JMG says:


Ray didn’t just repeat someone else’s music, he expanded it, changed it, and made it entirely his own.

Isn’t that sort of the point of “remix” culture? What about cover songs and usage of music in film? One could argue that these things make something new and unique, either in recorded music or in other art forms.

That’s the trouble with copyright. What if I decide to cover some old Beatles’ song in a new, funky way, and it happens to earn me some album sales and/or concert ticket sales? There is a chance I wouldn’t have created this new music if I had to pay someone who had a “right” to this music. It stifles innovation (even if just a little tiny bit).

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Can’t agree. remixes are just using someone elses performance and repeating it. You didn’t play it yourself. it isn’t new.

Cover songs are the same thing – you are just redoing the exact same musical expression as already done.

Using music on films isn’t a question of “expanding”, it’s just using, see remixes.

That’s the trouble with copyright. What if I decide to cover some old Beatles’ song in a new, funky way, and it happens to earn me some album sales and/or concert ticket sales? There is a chance I wouldn’t have created this new music if I had to pay someone who had a “right” to this music. It stifles innovation

nothing is stopping you from playing a funky new tune, If you want to play a funy version of an old tune, you have to pay for the rights to use that old tune. No innovation is stifled, if anything innovation is encouraged by making you NOT repeat what was already done.

Sorry,but those are all fairly weak arguments.

zcat (profile) says:

Re: Re: Strongly agree with Mike here

When people talk about copyright infringement, they often refer to it as ‘stealing’, and we argue that it is not, because nobody is deprived of anything other than, perhaps, the opportunity to have made a sale.

When copyright is extended, the general public are in fact deprived of something; the original ‘deal’ with copyright was that creators would be granted some ‘temporary’ control over how others are allowed to copy and use their work, but eventually it becomes public domain and belongs to everybody. The length of copyright was agreed to at the time the work was created. Extending copyright forever (in twenty year installments) is theft, plain and simple.

zcat (profile) says:

I should not feed the troll but..

Imagine if Grimms Fairy Tales and various other folklore had been ‘protected’ by copyright. It would have been impossible for Disney to produce all those toony retellings of classic old stories. Imagine if the Winstons had as strongly defended their ‘rights’ to “Amen Brother” as most artists today seem to want to.. the entire genres based on sampled beats; Drum and Bass, Jungle, etc simply never would have been invented.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: I should not feed the troll but..

I don’t get it. I don’t give a crap what the RIAA has said – I don’t read their stuff, I certainly don’t work for them, and I don’t carry their water.

QUite simply, it’s my PERSONAL opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m sorry if you cannot accept that someone can actually have thoughts that aren’t exactly like yours.

Answer the point: Why is redoing a Beatles song creative? Should I re-type Shakespeare and call it original because I used a different font?

Mechwarrior says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I should not feed the troll but..

Its really hard to take your word for it when you tow the line of RIAA’s train of thought. Almost anything to do with music , you side with them, where as anything else you sound more like a IP reformist. The two stances are mutually exclusive, as music is IP, and RIAA doesnt want to seperate it as something different.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I should not feed the troll but..

The reality for me is that most of it is logical deductions. Every player in the music business does stuff with different motivations and restrictions. There is a very, very complex series of connections between motivations, money, and end product that make ripping various parts of copyright, patent, or whatever up and tossing them out to satisfy what may be nothing more than a passing business fancy.

I have seen the music business up close and personal (I am not a musician, however), and I have also see a good part of the movie business much closer than most. So in a sense, yes, my exposure has been on their side. Yet, for almost 15 years I have been marketing online. I understand the public demand and how easy it is to fall into meeting only the public demand without considering the business implications. I have seen endless numbers of people come in with a big wad of money and a dream and leave with a tattered dream and a bankruptcy notice.

Understanding the implications of patent and copyright on the creative process is key. Many of the people complaining out the restrictions as a result of copyright aren’t really that creative, they are more derivative. That is an important distinction.

When it comes to the business side, copyright and various other forms of rights management / licensing / etc are what pays to make the whole industry go. While everyone seems to be on that f— the record labels and greedy bast–ds, there is a reason these people are there, and there is a reason licensing exists. It’s what pays back the risk takers, it’s what assures long term value for effort. It is the reward side of the risk / reward equation, one that would be so unbalanced as to make it unlikely to work without it.

So in the end, it all stitches together in one big thing, cutting out the pieces makes it all die. There is very little consideration given here for “what happens next”, cries for revolution when evolution is working well.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Copyright ad infinitum

Wow, we spend a lot of time on entertainment! I suppose that is all that is important, killing people in an unjust war, homelessness, etc., those pale in comparison, don’t they?

Even so, let me point out that the (heavily subverted) purpose of IP law in general, including copyright, is NOT to “right the wrongs” for individuals, it is to “promote the general welfare”!!

Limiting our discussion to IP law (thereby avoiding contracts, etc., which should be “nother thing”), we do not promote the general welfare by stopping innovation – and that is what copyright is about, these days (well, it is also about shoveling money to politicians).

Mike Howlett says:

Copyright extension - the equity factor

One argument that does not seem to have entered this debate is the equity question: copyright in the writing of a piece of music (in the UK at least) lasts for the life of the composer plus 70 years; the current copyright in the performance (which is what a recording is legally) lasts for 50 years after the date of release (or of the recording for unreleased material). The question then should be: should the performance be valued less than the composing? Or, alternatively, should the composer’s copyright be shortened to be the same as performance?

The same duration as the composer’s copyright also applies to books, designs and artwork, so, again, why is the performer’s art less valued? And let’s not get into arguments about crap versions – there are also mediocre songs that are given new value by a magic performance. Not to mention the volumes of artworks, designs and books that are not to your taste (read crap if you must). And consider also that the record sleeve design and artwork as well as the composer get the life plus 70 years protection – just not the performers.

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