Music: December 2008 Archives

Copyright Extension

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In just four days, we could begin to see the first of Cliff Richard's singles re-released without Richard himself either profiting or having any say over what's released.

That could happen, although as I write, I can't see any forthcoming releases at Amazon. Indeed he's recently released a celebratory 50 years anthology, and gave away an album with the Mail on Sunday recently covering much the same.

His first two singles came out in 1958 and were Move It and High Class Baby.

Because copyright on current performers extends over 50 years, those songs drop out of copyright from Jan 1 2009.

Richard's problem is that he performed, but did not write most of his hits. Move It, Wikipedia tells me, was written by Ian Samwell (Aaron Schroeder wrote the B-Side - Schoolboy Crush). Samwell died in 2003, but his estate continues to profit from the song he wrote, and will do so until 2073 under current UK copyright legislation.

But Richards isn't happy, and he's not alone. In 2012 early Beatles songs will also go out of copyright, and thousands of other songs are going out of copyright every year.

There's a massive push amongst the UK music industry to get this period increased from 50 years to 95 years.

The reason is simple. These songs currently earn money, and with recorded sales declining, the industry is trying to recoup every penny it possibly can from wherever it can.

Is this a problem? Doesn't Cliff et al deserve a few quid for their work? Well in fact, Cliff's profited quite nicely. The major problem the industry has is that all the people who stand up for them seem to be well-known multi-millionaires. I can look at my own work in 50 years time and know that it won't be earning me any cash. But then I know that because I went in knowing it. If I perform a song today and it's in some way successful (I know this is a stretch, but stay with me), then I know that I have but 50 years to recoup some cash. A struggle I know.

Andy Burnham recently stood up in front of the music industry and gave a speech which suggested that the UK government was backing down from the conclusions of its own report.

Gowers, the author of the report, has a fantastic riposte in the FT:

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.

Consumers find themselves paying more for old works or unable to access "orphan works" where copyright ownership is unclear. Small businesses that play recorded music such as hairdressing salons and local radio stations face a hidden extra "tax" in the form of higher music-licence fees. Do they really need this at this time?

Gowers goes on to point out that no musician has ever decided not to record a song because it'll be out of copyright in 50 years.

The orphan works argument is also important. Most recorded music is not available today. It was largely disposable at the time, and even if it wasn't, unless it was recorded by a big enough star, it has long gone out of print. It's worth nobody's time putting it back in print if there are unnecessary copyright payments making the project unworkable.

And if you can't even trace the copyright owners, then you can expect the works to remain out of print until that copyright period is up completely. Currently that's 50 years from then, but it could reach 70 or even 95 if we mimic the States where Walt Disney has had such a sway.

As ever, it's the Open Rights Group that looks out for this kind of thing, because the music industry sings from one voice.

As it points out: the record industry will roll out some needy musicians - and there undoubtedly are many. But they won't be the real beneficiaries of increasing the term: many of those performance rights are owned by the large labels. I don't doubt that they're suffering. Look at EMI after all. But that's not reason to tax the public.

[Regular readers may know that I've written a lot on this subject before. Here, here and here for example. These views, are of course my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.]

Southbank

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Two a couple of great concerts in the Southbank Centre over the weekend.

On Saturday it was John McCusker's Under One Sky. McCusker has put together a fascinating group of performers of Scottish and English origin who together make some wonderful music.

So on stage, alongside McCusker we had Julie Fowlis (who I saw a few weeks ago), John Tams (who'd brought a fan club), Roddy Woomble of Idlewild, and even Graham Coxon of the now reforming Blur (tickets onsale this week!).

Emma Reid, a half Swedish violinist was exceptional, as was Jim Causley. Indeed all the performers were, and although I did pick up the forthcoming Under One Sky CD I evidently have much more to look into.

On Monday it was a slight change of pace as I saw the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Simon Rattle perform perform the first of two nights at the Royal Festival Hall playing Schumann's symphonies.

It was a terrific concert and it's remarkable that you can get tickets for as little as £9.50. I still find it wonderful to go to a concert and see absolutely no sign of any speakers or microphones. By the way, during the interval I just fancied a glass of water so braced myself to fight to the bar to get a mineral water. But no! The RFH actually lays out dozens of plastic glasses of tap water for anyone who wants one. What a wonderful idea.

Anyway, this all makes me realise that I must visit the Southbank Centre a little more frequently (although I must also visit the much closer King's Place soon too).

Amazon's MP3 Store

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So the long awaited Amazon MP3 store is finally here - with just days to go until the end of the year deadline. They've got quite a lot of music on it with a claimed 3.5m tracks on there at the moment (so they've been busy).

Tracks are recorded as 256 kbps MP3 files - usually variable bit-rate. That's not bad, although Play.com uses 320 kbps. And eMusic uses a disappointing 192 kbps (again VBR).

Apple's default AAC is at 128 kbps, so a like with like comparison isn't direct - contrary to what you might glean from the BBC News report.

There's plenty of variable pricing which is sensible, but one thing that Amazon, like iTunes is bad about, is allowing you to re-download music you've later bought. Since they know who you are and what your buying history is, quite why I can't download music again after a hard disk failure or similar is beyond me. Piracy can't be the answer, because once I've got the MP3, I can do anything I like with it anyway. Obviously there may be watermarks within the audio files - I don't know.

That's one area where eMusic has the upper hand. I can download music I've already bought again and again. Anyway, nothing's taken my fancy just yet, and being an old fogey, I in any case prefer the physical comfort of a CD to a large extent (That said, if there was something I wanted in their £3 offer, I'd be downloading it right now).

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Music category from December 2008.

Music: November 2008 is the previous archive.

Music: January 2009 is the next archive.

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