Copyright, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Stupidity

The Public Domain Issue

January 1 of each new year is meant to be when certain works come out of copyright and into the Public Domain. However, each year, the Corporations in charge seem to lobby hard to get the terms extended. As such, the public domain is becoming less and less.

An artist is bringing a class action suit against Spotify for Copyright Infringement. It’s a perfect example of how far removed copyright is at this point in time, especially when Spotify obtained the music they have on their service from the record labels. The users didn’t upload it. Is YouTube such a perfect citizen when it comes to paying for mechanical licenses?

The case to free “Happy Birthday To You” a song penned in 1893 and still under the copyright control of a corporation is another example of the great Copyright Hijack.

The whole “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” copyright suit is another example of what a farce copyright is. A corporation had the rights to the song and they made a lot of money from licensing it out. Now a judge has ruled that the rights will go back to the children of the creators. It’s worth noting that the creators of the song died between 1975 and 1985. As far as I am concerned this song from the 1930’s is MEANT to be in the Public Domain and out of copyright. Read the article to see the absurdity of it all.

Here is another example of copyright stupidity.

Canada had shorter copyright terms, which meant early Beatles recordings entered the public domain. The record labels didn’t like this, so they lobbied/bribed hard in secret and copyright was extended on sound recordings for 20 years that are still under copyright without any debate or public discussion. Anyway a company called Stargrove Entertainment saw an opportunity to make money by releasing a CD of public domain Beatles music. By default it became a top seller in Canada and that’s when the Empire known as the Record Labels decided to strike back, because hey, the 60 year monopoly they had on the sound recordings was not enough.

Some of the Record Labels tricks included;

  • While the sound recordings are in the public domain, the compositions remain under copyright. So Stargrove paid the standard licensing fee and the record labels via the publishing companies they owned, decided to not approve the mechanical license and refunded Stargrove’s royalty payment.
  • Universal then interfered with the distributor so they could resolve “the public domain issue.”
  • Universal started posting negative reviews online of the Beatles CD.

Let’s remember the purpose of copyright. It gives the creator the right to stop people from copying their works for a certain period of time. Basically it is a monopoly given to the creator, so they have an incentive to create more works. Once upon a time that monopoly lasted 14 years and as soon as corporate entities started to make money from this monopoly, the length of time increased to life of the author plus seventy years.

In order for creators to be granted a monopoly on their works for a period of time, the trade-off was that once the copyright term expired, the works would fall into the public domain, which would mean they could be shared, adapted, improved, remixed and basically new stories be created.

I am still dumbfounded as to how people believe that a copyright term of 70 years after the death of the creator is a normal copyright term.

What incentive does a creator have to create more works when they have departed the land of the living?

It’s all about money and its driven by the blockbuster albums that continue to make money for decades. However, the majority of other creative works might have enjoyed a brief window of success and sales during a period of time and their value is very low compared to the block buster releases. Labels try to sign the artist for five albums on a 360 deal, with the promise to negotiate the original deal depending on how hot the artist becomes. It never happens without any incidence or litigation.

For example, Dokken and RATT had platinum certifications in the Eighties. If you look at their output it was five albums. The label made money and the bands saw money and success. In 2015, the value of their musical output is not the same in the eyes of the corporations compared to the value of Bon Jovi’s, Metallica, Motley Crue or Bruce Springsteen output. Metallica wasn’t as big as Ratt and Dokken in the Eighties, but we all know how that turned out after the behemoth “Black” album in the Nineties.

So from a copyright term perspective, the self-titled Metallica album is of a higher value compared to Dokken’s or RATT’s discography. And it is because of these blockbuster albums that Copyright terms get extended. Metallica and their heirs or the corporate entity that will own their rights will get richer while Dokken and Ratt fade into obscurity, locked up in 100 year copyright terms.

This article states that Copyright should be about 30 years.

Copyright should last a more-than-generous 30 years, and no longer. The Lord of the Rings would have been in the public domain in 1986, 13 years after Tolkien’s death. He would have been fine and his great trilogy would still have been written. Mickey Mouse would have been in the public domain in 1959. A tiny minority of wealthy creators would be somewhat poorer under such a scheme. But our culture would be vastly richer.

That would mean “Smoke On The Water” would be in the public domain and not locked up for a century plus. It would mean the Black Album would be in the public domain by 2021 for others to build on and enhance. It would mean that “Were Not Gonna Take It” would have entered the public domain in 2014.

I am sure Deep Purple, Metallica and Twisted Sister would be able to cope with that?

It would mean that Dokken and Ratt songs from the Eighties would be in the Public Domain for people to build upon and re-create, which means the songs live on and our culture is richer. Cast your mind back to the whole Sixties British movement, including the Beatles success is due to building upon blues works from the 1930’s.

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