RIAA Says There's No Value In The Public Domain

from the true-colors dept

While I’ve already written about the hearings for the Copyright Office concerning copyright on pre-1972 sound recordings, but I wanted to call out one particularly egregious and ridiculous statement from the RIAA. The RIAA’s Jennifer Pariser claimed that there’s no value to a work in the public domain. Apparently Pariser is unfamiliar with the works of Shakespeare. Or Beethoven. Is she serious? I mean, you could make the argument that it makes life more difficult to sell those works for the labels she represents, but those works have tremendous value. Pariser, of course, is famous for making ridiculous statements, sometimes under oath. Back when she worked for Sony-BMG she made some statements, on the stand and under oath, in the Jammie Thomas trial that were blatantly untrue. Only much later, after the jury had ruled, did the RIAA admit that Pariser “misspoke” while on the stand. One hopes she “misspoke” here as well, but I get the feeling she actually believes the blatantly incorrect statement she made.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: riaa

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “RIAA Says There's No Value In The Public Domain”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
91 Comments
JT says:

Re: Re: Re: So nobody makes money off the bible?

That was not religion-bashing, that was attempting to demonstrate how that kind of value – you know, the non-monetary one you imply with your choice of words – is not just subjective, it’s so subjective that it is a matter of direction, and not just scale.

If you’d like to see some actual religion-bashing to contrast with the straw-man; or discuss where exactly the introduction of religion to the subject of value happened in this thread, I’d be happy to oblige…

John Doe says:

Re: Re: Re:2 So nobody makes money off the bible?

You are the one throwing out a strawman now. This blog post was about the “value” of public domain works. My comment was that public domain works still have value and money can still be made from them with the bible being just one example. So I was not implying any non-monetary value at all. You read into what you wanted to due to your negative view of the bible. That was your fault, not mine.

wallow-T says:

Someone with more time than I have might want to work back to primary sources on this one…

My understanding is that a good part of the wealth of the recorded-music business traces back to a reckless act of disregarding copyright, for material which SHOULD have been in the public domain. In 1952, folklorist Harry Smith issued the ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC, a 6-LP collection on the Folkways label which passed on key blues & roots recordings from the 1920s and 1930s to a new generation of listeners — many of those would go on to develop the massively popular musics of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s etc.

Smith seems to have seen those old 78’s as “abandonware” and he did tremendous cultural work in passing the music along for future generations. The issuing record companies saw no value in that old junk and of course it was all out of print by 1952. But, in today’s terms, Harry Smith was a copyright criminal, as neither he nor the record company did proper licensing.

(Folkways, by then under the ownership of the Smithsonian Institution, did get licenses for a CD-era reissue of the set.)

LegitTroll (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem with statements like this (which I have made myself) is that groups like the RIAA never seem to die off the way that we want them to. They mutate like a virus into something different and change tactics even though the overall effect is the same.

We have become so enthralled with this “ownership” society that regular citizens like myself and probably most of the people who comment here are going to have no choice but to be “criminals” by letter of the law. Whether its Apple telling me that I cannot giveaway my new iPad2 for a promotion, or the collection societies trying to tax me over and over for my choice in ringtones.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem with statements like this (which I have made myself) is that groups like the RIAA never seem to die off the way that we want them to. They mutate like a virus into something different and change tactics even though the overall effect is the same.

And now we finally know the origins of the BORG.

“We are the Borg. Lower your Public Domain and surrender your freed intellectual property. We will add your audio and video recordings to our own and hold copyright on them in perpetuity. Your culture will adapt to service us under threat of lawsuit, prison and having your useful organs sent to the organ banks for implantation into our artists so they never die. Resistance is futile.

Spoiler alert!
P.S. This would make Sonny Bono the first Borg Queen.

DH's Love Child (profile) says:

This woman

Needs a history lesson. RIAA’s entire existence DEPENDS on public domain. There is absolutely no music being created that can’t be associated with a previous work. None.

