UK Culture Secretary Pushes Copyright Extension With Questionable Logic
from the can-I-get-paid-the-rest-of-my-life-please? dept
But, the truth is, government intervention in the music business does not have a glorious history. To paraphrase one of our greats, mixing pop and politics is not a straightforward business and, indeed, can be a bit embarrassing for all concerned.You would think, having admitted that when the industry has been successful without intervention and admitting that when the gov't does get involved, things tend to get messed up, he'd have a pretty rock solid reason for saying it's time to change. But he doesn't. His focus seems to be on the fact that musicians need to get paid for every song listened to -- which is simply not true. That may be the way things worked in the past (actually, that's not true -- because most record labels never handed that money over to musicians, but...), but plenty of musicians have figured out other ways of getting paid. Burnham seems to ignore all that, and posits the fallacy that if musicians don't get paid from each use of a recorded song, they don't get paid at all.
The British music business has been a major success story with government at arm's length, or further - in something of a state of mutual distrust.
Over the second half of the last century the industry grew into one of real economic and cultural significance -- and its output for many defined us internationally -- yet without significant government intervention or political help.
But I'm going to make the case this morning that necessity means that the old order of things needs to change.
While he talks about new and innovative business models that can come about due to the internet, he then makes the mistake that all music industry business models must be based on copyright:
Copyright underpins the music business -- and all our creative industries -- and the right response when it's put under pressure is not to abandon a system as outdated, but to make it work better.And then he goes for the "moral" angle, which makes very little sense:
There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime.There are numerous problems with this sentence. First of all, no one has ever said that performers don't benefit from their work throughout their lifetimes, even if they're not paid for every single use. But they should be the ones who set up how they benefit -- not the government. If I performed on a hit song in the 60s, there are plenty of ways to benefit: such as by convincing others to hire me by noting "Hey, look, I played the guitar on this number one hit from 1968..." or whatever.
But, Burnham is making a totally fallacious argument: that if you're not getting paid directly and repeatedly for the work, then there's some sort of moral code broken. On that, I think many people would disagree. Most folks get paid for their work once. They don't continue to get paid directly for it throughout their lifetimes. They're expected to keep working, and to save money so that eventually they can retire. Why should things be any different for performers?
And, the worst part is that Burnham leaves out the truly "moral" question of copyright extension: that it's taking content away from the public domain. The musicians who recorded performances fifty years ago entered into a deal with the public -- the public that Burnham is supposed to be representing, though he seems to think he represents the artists. They would perform the music and retain exclusive rights over it for 50 years. Then it goes into the public domain. To retroactively and unilaterally change that deal is completely unfair to everyone. It's saying that a deal that was entered into fifty years ago can be ignored and changed to benefit a single party against every other person. How is that possibly moral?
There's a lot more in the speech that is equally troubling, but it's just repeating the same old talking points. The speech also ignores the research that has shown that copyright extension won't actually give very much to the musicians, but will dump millions into the coffers of the big record labels. It's not surprising, because we've heard this before, but it's a speech that ignores reality and paints a fantasy picture of both what's happening in the industry and the entire purpose of copyright law.