Thursday, December 11, 2014

Copyright extension

When I worked at a medical school a few years back, I occasionally attended business meetings where a pair of accountants, who had usually flown straight in from Hong Kong, would intone humourlessly about Libor rates and the yoyo-ing performance of speculative investments, without any serious questioning from the medical school representatives as to their rationale or any ethical concerns, before jetting straight out again. They had no interest in medical research, in what the money was going to be spent on, in the implications of a sudden loss, or in using that money for the greater good. They'd flown in business class, and would be flying straight back to continue their monitoring of vast sums of money. It was all about the money, almost as an abstract. Amoral. We could as easily have been Lockheed Martin or the Newmont Mining Corporation, except that we'd have been able to offer them posher nibbles and bigger bonuses.

From them to us, reluctantly
The muted release in recent years of voluminous amounts of unreleased studio material by aged moneyspinners like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Beach Boys is to satisfy the terms of the EU's copyright extension on sound recordings, from 50 years to 70 years, specifically the proviso that in order to get this extended period, a recording simply has to be released in any form. A single copy release at £1000 available for one minute by a single vendor in Hong Kong would satisfy the rules. The people who negotiated this copyright extension, the people who put out these comprehensive releases in cynically obscure form just to stop them falling into the public domain and prevent people everywhere enjoying and learning from them, the people who run these companies and are responsible for their policies, are of a type with the humourless accountants above. They have no interest in the creative side of music making, the counterproductive implications of this kind of behaviour. They're certainly interested in money (and they retain the posh nibbles and big bonuses), but allied to that is a mean-spirited, rather obsessive-compulsive determination to lock down any last asset that could possibly be exploited, even if they have no idea what to do with it. The diametric opposite of the Creative Commons and Free Music Archive movement. I am reminded of fossil fuel executives, ceaselessly pushing their outdated products through a seeming obsessive-compulsive determination to extract every last bit of energy from the ground and burn it, even to the point where more energy is expended extracting the stuff in the first place; and even when they must know they will have to change to renewable energy in the long-term.

Amusingly, despite this seeming desire to get the copyright stamp onto every last asset, in the case of the Beatles plenty of known recordings were left off of the mopping-up collection. As such, a glut of their recordings from 1963 are now public domain, and you could legitimately sell these tomorrow as your own release. Fab Beatles blog WogBlog lists some of the recordings which the Beatles' compilers left off the 1963 collection, and which are now public domain.

We release most of our music for free, for the fun of getting positive feedback and finding out the daft uses to which it's been put. Shares and comments are our currency. They give us the energy to continue. You like to share and comment, surely.

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