If she really believes that PD has no value, then I would challenge the RIAA to have the record labels remove everything from the market that used material from the public domain. She can see how much value PD has then.

wallow-T says:

On the VALUE of public domain music: we have a very current example in Britain, where sound recordings still go out of copyright after 50 years (unless a change to that has been rammed through).

The last decade or two have seen a flood of budget boxed sets of old blues, country, roots music — the sort of stuff Harry Smith was anthologizing, as I mentioned above. Also old jazz and classical — the Naxos label has reissued a lot of classical, and got strung up by New York State copyright laws when they tried to bring important historical reissues to the USA.

These boxed sets are being reissued in Britain FOR MONEY/PROFIT, and the fact that the sets have continued to be released for many years indicate that there is commercial value here in public domain sound recordings.

If anything, I suggest that entering the public domain allows these recordings to find NEW VALUE, while permitting the original copyright owners to keep them locked up DESTROYS VALUE.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: The copyright maximalists will push for an age of the universe (13.75 billion years) plus a day copyright.

They can?t claim for a day over 6000 years, otherwise they?re contradicting their own religion.

In other words, the term has long since expired, and the Universe is now in the Public Domain.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is no value in the public domain, in that there is nothing that can be easily turned into money or income for anyone. If all content immediately went into the public domain, there would be no economic model that could be applied to pay for it’s creation.

Value is a term that has different meanings to people at different times. Applying only a single meaning to it is sort of misleading.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, Disney didn’t make a penny off of the public domain. They made money on works based in part off of the public domain, creating copyrighted and marketable products. Just having the stuff in the public domain made nothing.

If they only took an existing public domain work (say a book of fairy tales) and reprinted it verbatim, they would have made little if anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Yes, but you need to understand: the material in the public domain has no commercial value as it was. We might as a society value it in some way, but actual commercial value is nil.

Disney made an entirely new animated movie based on the public domain (which is perfectly legal) and copyrighted the resulting work (again, perfectly legal). Since that time, the duration of copyright has been extended and the work is still under copyright (still perfectly legal).

It is significant to note that Disney’s animated Snow White still has significant value, both commercially and in a social / society sense, unlike the public domain work which is essentially ignored at this point.

Perhaps that is part of the deal on copyright, as Disney took something that was ignored and turned it into something of true value, and something that continued to hold it’s value long past what anyone would expect.

A non-mouse says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, Disney didn’t make a penny off of the public domain.

Yes actually, they did. Millions upon millions.

They made money on works based in part off of the public domain, creating copyrighted and marketable products.

Had the fairy tales still been under copyright, then Disney would not have been able to create new works based upon them. Not without a licensing deal anyway.

Just having the stuff in the public domain made nothing.

The basic script was already written for them, they just freshened it up a bit and presented it in new way. I’m not trying to belittle what Disney does, just simplify it for the sake of conversation. Yes, the animation is what makes it new & special, but they started out with a wonderful story that was already well known & popular. Is there no value in that?
The public domain gives EVERYONE (not just Disney) a tremendous pool of material to draw from. Free of charge, free from restraint. There is incredible value in that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You make a great statement, but you still managed to miss the point.

Yes, the public domain gives us a great pool of stuff. It’s value as stuff is difficult to measure, most of it is ignored and left to rot. For every Shakespeare there is a Florencia Pinar that most people here wouldn’t know without Googling.

I would actually suspect that without Disney, most people in this generation would never have heard of Snow White. How many thousands (or millions) of similar stories sit unknown in the public domain because of a lack of interest?

Remember: people aren’t actively file trading 15th century books. They are file trading modern movies, tv shows, music, and the like. The public domain is there free for the taking and nobody is taking it. That is perhaps the clearest indication of the true value of it.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

They are file trading CURRENT movies, tv shows, music and the like. Five years from now, very few people will be file trading House, Community or any other content produced today.

The idea isn’t to completely copy the public domain. It’s supposed to inspire people to do different things with that content

Your comment about the most of the public domain being ignored and left to rot applies equally to material still subject to copyright. Plenty of content with copyright being ignored and left to rot.

wallow-T says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“The public domain is there free for the taking and nobody is taking it.”

