from the perverse-incentives dept
Back in January, Sony released the 'Bob Dylan Copyright Collection Volume'. As its name shamelessly proclaims, that was purely to take advantage of an EU law to extend the copyright term on recordings from 50 to 70 years there. Copyright is supposed to offer an incentive to create new works, so extending it after they are written is clearly nonsensical. Similarly, the idea that musicians will suddenly be inspired to write more new songs because of the extra 20 years of protection that only kicks in 50 years from when the song is recorded is just silly.
Needless to say, Bob Dylan is not the only artist with tracks hidden away in the vaults of recording companies. Here's another rather high-profile example:
On Tuesday Apple [Records] will release the downloads of Beatles recordings which have long been bootlegged but never been made legally available. They include outtakes, demos and live BBC radio performances. A spokeswoman for Apple would only confirm that the 59 tracks are being released. As to the company's motivation: "No comment." Is it because of the copyright laws? "No comment."
As that makes clear, this previously unreleased material is not coming out because Apple Records is keen to serve avid Beatles fans around the world; it's not even to provide legal versions of tracks that have been bootlegged for years. It's simply so as to be able to assert control over some recordings of the Beatles's music for another 20 years.
One reason for that, says Beatles blogger Roger Stormo, is that the record company does not really want to release the material in the first place -- its hand is being forced. "The only reason why they are doing this is to retain the copyright of this material," he said.
Even though the Guardian article quoted above fails to comment on the fact, this is pretty outrageous. When the Beatles recorded the tracks, they made an implicit deal with the public. In return for a government-backed monopoly lasting 50 years, they would allow their music to enter the public domain at the end of that time. And yet, what has happened? Instead of being able to enjoy and use the tracks as part of the public domain, Europeans have been cheated, and told they must wait another 20 years, simply because the recording industry employed good lobbyists.
What's particularly galling is that the tracks weren't even available beforehand, and so presumably weren't earning any money for Apple Records; in other words, releasing them into the public domain would have resulted in no loss of revenue whatsoever. And yet the recording industry's obsession with control meant that Apple Records decided to punish the Beatles' fans anyway by extending the copyright on material it didn't want released.