Monday, December 15, 2008

Gowers stinging rebuke to minister on copyright term

Andrew Gowers has delivered a stinging rebuke to the UK’s Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Andy Burnham, in the wake of the latter's expressed enthusiasm for extending the term of copyright in sound recordings to 70 years.
"Politicians often do and say silly things when they come into contact with celebrities.

So it was last Thursday when a star-struck Andy Burnham, Britain’s secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, showed up for a speech and photo-opportunity with the former lead singer of the Undertones, a punk-pop combo of the 1970s. In addition to the usual pleasantries about Britain’s creative industries, Mr Burnham set out a novel argument about the law of copyright protecting musicians’ work.

There was, he said, “a moral case” for performers – who often do their best recorded work in their 20s and 30s – to benefit from it throughout their lifetime. The government would therefore consider extending copyright for recordings to 70 years from the present 50.

As political speeches go, this is pretty silly. A moral case? You might just as well say sportspeople have a moral case to a pension at 30.

Copyright is an economic instrument, not a moral one, and if you consider the economic arguments – as I did two years ago at the request of Gordon Brown – you will find that they do not stack up. All the respectable research shows that copyright extension has high costs to the public and negligible benefits for the creative community...

Twenty years’ extra earning power in 50 years’ time does nothing to put more money in the pockets of struggling performers now: two thirds of lifetime income from an average compact disc comes in the first six years after release.

And it will not alter the incentives for creation one jot. As Dave Rowntree, Blur’s drummer, told my review: “I have never heard of a single band deciding not to record a song because it will fall out of copyright in only 50 years. The idea is laughable.”...

Digital distribution has made more music accessible to more people in more places and forms than ever before. It has also facilitated huge growth in illegal copying.

The first trend generates increased earning power for musicians from live performance and invites music companies to justify their existence by coming up with innovative ways of tapping new markets. The second robs rights holders of revenue that is rightfully theirs.

There are issues here that demand policy intervention, but they have nothing to do with Mr Burnham’s pet project. They suggest a focus on the balance and flexibility of copyright, and on better enforcing the protection that already exists – not on extending a right largely derided by younger citizens."
Read the whole thing. It's one of the more articulate exposés of the nonsense of term extension that I've seen delivered anywhere, in less than 750 words.

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