There is a new Jimi Hendrix Biopic called Jimi: All Is By My Side out and for anyone that has seen it, you will notice that the movie is missing Jimi Hendrix’s original music. So the story goes something like this. The Jimi Hendrix Estate denied all attempts to license the music unless they had control over the story line of the movie. The producers felt that this would not gel well with their vision so what the public has is a movie where the actor who plays Hendrix is performing cover songs of other bands.
This is ridiculous because in case anyone has been living under a rock, Jimi Hendrix has been dead for 44 years. Based on retroactive copyright terms his music will never even enter the public domain in our lifetime.
It’s worth noting that when Jimi Hendrix created his original works in the Sixties he did it under the agreement that he will have a copyright on those songs for 55 years during his lifetime. However, the corporations have ensured that agreement got retroactively changed to be life plus 70/90 years (depending on which country you reside in). It is also worth noting that a lot of his original compositions were influenced heavily by blues compositions from 20 to 30 years prior to the 60’s who already had their copyrights expire. That is why Hendirx flourished and that is why the British Invasion flourished. They built of works that had entered the public domain. That is how culture thrives, by building on what came before.
Copyright was always meant to be a deal between the creator and the public. “We (the public) will give you (the creator) exclusive rights and related legal rights for a limited time to your works, so that you have an incentive to create more, but in exchange once that limited time has passed the rights to your creations go to the public so that people can build on what you’ve created”. Copyright was never designed to a welfare system for heirs and ‘estates’ like actual property or a product to be monopolised by greedy corporations.
Any copyright term lasting past death is excessive and at that point it’s time for the public to receive their half of the deal.
I have heard the argument that a lot of Hendrix’s fans, family and friends are not happy about the way he is portrayed in the movie. My answer is so what. If you look at the history of biopics based on musical heroes like Jim Morrison or Johnny Cash, I am sure that fans, family and friends of those people would not have been happy about how those artists have been portrayed in movies. But that’s not the point of copyright. It’s not a right to block or censor representations the creator doesn’t like. In this case the Hendrix Estate was trying to use copyright to block a version of events that the family did not approve of.
Of course, the Hendrix estate might be making their own biopic or documentary on Jimi’s life and I am sure that they will portray Jimi in the most favorable light possible. Sort of like re-writing history from a certain point of view. However that is why other stories like “All Is By My Side” should be told and that is why copyright should not be used to censor those stories.