Reason is running a very interesting review
of a new book by Alex Sayf Cummings, called Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century
. It reiterates many of the points that we've made before about music and copyright, but with a strong historical basis, highlighting how these issues are not new. In fact, it reiterates how Congress was quite concerned that putting copyright on recordings was a very dangerous mistake:
The fact that music is widely seen as "intellectual property" is itself a product of that struggle. For a long time, the U.S. worked to separate intellect and property. In the early 1900s when copyright issues around sound recording were first being negotiated, the law "protected the tangible expression of an idea and not the idea itself," Cummings writes. Lawmakers struggled to figure out where sound recordings fit into that framework. Was the recording a tangible expression of a new idea? Or was it simply a copy of an idea? Congress initially leaned towards the second interpretation—and, as a result, sound recordings could not be copyrighted. For decades, pirates had to be prosecuted under common law or statutory bans on unfair competition. It was only in the 1970s that copyright was extended to sound recordings.
As the book notes, lawmakers were quite worried that extending copyright to sound recordings would stifle creativity -- and, as the book shows, their fears were not out of line:
Unrestricted property rights in music, they feared, could create monopolies, harm consumers, and throttle innovation and competition This was the rationale, in part, for giving songwriters only limited rights over the use of their songs. Under the law, licensing was compulsory: Songwriters received a fee from recordings, but could not refuse the use of their work. You can thank this system for America's long history of cover versions. Indeed, in the years before it was common to play records on the radio, these remakes were central to the record labels' business model: Re-recordings of hit songs by different artists were a major source of income. A whole subset of artistic production and commerce, in other words, was enabled not by the expansion but by the limitation of intellectual property rights.
This apparent contradiction surfaces again and again throughout Cummings' book. Property rights in music are supposed to promote creativity, but often they seem to either be irrelevant, or else actively retard it.
You can read the full review over at Reason, but the full book sounds like a must read in the collection of books that highlight how damaging copyright has been to creativity over the years.