I think Project Gutenberg, which takes public domain books, digitizes them and puts them on line, would disagree with that statement. Guys, does Project Gutenberg have any stats on what gets downloaded?

(I know I have one friend who loads up her Sony e-reader with 19th century books from Project Gutenberg.)

Dover Books would also disagree with you: their business for years has been reissues of public domain books. Their reissues are sold for cash money in for-profit bookstores.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Their total re-issue is a spoonful from the ocean of public domain. Everything that has come before 1900 is in the public domain. Everything. Every newspaper, every book, every story. Yet, only a very small amount of it is available in any format.

There will always be exceptions, but business models are not build on exceptions.

el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The value of the public domain is that it is the sole reason society tolerates copyright. Without it, what possible purpose is there in allowing a corporation to have an indefinite monopoly on distribution. Ostensibly they should have a limited window to make a profit, after which the work goes into the public domain. This erosion is the reason people like me no longer have any respect for copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We should just get rid of the public domain already. We should also get rid of the public.

It would solve a lot of issues for businesses who need to make money. And at the end of the day, isn’t money more important than culture? You can’t buy food or pay rent with culture, everybody knows this!

RobShaver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Get rid of the public domain?

Right now any business can sell anything in the public domain. If we get rid of the public domain then they can’t. Who would get the works in the public domain?

Oh, and nothing new is going into the public domain either because the copyright period is/will be extended forever. The only way to make something free is Creative Commons. Google Nina Paley or search TechDirt for her name.

I guess your position is that if you can’t make money from it, get rid of it. Well, what good is a new born baby? (I suppose you might sell it.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The point is the commercial value isn’t in the existing work, the value is in the resale of that work in a new format, new presentation, and so on. Just sitting there, few people will go dig them out. However, represented as a new work (say a movie based on one of the bard’s books), or a new recording of classical music is what people are paying for.

More importantly, all of that is just a small part of the full public domain pool. It is the part that the public has been exposed to over and over again as the result of new movies, recordings, etc. There is a huge amount of the public domain that just doesn’t get any attention. What is it’s true value?

MrWilson says:

She’s absolutely right if she’s referring to most of the last century. There little of value in the public domain because the copyright maximalists have ensured that nothing of value falls into the public domain.

It’s a bit hypocritical to criticize the public domain when you work for the people who had a hand in depriving it of value.

Anonymous Coward says:

A Tweet devoid of context is hardly a substitute for what was actually stated by Ms. Pariser.

As for the reference to testimony in the JRT trial, to your knowledge do record labels as rights holders have any significant revenue streams other than the licensing of music? Perhaps I am mistaken, but to my knowledge most of the alternatives mentioned in your earlier article are not pursued by record labels.

Ms. Pariser was also labeled as not being truthful concerning the copying of music CDs. Actually, the only mention of the absolute right under statutory law to make a copy of a CD is with respect to making a backup copy of a software CD.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As for the reference to testimony in the JRT trial, to your knowledge do record labels as rights holders have any significant revenue streams other than the licensing of music? Perhaps I am mistaken, but to my knowledge most of the alternatives mentioned in your earlier article are not pursued by record labels.

I can’t help but read this and think “Do buggy whip makers have any significant revenues streams other than selling buggy whips? Perhaps I am mistaken, but to my knowledge most of the alternatives mentioned concerning automobiles are not pursued by the buggy whip makers.”

Your point is what, exactly, that it’s okay for the RIAA to force governments to change laws and lie in courts because they’re too stupid or lazy to adapt to a changing market? Really?!?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, my point was that in adapting to changing circumstances labels will begin to look anew at revenue streams that they have historically ceded to others.

Ms. Pariser did not give perjured testimony, and for you to say that she did is unfounded and inappropriate

Wow. You really do love to misrepresent, don’t you. The key issue with her statement was not the revenue question, but her claiming that ripping a CD was “stealing” and against the law.

