What The Music Industry Should Do About Copyright

This guest post is by Charlotta Hedman (@fjoms), a journalist who blogs for the Music 4.5 project, a series of events for the tech and music industries.

image from www.bradfox.com Copyright is confusing. Is it working, isn't it working and if it isn't working, what should be done about it? We decided that the best way to make some sense of this complicated and often vicious debate was to ask experts and commentators what they think. Here are their answers:

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement:

"Music industry" implies music made on an assembly line: invest money and out comes "music". That's what the major record companies do. For music's sake, let's wipe them out! They deserve it, too. They have attacked our freedom by turning our products against us, implementing digital handcuffs and lobbying for laws to prohibit breaking the handcuffs. (See DefectiveByDesign.org.) Through the RIAA they have sued thousands of teenagers for sharing music. Sharing is good; antisocial attacks on sharing should not be tolerated.

"Music lovers must support musicians, since the music industry doesn't: aside from long-established superstars, musicians get a pittance. They can already do better by dealing with the public directly, and respecting sharing. But we should do more for them.

One way is by distributing public funds to musicians and composers, based on their popularity as measured by polling, but not in linear proportion. If each artist's subsidy is proportional to the cube root of her popularity, we can support more artists adequately with less total money, instead of making a few superstars rich.

The other way is by anonymous voluntary payments. If each player had a $ button -- push it to send one dollar to the musicians and composers of the work last played -- only poor people would hesitate to give. Some musicians already find large, occasional voluntary payments support them better than the record companies, but many painless small voluntary payments would add up to a larger sum."

Eric Mackay, CELAS:

“To be honest, I think it should more be a question about how users should be dealing with copyright.

There is an argument that rights holders should be adapting to the way that users now interact with music, and I agree to an extent, but that doesn’t fit with some consumers’ views that music has no value – how can you continue to invest in nurturing talent when you generate no revenue from it?

In order to tackle this, rights holders should be looking to find a way to exploit the emotional relationships that music creates and, as such, increase the perception of music as a valuable commodity.

The issue within the industry seems to stem from various rights holders acting in a protectionist way and not being transparent, causing a lot of in-fighting.

There is definitely a requirement for rights holders to react to the changes in digital a lot quicker than they currently are and it’s understandable that music users get frustrated. One important thing to note though is that it is a lot simpler to get the rights you need for music than, for example, in the film or television industry. The clarity over where to get rights from is just a phone call away.

One of my biggest bug bears, however, is that digital music users never argue that bandwidth costs need to be paid, but the music which is intrinsic to their service seems to be a negotiable. I just don’t get that mentality! If you don’t pay your electricity bill, you get cut-off, and it should be the same with music rights; if you don’t pay for them, you will get shut-down.

There’s a gap that needs to be bridged between rights holders and users, but new tech being deployed without consulting the owners of the content that the tech relies on, will never help to move things forwards. Legislation may be a somewhat ham-fisted approach but, if users are not willing to engage with the industry, then the industry should have the right for legal relief.

I’ve seen some huge steps forward, when tech and industry work together and I think we’re on the right path now. As long as there is a two way conversation and we can appreciate what a service is trying to do, there’s always a way forwards.”

Helienne Lindvall, music journalist, musician and songwriter:

"The biggest problem we're facing is not the issue of copyright in itself – it's licensing. Sure, we could clarify that people are allowed to copy the music they've bought from one personal device – or format – to another but, as far as I know, no consumer has ever been prosecuted for doing so.

Copyright hasn't been about copies since 1846, when it became much more sophisticated; it's about bringing a bundle of rights to market. All transmission technologies since electricity rely on a performance right of some kind.

Much more urgent is to develop a simpler way for new legal music services to navigate the labyrinth that is music licensing. Some of the collection societies are in the process of setting up a comprehensive data base that clearly shows who the publishing rights holders are for each specific track. That's a good start, but lots more needs to be done."

Grant Murgatroyd, financial journalist:

"If you look at copyright in high-tech businesses – intellectual property – then it's just one part of the mix, along with price, service, delivery and those are what customers buy. IP is rarely worth more than 20%, even in fields like drug discovery, as evidenced by the terms on licensing deals. IP is seen by investors as a ‘hygiene’ issue, but the clear message is that if you want to build a successful businesses over the long term then it's customer first, followed by all the other things around product and execution."

Jeremy Silver, CEO of Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) "The notion of copyright is a complex of several concepts: Control of the right of reproduction, the right to creditation, the right to remuneration and a moral right. Today, the concept of controlling the right of reproduction is eroding rapidly. Technology has rendered any kind of control over the reproduction of digital content very limited. We can put measures in place that will slow down the rate of unauthorised reproduction, but we can do almost nothing to entirely eliminate it. This technological reality is only likely to increase and our ability to control copying of digital files will only decrease with it. Creators and rights owners desire to be remunerated will not go away, the only question is how to achieve it. Clearly if the original concept of copyright was based on the control of the reproduction right, some other means of remuneration will be required. Fortunately, for the most part at least the notion of giving credit for a work is less under attack than the notion of paying for it.

So copyright itself is still a fundamental concept that underpins notions of content created by an identifiable team or individual. But the basis upon which remuneration was derived is broken and needs to be replaced.

The concept gaining the most momentum in leading edge circles today is that of globally distributed right registries which would contain and be updated in real time with rights information pertaining to all the content that is released into the networked world. These rights registries could also serve as tracker hubs that received information from digital networks about the way that content was being distributed and consumed across the network. This data could then be routed back via a rights registry to the rights owners and a mechanism created to ensure they received payment. Since new smart digital networks can be aware of what content is travelling across them and where it is being consumed, this data can be used to ensure that revenues are shared out and distributed to rights owners.

That's the new popular theory. Now we have to figure out how to get every one to the shores of this new promised land!"

Scott Cohen, co-founder of marketing and distribution company The Orchard:

"It is important to make the distinction between copy protection and copyright. I believe in copyright but I am against copy protection. Creators of content should be remunerated for their works. How they are remunerated is ever changing and protecting works as companies cling to old business models is a failed strategy.

As we move to more cloud based models in the music industry, protection of content becomes a barrier to generating revenue. How music is acquired becomes irrelevant. The goal will shift to encouraging more usage of music so that copyright holders are remunerated. We can see this in old models like radio as well as newer ones like YouTube. No reasonable person asks where the music for a user generated video comes from anymore. There are no more take down notices. Instead, the songs have all been “claimed” and ad revenue doled out to the copyright owners."

Michael Breidenbruecker, co-founder of Last.fm, founder and CEO of RjDj:

"The music industry needs to dramatically simplify the process of clearing recording and publishing rights... the existing system and process is totally deadlocking innovation in the music sector. it is not about if copyright is good or bad. It is good and no one has problems with paying artists but as a company who is innovating in the music sector it is impossible to do anything right now."


Hear more about copyright and what some of these commentators think at the next Music 4.5 event in November.

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