How The Financialization Of Music Could Lead To Demands For Perpetual Copyright

from the just-another-asset-class? dept

Back in October, I noted the huge amounts of money pouring into music copyrights, largely driven by the global rise of online streaming. Since then, that trend has continued, most notably with Bruce Springsteen’s sale of his recordings and songwriting catalogue to Sony, for a rumored $550 million. As I pointed out in the post, one of the problems with this “financialization” of the sector is that music copyrights become completely divorced from the original creativity that lies behind them. They become just another asset, like gold, petroleum or property. On the Open Future blog, Paul Keller has pointed out a plausible – and terrifying – consequence of this shift.

As Keller notes, the more the owners of copyrights become detached from the creative production process, the less they will care about the nominal balances within the system. In particular, the central quid pro quo of copyright – that a government monopoly is granted to creators for a limited period, after which the work enters the public domain – will be perceived simply as an obstacle to greater profits. The financialization of the music world means that an artist’s ability to use the public domain as a foundation for future creativity, or to take advantage of copyright exceptions, will be of no interest to the corporations and private equity firms that are only concerned about the value of their own assets. For Keller, the end-game is clear:

From the perspective of financial investors, copyright is not much more than a bundle of rights created out of thin air that structure financial flows and it follows that there is absolutely no reason why they should not push for governments to make these rights last longer. Once the slate of recording artists that entered into these deals have passed away and will not be able to speak up anymore – or complain that they have been shafted – it will only be a question of time until financial investors start pushing for longer term durations or – more likely – perpetual copyright. Compared to this new class of cultural predators, the good old Walt Disney company will quickly start looking like an innocent schoolboy.

It has been hard enough in the past to make copyright a little fairer for members of the public. If Keller is right – and I fear he is – it will become close to impossible to continue that process in the future unless people start defending vociferously what few rights that they currently have in the world of copyright.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

Republished from the Walled Culture blog.

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Comments on “How The Financialization Of Music Could Lead To Demands For Perpetual Copyright”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

As damaging as actual(rather than the effectively we already have) eternal copyright would be I can’t help but think that more than any action in the past such a move would completely and utterly destroy any respect shown towards copyright by the public.

By throwing out any pretense that copyright is meant to serve the public the gates would be thrown wide open and infringements would likely skyrocket as people would feel free to respond in kind, sharing, downloading and copying to their heart’s content since that would have become the only way for the public to make use of new works, and if they’re already breaking the law in part why not go all the way in?

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Arijirija says:

Re: 'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

In other words, the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, which as we know, did not end well for either the goose or the farmer. Or the Pied Piper of Hamelin, who on not receiving any payment for services rendered, played his pipe again.

It’s amazing how people fail to see the truth behind the words spoken by Princess Leia in Star Wars – the more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

Oh well, they’ll awaken and find their mistake – a little too late to do anything about it.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

"Oh well, they’ll awaken and find their mistake – a little too late to do anything about it."

So THEY will do NOTHING and go nappies, and one day THEY will awaken, and it will be too late "to do anything."

Get off your lazy ass and do something before you throw it under the carpet and take your mid-day nap pretending everything wrong with society is OTHER people’s problems and THEY will fix it for you, or not if it’s too late.

If you don’t have the brains, guts, energy, or gumption to DO SOMETHING to make a difference, please don’t preach laziness to the rest of us.

Arijirija says:

Re: Re: Re: 'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

Two points – you haven’t read my comment closely enough. It’s going to be the zombie copyright extensions companies that are going to have the rude awakening, not the reast of society. The rest of society’s going to be doing just fine, because zombie copyright extensions companies are also going to be developing stuff to get past their competitors’ roadblocks … so they’ll be muddying their own water.
Secondly, you think I haven’t done anything? You think I’m "preaching laziness"? My anonymity must be working, after all.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 'You broke the deal, we're returning the fav

"While the common man gets swindled to support the cause."

The common man, pinning his/her faith to the preachings of whatever cult holds their allegiance, has always been swindled though. The way to fix this is to teach people the value of critical thinking and education.

What will never work, though, is to point out to the common man that he’s been grifted. We do not live in the world of fairytale where the boy who shouts makes people aware the emperor has no clothes. We live in the world where the people irately beat the stuffing out of the young troublemaker for loudly agreeing with the evidence of their own lying eyes.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

To be fair, yes, your anonymity is working after all. Your efforts are yours to do or not. I was commenting on -what appeared to me- to be laissez faire approach to it. My apologies should that impression have been a false one.

We all have things we can and should do. Those who are doing things… I salute you and us. Because we must stand and not give in… not to copyright maximalists, not to bullies, not to litigious trolls (Yeah, Peter Thiel, you), not Republican gerrymanderists, not anyone who abuses the system to the detriment of those who can not or are not able to be represented.