Separately, the lesser of her statements, concerning her claims of how record labels make money was both wrong (record labels do make money from other means) and misleading to a jury. While you now claim that this will mean they will figure out how else to make money, that was NOT the impression she gave the jury.

Your obsessive desire to make us look bad here leads you to state amazingly untrue things. Please stop.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As I noted in my comments, to the best of my recollection the only affirmative right to copy a CD is associated with computer software. Assuming my recollection is correct (I believe it is, but statutes get amended all the time…so who knows), what Mrs. Pariser stated is accurate as a matter of statutory law.

The “back peddling” you are intent on calling a lie is that the music labels have made a decision, as is fully their right, to not pursue claims against those who rip music CDs so that they can listen to the music on their music players.

I have no desire, obsessive or otherwise, to make you look bad. My comments in major part are merely to point out that what this site says “is the law” in many instances “is not the law”. The problem as I see it is that you are reluctant to engage in any sort of a discussion to try and understand why this is the case.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

As I noted in my comments, to the best of my recollection the only affirmative right to copy a CD is associated with computer software. Assuming my recollection is correct (I believe it is, but statutes get amended all the time…so who knows), what Mrs. Pariser stated is accurate as a matter of statutory law.

Not so on multiple accounts. Considering that both time and place shifting has been deemed legal, you are grasping at straws.

Furthermore, even if you *were* right, she was wrong in that she equated it to “stealing,” when you know full well it is not, but that it is infringement.

Finally, I find it amazingly obnoxious that even the RIAA has admitted Pariser misspoke… and you STILL insist what she said was accurate.

My comments in major part are merely to point out that what this site says “is the law” in many instances “is not the law”.

And yet, a very large percentage of the time, you appear to be wrong in your claims. Even worse, when the law is different in the other direction, you have no problem ignoring what the law says (e.g., your claim that “stealing” is the same as infringement).

Might I suggest that perhaps you need to revisit your biases?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

You repeatedly note that what a statute “says” is incredibly important. All I said was that as a matter of what the statute actually says Ms. Pariser was correct in her testimony. She did not lie as you might have others believe.

Even the RIAA admits she did. I’m stunned that you continue to insist otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

No, the RIAA did not say she was wrong on the law. It did say her testimony did not reflect the policies articulated by the labels.

In fact, the labels are still on record that the copying/ripping of CDs is not per se a legal act (but this in neither here nor there because the labels have made it quite clear that they have no intention of pursuing private individuals who copy/rip CDs for private, personal use). The labels similarly do not acquiesce to the argument that fair use excuses such activities.

I insist otherwise because this is my understanding from RIAA statements I have read.

iBelieve says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

When I purchase a CD, I am purchasing a license to own the music for which I paid for. I am not going to lose that license soley because my CD got scratched and is no longer playable. I must therefore be able to protect my license by backing it up, (ie re-recording it as I see fit). It is not for my capability to resell the music or to mass produce the CD, but for copying to a medium that I can protect and back up -and for the life of the license, enjoy. Or am I out of my mind here?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

What you believe makes preeminent sense, but my comment was merely to note that the backing up of a music CD is not expressly exempted from the rights accorded a copyright holder as is the case with a computer software CD.

Hence, the right to back up a music CD was be found elsewhere, and that elsewhere is a policy decision made by the labels to allow backups/rips. If they do not care, then it does not present you any problem. Importantly, the labels have gone on record stating the law as I have summarized, and announced their policy without acquiescing that backups/rips are countenanced by law.

Anonymous Coward says:

1. Disney exists.
2. Disney has made movies.
3. Some of those movies were based on public domain works. (Early examples: Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland. Recent examples: Rapunzel, The Frog Prince.)
4. Those movies were profitable. (Cinderella is noteworthy as being critical to Disney’s early success.)

Therefore, it is empirically true that public domain works can have value. They cannot, by definition, have cost, but they can be useful, and can therefore have value.
The cost of a thing does not necessarily reflect its value, as anyone who breathes can affirm.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...