There has been a lot of talk about Copyright and the Public Domain in the last month.
There was the whole Iron Maiden story about the band rewarding Copyright Infringers with Concerts. The website that ran with it issued an apology for falsely attributing Musicmetric quotes to the band, yet if you look at the markets that Iron Maiden has hit over and over again along with the “new markets”, all of those places are on the Musicmetric list of places that download Iron Maiden’s recorded music illegally. So even though the story proved to be false, there is some form of data out there that Iron Maiden is utilising to hit places where they have a low record sale amount but a high download rate.
Even their drummer, Nicko McBrian stated the same in the “Flight 666” documentary about their shows in India and Costa Rica. To paraphrase, he said something in the vein that Iron Maiden hasn’t sold any albums in Costa Rica however they sold out the sports stadium. So how did those fans get the music then.
Look at Metallica. They are also utilising some form of data to identify which new markets to hit or which markets deserve to be revisited. Their recent concerts in China proved this. The sale of Metallica music in China is low, however each concert was sold out. Peru is another new market that Metallica hit and will return too despite the fact that they have very low recorded sales.
I also just finished watching the Rush documentary, “Beyond The Lighted Stage” and in the documentary, Neal Peart is talking about their Vapour Trails tour of South America and how they didn’t know what to expect and in the end they played to their biggest ever concert attendance at Sao Paulo.
In other words, the Brazil tour took place in November 2002 . Napster launched in June 1999 and operated up to July 2001, Audiogalaxy launched in 1998 and operated up until 2002 as a file sharing system that indexed MP3 files. Limewire started operating in May, 2000 and Kazaa in March, 2001. So in three years of peer to peer mp3 sharing, Rush’s fan base grew extraordinarily.
At the beginning of each year, numerous works will have their Copyright expire and they will enter the Public Domain. There is an excellent post up at Techdirt titled, “The Grinch Who Stole The Public Domain” and it covers the works that should have entered the Public Domain in the U.S on the 1st January 2014, however for reasons that are still not clear to the public, these works have been taken away from the public due to a copyright extension that is in place up until 2019.
In the U.S, up until 1978, the maximum amount of time that a work in the US could be covered by copyright was 56 years. As the article states, a creator initially received a 28 year copyright term, which could be renewed for another 28 years.
So back in 1957, Ayn Rand knew that when she created “Atlas Shrugged” that it would be given back to the public to share and build on by January 1, 2014. Same goes for Ian Fleming and his James Bond book, “From Russia With Love.” The same goes for Dr. Seuss and his two books, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat”. All of these authors went on to create further works, so it is safe to assume that that the 56 year Copyright monopoly the creator would have was more than enough incentive to create further works.
In relation to music, the following songs should have appeared in the Public Domain in the U.S.
“That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue” (Buddy Holly, Jerry Allison, and Norman Petty),
“Great Balls of Fire” (Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer),
“Wake Up, Little Susie” (Felice and Boudleaux Bryant)
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 in G minor (Opus 103; subtitled The Year 1905).
Elvis Presley’s: “All Shook Up” (Otis Blackwell and Elvis Presley) and “Jailhouse Rock” (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller).
The above musical works remain copyrighted until 2053 however based on their initial copyright terms, the works should be in the Public Domain.
The purpose of Copyright law was always to encourage the creation of works that would be put into the public domain to promote learning, knowledge and understanding. However, with large organisations controlling a lot of the Copyrights (and their power is growing each day), the law has been twisted into a system that is used to lock works up.
Then you have someone like Jimmy Page, who is really enjoying his Copyright monopoly by continuing to re-issue the same Led Zeppelin works he created between 1968 and 1980. Jimmy Page is a huge influence on my guitar playing. His body of work with Led Zeppelin, along with Coverdale/Page album were all brilliant. The new music he created with Robert Plant, “Walking In Clarksdale” was also a decent effort.
However, “The Firm” and his solo album, “Outrider” didn’t rattle any bones in me. Compared to Robert Plant who constantly creates new works, Jimmy Page has more or less sat back and monetised his copyright monopoly. Since 1993, Jimmy Page has overseen more than twenty three re-issues, re-mastered editions, live releases, greatest hits releases and more from the Led Zeppelin body of work.
While Jimmy Page is entitled to do what he does, Copyright’s intention was to give the artist incentive to create more works, not an incentive to rely on past works.
