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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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Copyright!! Whose Right Really Is It?

My Google Alert on Copyright has been in overdrive over the last three weeks over Copyright news items. While I was reading through some of the articles, a persistent theme was present throughout.

Who really owns the rights to songs when government granted monopolies have hijacked the very definition of what copyright is?

First off, we have an entity called Zenbu Magazines Inc. that has filed a whole suite of cases against Apple, Sony, Google and Rdio over their streaming services. The crux of the argument is the same as the Sirius XM Radio case, over pre-1972 recordings and the royalties attached to those recordings.

The cases filed by Zenbu Magazines Inc., states that all of the services mentioned have been making money off of pre-1972 music recordings without paying any royalties to the owners of the original recordings.

Let’s get one thing clear here first.

Zenbu owns the copyrights to a lot of the songs in question. Sometime ago they would have paid a fee to the artists in question so that they could hold the rights. One of the songs in questions is a song called “Sin City” by the band  The Flying Burrito Brothers. The song came out in 1969 on their album “The Gilded Palace of Sin”.

The song is written by Gram Parsons (who died in 1973) and Chris Hillman (who is born in 1944 and still alive today). Now the consensus for pre-1972 recordings was this;

  • The songwriters get paid from sales and public performances of the song.
  • The performers however get paid only from sales.

The issue today is if the performers of the song have a right to be paid for the public performance of those sound recordings.

So why is this such a big issue right now and not in the past.

The pre-1972 rule wasn’t an issue because terrestrial radio broadcasters are exempt from paying performance royalties on all sound recordings, no matter when they those sound recordings are made. The viewpoint held is that the recording artists would receive a lot of exposure from airplay and that exposure would then translate into sales.

But people are just not buying pieces of vinyl and plastic anymore to hear music that they like and what we have is a lot of financially challenged business models of these government granted monopolies.

What copyright has actually done in this case is give power to an entity that has NOT CREATED anything and with that power they are shaking down companies who provide a service to music consumers. This is a far cry from copyrights explicit purpose of granting the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator to receive compensation for their intellectual effort.

And if anyone is thinking that the streaming companies should just pay up extra royalties to the performers of the songs of pre_1972 recordings (keeping in mind that the songwriters are getting paid), due to the mess of copyright regarding pre-1972 sound recordings, each streaming company would have to individually work out a deal with each copyright owner.

The streaming companies are all about scale. They are all about the MACRO so I don’t expect them to get all down and dirty and into the micro.

Then there is another case that went to the federal courts. This one is about a recent song from 1993 called “Whoomp! (There It Is)” and boy is this one is interesting.

In 1993, Cecil Glenn and Steven James wrote and produced the song. They also entered into an agreement with Bellmark Records. At the time, Alvertis Isbell was the president of Bellmark Records. Bellmark Records primary business model is all about owning sound recordings. However by 1997, Bellmark Records filed for bankruptcy and all of its assets were purchased by DM Records for a fee.

The copyrights of the songs owed by Bellmark Recordings would be assumed to be part of the assets purchased by DM Records. So of course, DM Records went on to monetize the copyright of the song “Whoomp”. Meanwhile, the masters of the song are owned by the writers of the song, Cecil Glenn and Steven James.

Sound confusing. It sure is. But read on.

To understand how fucked up this is, you need to go back to 1977, when Isbell Alvert formed his own music publishing company called Alvert Music. It is that company, Alvert Music that then filed a copyright infringement case against DM Records in 2002 (5 years after Bellmark Records went bankrupt) to have the courts declare that Alvert Music, not DM Records is the rightful owner of Bellmark Records assets and also the rightful owner of the composition copyright for “Whoomp”.

When the case went to trial, Isbell mentioned that the agreement he had with the songwriters of the songs transferred 50% of the songs copyright to Alvert Music. DM Records argued that Bellmark Records was the only assignee as the agreement was made between Bellmark Records and the songwriters.

And in December 2014, the Courts agreed that Alvertis Isbell owned the copyright and that DM Records was liable for copyright infringement.

So what assets did DM Records actually buy in 1997 for that $160,000 it gave to Bellmark Records?

Anyway in this instance we have the actual SONGWRITERS signing away a large percentage to another ENTITY. That entity goes bust, however the owner of that entity also owned another entity and he used that other entity to sue the new owner (which we will call the NEW ENTITY) for Copyright Infringement. It sure sounds like a lot of ENTITIES at play in lieu of creators.

So I looked up the meaning of copyright again in the dictionary.

the exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material.

I would assume that the ORIGINATOR means the creator of the works.

Wikipedia has the following;

Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator to receive compensation for their intellectual effort.

There is that word again.

CREATOR.

So what the hell happened to COPYRIGHT to allow people who didn’t create anything the right to shakedown and sue others. What the hell happened to COPYRIGHT when the courts decided who has the right.

 

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