Can Anyone Name A Programmer Still Getting Paid For Code He Wrote In 1962?
from the we'll-wait dept
So, we already wrote about the RIAA’s big new legal attack on Pandora over royalties on pre-1972 sound recordings. The legal issues there are complex and convoluted, involving a mix of state common law along with federal copyright law. However, the RIAA has clearly decided that it’s not going to delve into the nuances there, preferring to go with totally bogus spin. This started with an opinion piece by SoundExchange’s CEO, in which he claimed that it was unfair that artists from pre-1972 works weren’t getting paid. And with the launch of this lawsuit, the RIAA is trotting out some artists who are making similarly bogus statements:
The RIAA circulated the lawsuit on Thursday along with quotes from artists or their heirs. “It’s an injustice that boggles the mind,” says Booker T. & the MG’s Steve Cropper. “Just like the programmers who deserve to be paid for their work, I deserve to be paid for mine.”
This depresses me, in part, because I’m a huge Steve Cropper fan — and have spent tons of money purchasing a variety of music from Booker T. & the MG’s over the years (and plenty of other of Cropper’s work both at Stax and elsewhere). However, this is a really unfortunate and misleading argument. It’s obviously an attempt to hit at those terrible “techies” at Pandora, implying that Pandora’s engineering staff continually gets paid for their work.
But it actually underlines how silly the RIAA’s argument is here. Because no Pandora programmer expects to get paid for his work 50 years from now. They get paid today to work today. And that’s it. If that person leaves Pandora tomorrow, then they don’t keep getting paid for it. Nor do they expect their children and grandchildren to keep getting paid for it. Booker T. and the MG’s biggest hit, Green Onions, came out in 1962. It would be great if Cropper could point to a programmer who is still getting paid for code he wrote in 1962. Because I would imagine it’s not a very big list.
This is also why many of the other quotes the RIAA is pushing concerning this effort are so misleading as well. Buddy Holly’s wife, Maria Elena Holly, rightly notes that “Many artists from the 1950s are retired and struggling to support themselves or have families or heirs who are trying to make ends meet.” That is, no doubt, true. But that’s a different issue. Copyright was never meant to be a welfare system for artists. It was never meant to keep paying them in retirement. It was meant to be an incentive to create, and once it worked, that was it. In fact, under the copyright laws that were in place in 1958 when Buddy Holly released his hit “Everyday,” the absolute longest that the copyright on that song could have lasted was 56 years. In other words, when Holly released that song, he knew that by 2014 (hmmm…) that song would be in the public domain. So it seems, well, a bit unseemly to suddenly be whining about it now.
In fact, I’m sure that many programmers from the 1950s are similarly “retired and struggling to support themselves or have families or heirs who are trying to make ends meet.” And many of those retired programmers created the underlying structure and systems for today’s computers and internet, which has created so much value for the world. But we don’t see them and their heirs whining about how the world owes them a living for work they did more than half a century ago.
And this is the problem. There are almost no professions in the world in which you get to do some work (even if it’s amazing work) half a century ago, and then still have people paying you for it today. To act like this is some sort of massive offense just seems silly and misguided.