Time To Scrap All Music Industry Licensing Schemes

from the a-house-of-cards dept

It's impossible to be a legal innovator in online music these days. No matter what you do, you will run afoul of some kind of music licensing issue. That's because of the way that copyright law is designed. Basically, each time some new technology comes along that doesn't fit with the way copyright law used to work, the copyright holders run to Congress and demand yet another new "right" to be included in copyright -- and anyone who wants to do anything has to now pay for yet another license to cover that right. The end result is a comical house of cards that no one can actually figure out -- and you're pretty much bound to be sued by someone for violating one of those "rights," if you do anything even remotely innovative. At MidemNet, in one of the panels I watched, an executive complained that for every track one startup streamed online it needed to negotiate eight separate licenses. And that's not the worst of it. At a panel last week, execs from all over made it clear that things aren't about to get any better at all. Instead, it's just a bunch of legacy industry execs who keep demanding that the government grants them more rights.

But here's the problem: no one is providing any actual evidence that these rights are necessary. So let's scrap them all.

Plenty of musicians are showing that they can make good money by embracing new business models that have nothing to do with these antiquated licensing schemes. So why not get rid of them all and just let the market work. The end benefit would be great for everyone except the folks in collections societies who have made themselves a fantastic living sitting in the middle collecting money. Musicians would still make money by embracing new business models, and the ability for internet startups to actually innovate without getting sued or having to pay multiples of any possible profits to guys in suits doing nothing, would help grow the music industry many times over.

But, instead, we just hear from the folks representing the industry trying to add new licenses to the mix insisting (falsely) that they are somehow needed for the industry to survive. So we slap on another unnecessary layer that's really just designed to keep the guys in suits rolling in cash, but has nothing to do with helping out the actual musicians or creating more music. Meanwhile, the collections agencies -- the SoundExchanges and the ASCAP's of the world -- insist that a new license layer is a great thing, and they're more than willing to step up to be the ones to collect it. But it's not necessary and the answer is to go in the other direction.

We don't need to add more music licenses. We need to get rid of the old licensing regime. Entirely.

Even copyright attorneys are realizing that this is leading to the death of copyright. Layering licensing right on top of licensing right is building a house of cards that has to collapse. Copyright attorney David Post talks about the ridiculous situation of trying to determine how one would go about getting all the proper licenses for one of the thousands of increasingly viral videos made by people using Microsoft's Songsmith software, combined with vocals from classic music hits. As Post notes, that's definitely a creative endeavor -- the sort that copyright law is supposed to be encouraging. But he notes that copyright doesn't scale. All those different licensing rights make it impossible to actually get all the rights necessary to make that sort of creativity legal. After going through the impossibility of getting the licenses for just one of those videos, he asks how you would do it for the 100,000 Songsmith-inspired videos on YouTube alone -- not to mention those not even found on YouTube, or which will be loaded up in the future.

We've built a copyright system by having politicians incorrectly accept the screaming complaints of legacy industries every time some new technology comes along. So they add another layer of complexity to that house of cards, and we've now reached the point where it's impossible to innovate legally -- and even doing basic creativity puts you at significant risk. Yet, there's ample evidence that none of this is actually needed for musicians to make a living making music. It's time to recognize this and look to just wipe out all of these unnecessary legacy artifacts of a dead system, and clear the decks to let real innovation thrive.

Filed Under: copyright, innovation, licensing, music


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  1. identicon
    Karl, 22 Apr 2009 @ 4:40pm

    Piracy/Illegal downloading

    Adding my two cents.
    I've been writing songs for twenty years faithfully in my own isolation. Many tired nights & years for that matter, of staying up recording music, vocals,composing,arranging,mixing, mastering,remixing,remastering,re-everything! many times to only trash the composition in the end, & that's on just one song, imagine many! I suppose i'm lucky in that way but not many artist are.
    I didn't really pay attention to who said what,but i believe the person that was saying basically that the music business is international & that distributors, manufactors,radio e.t.c. need to make their money has a point that trumps all else. It seems to me it depends on which side of the coin you're on is the way you'll lean.
    Imagine one song as a pie, now imagine how many hands are in that pie. Yes at a food restaraunt one person can make that pie' but in the music industry often before a song is complete there might be ten to twenty hands in comprising that master piece. There's the artist, the arist vocal coach perhaps,the music composer,the music arranger, the vocal arranger, the studio musicans seperate from the actual players,the writer & or writers, perhaps the arranger for the lyics,the music producer,the executive producer,the music publisher,the lyric publisher,back up singers, studio time, engineering cost,mastering cost,mixing cost,advertising cost, promotions cost,attorneys,record company, your little brothers friend who swears he had input on song creativity & i'm certain a few others i failed to mention. Now imagine that same many people on the next song & every song thereafter! you do the math. All these people banning together to bring lovely music to your ears, & what should they expect in the end. Someone twisting their arms to buy it for 0.99 cents, & the industry has even said that's fine, but when you want to share it to death online, not to mention put it out there in ways the artist wish not to be displayed is wrong whenever you get done with it! Imagine how much work have to be put in just to earn! after the examples above.
    I suppose all of you who disagree won't mind all artist saying "Oh! the hell with it" & make you listen to old music the rest of your lives.
    Odviously i'm not known' with much lovely music to offer believe me! But if i can't compensate for my endless life of sweating to create & countless money spent to learn my craft i won't release it until something change's & i'm fine with that.
    I don't mind you sharing music in the shade of our own live's as have always been done in the past, but when one wants to single handely share share share! others creations all online & make money off all the mentions above while the creators suffer & yes they do suffer! than i have a problem with you. Try & suceed at creating master pieces than see how intellectual it becomes!

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