Copyrights and copywrongs: The EC acts…

The Register brings big news on music copyright today.

The European Commission has decided to extend the life of copyright for sound recordings from 50 years to 90.

But this won’t necessarily play into the hands of the major record companies – if they don’t make use of these rights, they will revert to artists.

This principal is at odds with recommendations made in the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property (2006), commissioned by the UK Government to take forward the debate on copyright into the the burgeoning world of E-commerce.

In their FAQ on this decision, the EC passed comment on findings from the Gowers Review, saying:

As it reasons against copyright extension based on economic analysis alone, the Commission feels that this cannot be the whole story. The Commission believes that Copyright represents a moral right of the performer to control the use of his work and earn a living from his performance, at least during his lifetime.

In other words, the Commission took scant regard toward artist’s moral rights in their assessment and recommendations.

The UK is the only major European country in which moral rights can be waived in writing. But what does this mean in practice?

In 1996 a report by Simon Newman for the Intellectual Property Institute (cited in Modern Intellectual Property Law, C Colston & K Middleton, Routledge-Cavendish) found that it was common practice across the music industry in the UK for artists to waive their moral rights to the integrity of their artwork – essentially smoothing the path for the industry to re-hash music at their own discretion.

But while its all well and good tut-tutting the nasty evil record companies twisting things to their own advantage, where do artists stand in the brave new world of social networks, and other web 2.0 means of getting their ‘user generated content’ out there?

Back in 2006, Billy Bragg reported on MTV Flux:

It seems that MTV Flux will be a TV channel comprising solely user-generated content, the commercial exploitation rights of which are owned by MTV. Just so no one should be in any confusion about what such an agreement might involve, MTV’s content submission conditions states: ‘In particular, you agree to waive all moral rights to the Material.’

Out of the frying pan, into the fire?

Keeping with the theme of copyright, here is an invaluable breakdown on where journalist stand on fair dealing in video, film and stills, posted by Andy Dickinson last week.

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One Response to “Copyrights and copywrongs: The EC acts…”

  1. penez Says:

    Downloaders may be guilty as hell but A&R people are often worse than demons. For far too long artists have been ripping off material from small-time wannabes.
    What about a bit more self-policing instead? Too many musicians are encouraged or pressured to steal ideas from others; what is the industry doing about that, huh?

    What I am about to tell you sounds whacko however the truth sometimes just sounds that incredible. Between 1983 and 1986, I lived on 256 Vanderbilt Ave (#4L), Brooklyn, NY. I’d just graduated from Pratt Institute with a Master’s in Communications Design. Experimental music demos I made while I lived on Vanderbilt were copied by unidentified persons. Somehow, these persons contacted Sony Music and other big labels and they got hold of my material.

    I later heard, after my return in 1986 to Ghana, in hit songs from the U.S., lots of melodies I’d written–note-for-note. Guilty the most was LaFace Records and quite a few artists with Sony Music (Babyface, Boyz II Men – “End of the Road”, TLC – “Waterfalls”, Mariah Carey – “One Sweet Day”, Tony Rich, etc). I’d sung most of my material in nonsense lyrics and ad-lib; I was experimenting and didn’t worry to much about lyrical content. I even experimented with criss-cross drumbeat rhythms (from the Frafra and Dagare tribes), which found its way into and became mainstream R&B rhythmic material, courtesy of LaFace Records/Sony Music and others. There were silly, “radio drama” intros to songs that I concocted that Tony Rich used extensively as did several other guys. By sheer volume, I don’t think it is pure coincidence.

    A Ghanaian (now a U.S. citizen), currently working at Brandywine Assets Management (NJ) may know how my demos got to Sony Music. It is rumoured he worked there briefly. He was at Pratt Institute with me and often remarked that my songs had the potential to be blockbuster hits. I’ve been unable to contact him for an explanation. He wouldn’t reply my e-mail.

    Much later I heard other bits of my work, also note-for-note, in songs by Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, R. Kelly and Kirk Franklin’s work (”You’re Not Alone”; the van Passels lied; “My Heart Will Go On”; “I Believe I Can Fly”;”Lean On Me”, etc). I really don’t know how all those guys got hold of my stuff?

    Nobody believes me when I tell them this story. It’s simply unbelievable. But I have proof. I have over 40 hours of music I composed on old TDK and Sony cassettes. Technically, the magnetic tape recordings can easily be assessed as having been made in the mid-’80s. Further, any musicologist can listen to the tracks and tell from my musical signature (a kind of compositional fingerprinting) that their compositions even with the re-arrangements are a direct rip off. (My ideas may seem eclectic but that’s where my ideas were pushing me at the time).

    I’ve tried for over 15 years to get just anybody to listen to this fantastic story. I’ve hesitated pushing it too far because this all sounds a bit too kooky I guess. I’d always wanted a good investigative journalist and some brilliant lawyers to uncover the truth but couldn’t get anyone interested…and I don’t have the money either. Whatever it is, I don’t think all those ideas of mine being duplicated elsewhere is pure coincidence.

    Disregard the fact that I’m an African. I grew up listening to the best music of the ’60s and ’70s. I played in several bands as keyboard player and later as a bass player/ guitarist. And though self-taught I know I was pretty creative and original.

    Is anyone listening? The music industry should also focus on how to maintain the creative integrity of artists. That’s going to be difficult but it must be encouraged. Sure there’s tons of pressure and contracts and deals and all that and artists have to come up with something fantastic every now and then. But ripping off other people’s material is low, cheap, wrong and downright evil. Money drives the whole thing as I can see and that’s all right. But there’s the need for some fundamental change to how we get that money. Values may not mean much to business people but to me as an artist, hey, it’s important!

    When your creative juices stop flowing, what is fair is shifting gear, moving on to new partnerships or abandoning ship. Plagiarising other people’s material cannot credibly sustain any ‘talented’ artists’ career.

    The music industry giants should watch how sincere the artists they’ve signed up are and what their A&R guys are doing with all the solicited and unsolicited material. ‘And,’ as Shakespeare said, ‘there’s the rub,’

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