Songwriters Guild Boss Claims Songwriters Can't Write Without Copyright
from the oh-really-now? dept
Last week, we wrote about a rather level-headed and quite interesting FT opinion piece written by The Pirate Party’s Christian Engstrom, who now represents the Swedish Pirate Party in the European Parliament. While the entertainment industry has tried to paint the Pirate Party as a bunch of thieves who just want stuff for free, Engstrom’s piece was quite sensible in explaining the real thinking behind the party: a focus on individual rights and worries about privacy invasion. Of course, the usual copyright supporters couldn’t let such thinking go unchallenged…
Rick Carnes, the head of the Songwriters Guild of America wrote a letter to the Financial Times, responding to Engstrom, but the letter is odd, poorly supported, flat-out wrong in some spots and seems to have totally ignored what Engstrom was actually saying. Let’s take a look:
Christian Engstrom of the Pirates party is absolutely correct in his assumption that Elvis’s music does not belong to him. It belongs to great songwriters like Otis Blackwell, who wrote so many of Elvis’s big hits such as “All shook up” and “Return to sender”, and who fought for years to protect and strengthen US copyright law. Without copyright, Mr Blackwell would never have been able to create that “common cultural heritage” that Mr Engstrom wants to think of as his own.
First, this is a near total misreading of what Engstrom said. You have to assume that Carnes — by no means an unintelligent person — is simply deliberately misstating Engstrom’s claims to further his own protectionist positions. Engstrom’s point is just in noting how odd it is that we can’t share a key part of our common cultural heritage. If you look at pretty much all of human history up until recently, part of what made a common cultural heritage possible was the ability to share it. Engstrom wasn’t claiming that it was his own as Carnes states, but that as part of our common cultural heritage it makes sense that we’d like to share it with others. That’s how culture works.
But, more importantly, Carnes is flat out wrong in claiming that Mr. Blackwell would never have been able to create those works without copyright. The incentives may have been different, but as we’ve been showing time and time again, there are tons of alternative business models for the creation of music that do not rely on copyright. And, given the massive demand for musical entertainment, it’s pretty clear that such business models would certainly allow for compensation of songwriters as well. This assumption that copyright is the only way to pay songwriters is just silly and ignorant. It’s just not true and has never been true. For someone who positions himself as a creative person, to insist that there’s only one mechanism for songwriters to earn money is simply unbelievable.
He forgets that it isn’t technology that “opens up new possibilities” — it is the people who create the technology, the very people who earn their livings from patents and copyrights.
No, actually, Engstrom is quite clear that he does not forget the people. He’s quite focused on actually supporting their individual rights. What he’s against is the abuse of their rights via overly encroaching government monopoly. Furthermore, Carnes is again wrong in claiming that these people “earn their livings from patents and copyrights.” They do not. They earn their living by putting in place (or working for a company that has put in place) a workable business model that involves providing goods and services that people or companies want and pay for. They may use patents and copyright as a part of that, but it is false and misleading to claim they earn their money from the patents and copyrights. The patents and copyrights, by themselves, pay nothing. In fact, the only way to get money from such intellectual endeavors is to offer people something they want in order to generate money in a business model. No one is trying to take that away. We just think that it need not have the gov’t setting up unnecessary and limiting barriers.
Computer code, songs, artwork and drug patents don’t appear “as if by magic”. These people invest their lives, their dreams, their money, their time and all their hopes for the future in their work.
Indeed. No one has suggested otherwise. But part of that investing of lives, dreams, money and time is making sure they put in place a reasonable business model.
Creative people don’t necessarily create only for money, but the money is necessary if only for them to continue to create.
Again, this is a total strawman. Carnes is pretending that Engstrom said that creators shouldn’t earn money. He did not. He was pointing out that how they earn money may change, but no one is saying they shouldn’t earn money. That Carnes seems to think that copyright is the only way to make money from content is either willful ignorance or blatant lying by someone whose job it is to push for greater protectionism for his constituents.
The real “restriction” on Mr Engstrom’s access to an Elvis song is a paltry 99 cents for a download on iTunes. For that he wants us to abandon the copyright and patent laws that have been constructed over hundreds of years.
Again, this is a total misreading of Engstrom’s comments. Engstrom’s complaint isn’t with the 99 cents one needs to pay to download a tune (though, I don’t believe they use American money in Sweden…), but with the fact that he should have to pay to share and promote such a cultural artifact with others. It is only with intellectual property that such a restriction is placed on it, and it is a massive limitation on how people interact through culture these days.
Nor is the world “at a crossroads”, as he claims. We will not face the apocalypse if people have to pay for music again. What is already causing serious cultural damage is the failure to enforce copyright law on the internet. I started making my own music at eight years old and by 13 I was making money at it. By 27 I was a professional songwriter and built a lifelong career as an “active” creator of musical culture; until, that is, I was put out of business by illegal downloading.
Again, Carnes seems to have misunderstood and is misrepresenting what Engstrom said (I don’t believe he reflected him accurately once in the entire letter, which is impressive). No one is saying we will face the apocalypse if people “have” to pay for music again. He’s simply noting that it’s impossible to stop what technology has allowed. There is no such thing as people having to pay for music again. No one has to pay for anything. They make decisions in the marketplace — and many are choosing not to pay for music anymore.
Furthermore, while Carnes may sincerely believe that “illegal downloading” put him out of business, the only thing that really put him out of business was his apparent inability to adapt to the changing marketplace. There is absolutely nothing stopping him from writing any more songs, other than an apparent lack of creativity in adjusting to a changing marketplace.
Mr Engstrom warns that “society has to make a choice” between total anonymity or totalitarian control on the internet. This is naive. The right choice is neither. Instead, we need to find some sweet spot in between. It is simple to conflate the ideas of privacy and theft. I could, for instance, claim that it is my right to wear a ski mask into a bank in order to keep my identity “private” from the prying eye of the bank security camera. The security guards might take exception to that, and for good reason.
Must we really explain the difference between copying and theft yet again? Engstrom is not talking about theft. He’s talking about the ability to share and to communicate through content.
Similarly, while governments should limit intrusion into people’s private lives they also have the responsibility to protect citizens from the theft of their property.
Indeed. They do. But this is not about theft, and it’s not about property.
Laws are passed based on history, common sense and hopefully the common good. The internet is a new medium and the world is still trying to come to grips with the balance between privacy and security. I would ask Mr Engstrom to give that a chance to happen by toning down the rhetoric.
This is the most amusing of all, seeing as Engstrom’s piece was rather devoid of inflammatory rhetoric, but was amazingly reasonable and level-headed. And speaking of rhetoric, it was Carnes who recently did an amazingly inflammatory interview where he used all sorts of bogus rhetoric. In it, he referred to the internet as “cyber somalia.” He claimed the days of the stand alone songwriter were “over.” He claimed that those who are sharing and promoting music online are “a mob of anonymous looters.” He said he was hoping for “a ‘bail-out’ for all the songwriters who lost their jobs because their intellectual property was not protected by the US Government on the Internet.” He calls Google “a real culture-killer.” He called anyone who suggested that perhaps songwriters should explore new business models in a changed market “unbelievably arrogant and self-serving.”
So… if we’re talking about “toning down the rhetoric” perhaps Carnes should start with himself? At the very least, he might want to take a step back and try responding to what Engstrom and others are actually saying, rather than this straw bogeyman he seems to have set up in his mind.