When I was writing this post I was listening to “Heaven And Hell” from Black Sabbath, so “Copyright And Hell” felt right for a title. Because when you start to get into the Copyright World, it’s hell.
So here we go on another post about Copyright absurdity in the music business. If I start including the art world, the photography world and so forth, I’ll never be able to finish a post.
YouTube has finally changed its content claim system, which now puts onus on the copyright holder to prove which section of the video broke Copyright laws.
In case you didn’t know, Copyright claimants had it all in their favour and they used this power to censor YouTube videos.
If you want to know what kind of a mess it became, a video of bird calls and white noise had takedown notices sent to it. Other videos that used 5 seconds or less of music as part of a news story or comedy routine (which is fair use) got taken down.
And every one wants a piece of the pie.
Here’s a lawsuit from a Christian rapper who claims that Kate Perry stole his beat. Yep, people are claiming beats as copyrightable. I guess when you move into a pop world which is all about beats and vocals and no music, suddenly everyone who creates a beat (either using a live drummer or samples) has a case.
Even insurers are caught in the crossfire. A rapper took out an insurance policy which covered any liabilities related to their professional music career. The rapper was involved in a copyright dispute which incurred costs. He asked the insurance company to pay, and the insurance company said no, accusing the rapper of withholding important information when purchasing his insurance policy. And now the rapper is suing the insurance company for not paying. And both will have spent more dollars fighting each other than paying the bill.
But each time I do these posts, there is a story about Copyright which defies the logic of fantasy fiction.
The issue that Taylor Swift has with a competitor manager buying out her old label is old news today. But two weeks ago and for a 48 hour period it blew up in my Google Alert Copyright feed.
It just goes to show how quickly content becomes irrelevant in the internet age. So when you spend 12 months perfecting that album, remember that it could be hot for a week or two and then crickets.
So, an artist writes a song, records it and they release it as DIY and they own the publishing and the masters.
But if the artist signs a deal, writes a song, spends the money advanced to them to record it and then spends more money of the advance to release and market it, well the label owns the master recording for a very long time and the artist still has their publishing rights as the songwriter.
If the songs make no money, the label wouldn’t care much about them, but they still wouldn’t let go of the masters easily, just in case those songs make millions later.
However if the songs make millions, then the label has a good income stream and they would fight tooth and nail to keep those masters. Which is ridiculous, especially when Universal kept it secret that a fire at one of their storage facilities wiped out the Masters of some of the greatest albums. And the back up Masters Universal made got placed in the same facility, next to the original Masters. In other words, the labels don’t care about the Masters, because if they did, they wouldn’t have burned like that.
In relation to Big Machine (Swift’s Old label), 80% of its income came from Taylor Swift’s catalogue of songs. So it’s selling point to any buyer is that catalogue.
So what say does the creator have about who buys their most profitable work, the songs which made them popular?
John Lennon and Paul McCartney got a buyout back in the day before the owner of their songs ended up changing hands so many times that eventually Michael Jackson (realizing how the recording business works) purchased them.
Well if you are a creator and you sign a basic deal, you basically have no say whatsoever in who owns the master copyrights to your songs. However if you had the negotiating power, you can add these terms into your contracts. But in most cases it’s stacked against the artist.
The best advice is to build your brand so it’s strong enough to negotiate in your favour, so you own your masters and your publishing when the label comes calling.
But everyone is tempted by money and the patience and discipline is hard to maintain.