So while Jimmy Page is doing his thing on one side of the Copyright fence, on the other side there is the shameless releasing of songs by the big labels, purely to extend the copyright term of them.
In January, 2013, Sony released the “Bob Dylan Copyright Collection Volume” so that it could take advantage of an EU law to extend the copyright term on these recordings from 50 to 70 years. So instead of these works expiring in 2013 and entering the Public Domain, they got locked up for another 20 years. Nice one.
When Bob Dylan created these songs, Copyright was in place to offer him an incentive to create new works which he did. However, he also sold or licensed his copyrights to Sony and that is where the abuse kicks in.
Just recently (like December 2013 recent) Apple Records released 59 tracks from The Beatles for downloading on iTunes. These songs include outtakes, demos and live BBC radio performances. A Beatles fan and Blogger by the name of Roger Stormo said the following;
“The only reason why they are doing this is to retain the copyright of this material.”
You see, when “The Beatles” recorded the tracks back in 1963, they made a deal with the public. In return for a government-backed monopoly lasting 50 years, they would allow their music to enter the public domain at the end of that time. Like Bob Dylan, Copyrights got sold or licensed to the record labels. The recording industry then employed politicians as lobbyists and now European fans of “The Beatles” must wait another 20 years before they are able to enjoy and use the tracks as part of the public domain.
The biggest abuse here is that the tracks weren’t even available beforehand (in a legal way). They were safely locked away. Therefore it is safe to assume that the tracks weren’t earning any money for Apple Records. So releasing the tracks into the public domain would have resulted in no loss of revenue whatsoever to the label. However, for reasons only known to the label, they had an opportunity to extend the copyright of the songs for another 20 years and they did.
What about Saul Zaentz, the Fantasy Records label owner who passed away recently. For those that don’t know, he is famous for suing Creedence Clearwater Revival front man John Fogerty for plagiarising John Fogerty.
Yep, Zaentz was that upset that Fogerty struggled for years to free himself from the one sided contract he signed with Fantasy, following the breakup of CCR, that when it finally happened, Zaentz called his lawyers to arms.
Zaentz and Fantasy alleged that Fogerty’s 1985 hit “The Old Man Down the Road” was essentially the same as “Run Through The Jungle” from CCR’s “Cosmos Factory” album released in 1970. Since Fogerty had traded his rights to CCR’s songs in 1980 to cancel his remaining contractual obligations, Fantasy and Zaentz now owned the rights to “Run Through the Jungle”. Under Fogerty’s old CCR contract, Fogerty owed Fantasy eight more records. In the end, he refused to work for the label. The impasse was resolved only when Asylum Records’ David Geffen bought Fogerty’s contract for $1,000,000 on top of the rights that Fogerty sold away.
So when the “Centerfield” album topped the charts in 1985, Zaentz sued. How is that for Copyright abuse?
During the tour, the fans complained that he didn’t play any CCR songs, however Fogerty said that playing the CCR songs meant that he would have to pay performance royalties to copyright holder Saul Zaentz, and he didn’t want to do that. Copyright is used as an incentive to not play songs.
During the tour, Fogerty also spent time in court and in the end Fogerty played the two songs on guitar right on the witness stand and won the case.
On the theme of suing, Evanescence singer Amy Lee is also suing her ex-label Wind Up Records for more than $1 million over unpaid royalties. Of course there is more to the suit than just the unpaid royalties, however one the theme is the same. The abuse of copyright by large organisations.
So next time you read about the need for stronger copyright protection, ask yourself the question; For whom is that stronger copyright protection needed for. Remember that if I write a song today, it is copyrighted for the rest of my life plus 70 years. If I sell the copyright to an organisation for a fee, then they own this copyright until then.
I will leave you with the parting words of James Hetfield as he spits them out in Damage Inc..
Living on your knees, conformity
or dying on your feet for honesty
Which side are you on?
Techdirt – Public Domain – http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20131231/23434825735/grinch-who-stole-public-domain.shtml#comments
Led Zeppelin Reissues Will Continue in 2015 – http://ultimateclassicrock.com/led-zeppelin-reissues-2/
John Fogerty Responds to Death of Creedence Label Owner Saul Zaentz With Stinging Video – http://ultimateclassicrock.com/saul-zaentz-dead-john-fogerty-reaction/
Evanescence Singer Amy Lee Reportedly Suing Record Label – http://loudwire.com/evanescence-amy-lee-reportedly-suing-record-label/