My apologies, sir or ma’am 🙂

Ehud

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

Remember the early 2000s when you could somehow still make the argument that downloading music hurt the artists, despite how label policies by and large were the ones responsible for how much moneys the artists actually got?

These days the antipiracy campaigns aren’t even about the artists anymore; the most publicly extravagant ones already squandered considerable public sympathy. Instead you’ve got companies playing up the scare factor of malware infections and financially supporting human traffickers… somehow.

Financialization and screwing the actual content creators over has always been the objective since Day 1.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'You broke the deal, we're returning the favor.'

As damaging as actual(rather than the effectively we already have) eternal copyright would be I can’t help but think that more than any action in the past such a move would completely and utterly destroy any respect shown towards copyright by the public.

Yeah… it won’t. I’ve been thinking this every time the MAFIAA take such actions, and yet people still refer to copying as "piracy" and have the vague sense it’s wrong. They might do it, like they’ll cross against a red traffic light, but they’re not willing to defend it, and certainly don’t see it as a right or as the proper way for music to exist (remember that till around 1900 music was not a product, but a social activity).

It was Napster that got me interested in music around 1999-2000, and then I watched the RIAA and Metallica kick most of my friends off (happily, my use of a third-party client left me unaffected). There’s a generation of kids that’ll never willingly give money to them, right? Wrong; it seems I’m the only holdout. For fuck’s sake, we can’t even get people to boycott DRM; even most people who know about it are, at best, boycotting only DRM they can’t break.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: Seller beware

Never underestimate the addictive qualities of money for nothing (and the chicks for free) nor the creativity of an army of lawyers in finding rent seeking arguments when they are front-loaded with such money.

The counter argument is of course that such artists cash in at the moment they know their army of fans is getting close to retirement, and in a moment of nostalgia revisit the idols of their youth with their now significant funds and free time. Any such rise in popularity can be expected to die out with their fans, while the youth will look for something their parents abhor, for that very reason.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Seller beware

Same way they’ve done it in the past I’d imagine, break out the laughable and demonstrably wrong argument that if copyright causes creativity then more copyright would surely cause even more creativity.

‘If a duration that already lasts decades after the death of the creator was enough to incentive this much creativity just imagine how much infinite duration would incentivize!’

ECA (profile) says:

more lies

" In particular, the central quid pro quo of copyright – that a government monopoly is granted to creators for a limited period,"

WHO is making the money?
Yes Musicians have done better in the last bunch of years, MANY asking for a return of the rights to their goods.
Rights Holders RULE. And if the Musician dont understand the contracts, as in the First 50 years of 1900’s. They wont get those rights back. AND there are allot of stuff locked up and stolen from the Creators.
EVEN Disney Robbed the past, and Changed the stories abit. But if you want perpetual then LETS start along time ago. AND SCREW everyone.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

This is not new, the term copyright maximalism has existed for decades. Copyright is already functionally perpetual, good luck running any software produced during your lifetime 100+ years from now. Same applies to the overwhelming majority of music.

Only a handful songs will still have any cultural relevance once their term expires and finally enters the public domain. The majority will be lost to time at that point. Its also why most of the average people dont even care about, understand or even respect copyright at all at this point. It has been completely broken for too long already so most simply ignore it.

DNY (profile) says:

The Copyright Clause

Surely even the most beholden-to-commercial-interests jurists on the American bench can see that it is not in Congress’s power to grant perpetual copyrights.

I’m still hoping for a sufficiently originalist bench that the current system gets tossed as unconstitutional — the point of the Copyright Clause was to grant exclusive rights to authors, not to their estates not to publishers. The Founders were thinking of the Statute of Queen Anne that ended the practice of the Crown granting copyrights to publishers and only allowed their grant to authors (for 14 years, renewable for another 14 years at the request of the author) which they promptly copied in American law during the First Congress under the Constitution.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Wyrm (profile) says:

  1. The concept of a duration of "life of the author + X years" was bad from the beginning, and the copyright lobby is still not satisfied that "X" is finite… despite getting close to an additional lifetime already. If the author creates a work in his younger years, several generations of people will be locked out of reusing the work for new creations. When a work is created, the copyright is as good as "permanent" for all the people alive at that point, and their children… and possibly their grand-children too.

  2. Also, if medical science progresses to the point where we can maintain someone’s life indefinitely, then copyright will become permanent with the existing law. Going by the current constitution, if such a medical advancement is made, then Congress would have the obligation to amend existing copyright laws… or the Constitution.

