In 1998, the US Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) which extended the 1976 Act’s terms of life of the creator plus 50 years after death to life of the creator plus 70 years after death. The CTEA also increased the extension term for works copyrighted before January 1978 that had not already entered the public domain. Basically under this act, works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still protected by copyright in 1998 would not enter the public domain until 2019 or later.
You can see how this little act changed copyright law to benefit the corporation. It’s nickname is the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, because Disney lobbied hard for this extension to protect Mickey Mouse, who made his debut in 1928. Of course, sane people argued that long copyright terms don’t provide any incentive for the creator to produce more works.
Remember that TPP (Trans – Pacific Partnership) deal that was negotiated in secret when Obama was in power, Trump then killed it and then Trump brought it back bigger and nastier. Well, there was a clause in there, where the US is saying to nations, if they want to be part of this partnership, they need to change their Copyright laws to be the same as the US.
Of course, the Movie Studios and Record Labels argued that by lengthening copyright terms they would invest more in creating content. As I’ve said before, when a person sits down to create, they do not go to themselves, “Geez, thanks to Copyright Terms being extended to 70 years after I’m dead, I have an incentive to create”. The creator sits down and creates because it is a need to do so in their life. There is no movie studio or record label investment when the creator first creates. It is just the creator fulfilling a need to create.
But corporations who control the copyrights of works are addicted to copyright term extensions and here we are in 2018, 20 years from 1998 and guess what is happening again.
Little do people know that there was a court challenge to the 1998 extension and the Court rejected the challenge because they did believe to think that Congress would need to extend terms anymore. As the Wired article states;
After all, with a term of 95 years for work created before 1976, and life of the author plus 70 years for work beginning in 1976, how much more time could possibly be needed?
But guess what, buried in the otherwise harmless “Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act” is a few words which would give organisations (yes, corporations) the right to control music recordings made before 1972, up until 2067.
“These recordings would now have a new right, protected until 2067, which, for some, means a total term of protection of 144 years. The beneficiaries of this monopoly need do nothing to get the benefit of this gift. They don’t have to make the work available. Nor do they have to register their claims in advance. That this statute has nothing to do with the constitutional purpose of “promot[ing] Progress” is clear from its very title.”
The worrying part is what does this mean for the future. As the Wired article further states;
“If this bill passes, we can expect other copyright owners to complain about the “unfairness” in the gift given to the creators of legacy recordings. And in the clamber to harmonize with this 144-year term, a swamp of extensions is certainly on the way. No doubt, the beneficiaries of these gifts will be grateful to Congress, and show their gratitude in the campaign-finance-ways of Washington. Equally without doubt, this is not what a system meant to “promote the Progress of Science” was ever intended to be.”
Yep, creators are so lucky to have these kinds of organisations looking out for them.
It takes artists a while to understand, but they don’t need a record label these days. Nikki Sixx on Twitter recently said that the best industry lesson he learned was that Motley Crue didn’t really need a record label after the first two albums. And this antipathy towards labels ended up with Motley Crue getting their rights to the Masters back in 1998 from Elektra.
And then you have instances where artists need to sell their songwriting credits because of bad business decisions. K.K. Downing, founded Judas Priest. He left the band in 2011 due to issues with the other members and he purchased a golf course, which is now into administration. As part of bankruptcy, Downing needs to sell the rights to 136 songs he co-wrote. According to the article, these songs generate $340K to $400K in royalty payments annually.
So remember Downing has a copyright on his works. This copyright gives him a monopoly on his works so he can earn money from them, which in turn gives him an incentive to create. And now he needs to sell this right to someone or something (being a corporation). Yep, that’s exactly what copyright is for.
And then what about artists on album covers. Artists normally got paid a flat fee for their services to create/design an album cover. At the time of designing the cover, no one really knows the impact the album might have on culture. So is the artist to get paid extra when the album they designed the cover for broke through and sold millions. Case in point, Jethro Tull and the iconic “Aqualung” cover.
In the 70’s a young artist was hired by Chrysalis for $1,500 via a handshake deal to create three paintings to his style and content for Jethro Tull’s new album. The album went on to become Jethro Tull’s best-selling album, with over 7 million copies sold and so many anniversary editions issued. And apart from the great music, the album cover has become iconic, being re-issued on cassettes, CD’s, T-shirts and what not. And the artist who painted it, well, the label contends it was a “work for hire” agreement. And with no written contract, the label can say anything, so Chrysalis (now Warner Brothers) said the copyright for the paintings belonged to them.
As the article states, when it comes to artists and copyright law, it’s very messy, especially for famous works because the companies don’t want to lose their valuable rights to those works. So the answer always is for corporations to extend them. For how long will the public tolerate this, I don’t know. Countless people and organisations are out there protesting these extensions, but the public is still relatively silent. And it’s the public who are getting robbed.