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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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Filed Under: assets, bruce springsteen, copyright, financialization, perpetual copyright, publishing


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2022 @ 6:15pm

    '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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      mhajicek (profile), 11 Jan 2022 @ 10:52pm

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

      Armed carjacking? Tisk, tisk, don't do it again. Downloaded a song? You're going to jail, son!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 9:56am

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

        "Armed carjacking? Tisk, tisk, don't do it again."

        I see I've found a fellow Portland resident.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Arijirija, 11 Jan 2022 @ 10:57pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 12 Jan 2022 @ 2:21pm

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

        Except they view it as "I am altering the deal, pray I don't alter it any further."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Ehud Gavron (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 5:09pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Arijirija, 12 Jan 2022 @ 8:40pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 8:50pm

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

            While the common man gets swindled to support the cause.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 3:09am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: '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.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Ehud Gavron (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 10:55pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: '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

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2022 @ 11:43pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 4:14pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 11 Jan 2022 @ 8:42pm

    I think we should rename it...Copymouse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Junkyardmagic, 11 Jan 2022 @ 11:15pm

    Seller beware

    By any reasonable measure the rights to this music was valued and purchased based on the current copyright regime. In theory this should help secure the current regime. It’s going to be interesting to see how they defy this logic in practice

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 11 Jan 2022 @ 11:42pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2022 @ 11:56pm

      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!'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 13 Jan 2022 @ 7:41am

      Re: Seller beware

      It’s going to be interesting to see how they defy this logic in practice

      That's easy. With campaign contributions. There are very few lobbyists on the other side of this issue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 1:22am

    This move was obvious a while ago as why would any corporation relinquish an income stream (plus they have to recoup those millions first)? When's the first 'sold' catalogue expected to go out of copyright? - look for legal manoeuvres well before that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 2:03am

      Re:

      Did you miss that little insane ruling that remastering a track gets it a new copyright?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 2:46am

        Re: Re:

        That's not surprising, as it probably looks like a "new work" the way these things are defined, but does it also extend the copyright of the previous version (and, tbh, I prefer some of the non-remastered versions anyway so would look for those in preference

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 8:53am

          Re: Re: Re:

          but does it also extend the copyright of the previous version

          It doesn't matter what the law says, when filters will make a match to a work under copyright for any very similar works.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          TheDumberHalf, 12 Jan 2022 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The goal would be for the public to forget about the original and only use the remastered version. Later, when no one is alive to remember, they will pull a "happy birthday(song)," you owe us money.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 1:33am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 1:37am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ds (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 3:44am

    CMOs on steroids?

    Sounds a little like the business model of collective management organisations, especially those where the link between royalties received and monies paid out is tenuous or completely broken?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 6:33am

    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

    See also: copyright trolls

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DNY (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 8:31am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 8:32am

    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.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 8:43am

    Re:

    I converted that short story into an EPUB for myself. It's quite good!

    Also check out All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis: https://www.powells.com/book/all-rights-reserved-9780373212446

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bilvin Spicklittle, 12 Jan 2022 @ 9:15am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TheDumberHalf, 12 Jan 2022 @ 10:19am

    "a government monopoly is granted to creators for a limited period"

    In the perspective of a normal human being, the monopoly is not limited, rather unlimited. Most Americans will never see a copyright of a popular work fall into public domain.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 10:50am

      Re:

      Most Americans will never see a copyright of a popular work fall into public domain.

      Didn't Winnie-the-Pooh enter the public domain twelve days ago at midnight?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 9:05pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm not TheDumberHalf, but the error is easily corrected and is not the point. Revised version: Unless an author dies soon after creating their work, no one who was already born at the time of the work's creation will see that work fall into the public domain.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DeComposer (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 11:01am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 3:45pm

      '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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2022 @ 5:21am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 12:02pm

    Re:

    Even after 40 years, that man can still jerk my tears.

    It's been said that Robert A. Heinlein wore imagination like it was a private suit of clothes. I like to think that he passed his whole wardrobe on to Spider Robinson, who has kept it looking like it was fresh off of the tailor's table.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 12 Jan 2022 @ 2:31pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 3:03pm

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tech 1337 (profile), 12 Jan 2022 @ 3:12pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2022 @ 9:34pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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