  3. The only saving grace – for the moment – is that "for a limited duration" is actually written in the Constitution. It would require a constitutional amendment to make copyright explicitly permanent. Then again, I’m not positive that lobbies would not be able to gather a super-majority in Congress. (Or the Courts could decide that copyright is naturally limited in time because it will expire once we reach the heat-death of the universe.)
Bilvin Spicklittle says:

Not that it will help, but I have to point out and everyone should remember that the public domain owns all intellectual property, ever, previously created and that which will be created in the future.

When lawyers use the word "revert", that is the same thing as saying that the person owns the property. If I lease 100 acres to you for 99 years… you get to keep that land for 99 years. And after it reverts to me.

I still own it. I always owned it. My ownership is undeniable.

A government that could allow these thieves to steal our property and give nothing in return is inexcusable. I mean, sure, they’ll auction off frequency bands for chump change, but this corruption has limits… they’re only renting it temporarily, and the chump change still amounts to billions of dollars.

As it stands now, they shouldn’t even extend copyright protection to anything offered with DRM. It’s the equivalent of that lessee pouring used motor oil down the well on the land you own, because he wants to ruin it for when you finally get it back. They should be forced to pick government protection or DRM protection at minimum.

DeComposer (profile) says:

It's the end of new music.

The practical impact of recasting copyright as an investment vehicle is that the new owners will ruthlessly protect their investment. It’s easily conceivable that an investment firm would file vast numbers of "sounds-like" copyright infringement suits—for virtually every two-bar snippet of melody or five-second sample of a recording.

In the end, every new piece of music will be deconstructed into components, at least one of which is close enough to an existing copyright-protected work that the investors would be able to justify suing the new creator into oblivion.

No new music. No new creators.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Nice music there, be a shame were something to happen to it...'

Oh not no music, just no music not owned by a major label. Any music they post you can be sure will be infringement-claim proof even as everyone else has their music shut down due to bots, making signing with a label once more the only way to survive as a musician.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 'Nice music there, be a shame were something to happen to it

making signing with a label once more the only way to survive as a musician.

Actually, the survival of musicians that rely on labels for the income is rather poor. The way to have a long term career in music is through live performances, witness the Dubliners, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, etc. Their really active recording period was relatively short, while live performance have given them 50 or more years in the business.

Rekrul says:

They won’t have to do much convincing of the general public. Most people already think copyright last forever. Years ago, I posted a link on a forum to a public domain movie and I had several people accuse me of piracy. One even told me that everything is owned by someone.

There’s also a user on a retro computer forum, who created some hardware/software devices in the 80s, who has strongly expressed the opinion that copyrights should never expire. Ironically, the products he created were intended to copy protected floppy disks, which were normally uncopyable. When I brought this up, he defended them as being perfectly legitimate methods of making backups, even though they were used as piracy tools.

charliebrown (profile) says:

Robert Johnson

Surely his recordings are public domain by now, right? Most countries have life-plus-seventy. He died in 1937. Even with the extention to copyrights most countries applied between 1998 and 2012, these recordings should have entered the public domain in 2008.

Well not if Sony has a say in it. He signed with Columbia Records in the United States less than one hundred and ninety-fucking-five years ago and the world must obey United States law because a fucking Japanese electronics company with a shitty music branch says so!

Sony bought Columbia so that their recording formats wouldn’t be automatically be rejected by every record company out there. Look how fucking well that shit turned out!

Tech 1337 (profile) says:

Public domain works back under copyright?

The film Metropolis was in the public domain in the US for over 40 years I think before a legal case put it back under copyright. Think about what that precedent could mean for older public domain works. For example if copyright lengths go above 170 years + author’s life, suddenly there could be an argument that the fairy tales of Grimm and Andersen should be under copyright again, allowing Disney to be sued for not compensating the heirs for appropriation of their IP in the making of so many animated films.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Public domain works back under copyright?

The film Metropolis was in the public domain in the US for over 40 years I think before a legal case put it back under copyright. Think about what that precedent could mean for older public domain works.

Is Golan v. Holder the one you’re thinking about? I’m sure today’s Supreme Court would still be fine with letting more copyright term extensions put public domain works back under copyright. Justices Breyer and Alito did dissent, but the decision was 6-2.

A good chunk from the dissent for reference.

 The statute before us, however, does not encourage anyone to produce a single new work. By definition, it bestows monetary rewards only on owners of old works— works that have already been created and already are in the American public domain. At the same time, the statute inhibits the dissemination of those works, foreign works published abroad after 1923, of which there are many millions, including films, works of art, innumerable photographs, and, of course, books—books that (in the absence of the statute) would assume their rightful places in computer-accessible databases, spreading knowledge throughout the world.

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