• Does copyright still have relevance in today’s music market? Part II of IV.

As I prepare to put my album up for sale, or at least make it available, I’m thinking a lot about the “market” I’m entering. Here are the posts I plan to write:

I - The worth of music
II - Copyright
III -  Filesharing and anything be done about it
IV - What’s next for music?
I think the asnwer is HELL YES but before I get into why let me delve into copyright law and history a bit. (I’ll keep it brief, I’m an English major, for God’s sake.)

From Wikipedia:

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. Copyright does not protect ideas, only their expression. In most jurisdictions copyright arises upon fixation and does not need to be registered. Copyright owners have the exclusive statutory right to exercise control over copying and other exploitation of the works for a specific period of time, after which the work is said to enter the public domain. Uses covered under limitations and exceptions to copyright, such as fair use, do not require permission from the copyright owner. All other uses require permission. Copyright owners can license or permanently transfer or assign their exclusive rights to others.

Initially copyright law applied to only the copying of books. Over time other uses such as translations and derivative works were made subject to copyright. Copyright now covers a wide range of works, including maps, sheet music, dramatic works, paintings, photographs, architectural drawings, sound recordings, motion pictures and computer programs.

The justification of copyright law, also from Wikipedia.

The British Statute of Anne of 1709 was the first act to directly protect the rights of authors.[1] Under US copyright law, the justification appears in Article I, Section 8 Clause 8 of the Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause. It empowers the United States Congress "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."[2] According to the World Intellectual Property Organization the purpose of copyright is twofold: "To encourage a dynamic culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public."[3]

So there you have it: copyright law has been around for a damn long time and its purpose is to grant a set of exclusive rights to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. How could people be against this?

But it’s too hard!

The most common reason I’ve come across for nuking copyright laws is that in today’s world they are unenforceable. Now, one of my favorite sayings is you can’t legislate the weather, and I agree that controlling people’s desire to copy stuff might be a losing battle, as the changes in the way people can copy are coming so fast and furious that no legal body could possibly stay on top of it all. But to just give up and repeal the old laws seems wrong. Besides, most of what I read advocates for the removal of copyright laws around music, but what about other media? Would the world really be a more creative place without laws to protect books and movies and 70’s sitcoms? I doubt it.

The curse of complexity.

Here’s what it all comes down to for me — and Tunecore wrote a great article on this — copyright laws are just too complex these days, having been written in a world where no one ever imagined anything like the Internet and digital production. Over time, before and after the rise of the Internet, copyright laws have been piled upon one another to create a system of rights (not to mention royalty payment schedules) that is all but incomprehensible to anyone but an experienced entertainment attorney. Worse, if a young artist were to actually pony up for an entertainment attorney in order to be sure he was completely covered legally, he would be paying through the nose for something that can’t be enforced. It’s a conundrum, to be sure, but I choose to believe it’s not only solvable but worth solving. Copyright, in my opinion, is critical to motivating people to invest their time, energy and money into art. Take away its protections and I think you could expect the quantity of high quality art and expressions of other kinds of ideas to drop. And that would be more than just a shame, it would be a step backward for human progress.

One more thought on complexity. Clay Shirky wrote a piece called The Collapse of Complex Business Models that is highly applicable to the music business, which is groaning under the weight of too many conflicting and confusing laws, most of which were were written not with an eye toward to the future but to preserve the status quo. Read the Shirky piece and if you don’t see parallels to music I’ll shocked, shocked, I tell you!

Next up: Filesharing.