One more thing…

…about copyright and licenses.

Or rather, two. Reading back over the past couple of blogs and comments, and seeing some new stuff on Twitter has triggered a couple of postscripts.

1. What the copyright abolitionists want

I can’t speak for them but it appears they want availability and access, and they blame copyright for getting in the way. As I have said, it’s not copyright that gets in the way it’s licenses.

In fact, what the abolitionists want is happening. But it’s not happening in Big Content. The entertainment and arts media is splitting into two layers: independent, cottage industry artists (such as DIY music) on one hand and Big Content on the other.

Media stories discuss Big Content as though it’s the whole story. It isn’t.

So, somewhat ironically, at the same time as the web copyright abolitionists start laying into copyright owners for their anti-social licensing behaviour most new artists are using copyright in a completely different way. One that features availability and access.

2. A timely example of that media bias

On Friday Billboard.biz ran this story Copyright Alert System Coming Within Weeks. But it most definitely is not a copyright alert system. There can never be such a thing.

I have hundreds of copyright works and some of them are indeed online but nobody will ever get an alert about listening to or sharing my music files.

The CCI CAS system is wrongly named. It is in fact a Licensing Alert System. The fact that CAS is sponsored by a narrow group of content interests (CCI includes the RIAA but not me or thousands of other independent artists) tells us they don’t represent copyright. What they represent is their own licenses.

Imagine there’s no copyright

I’ve been a musician and composer for nearly 50 years and always been aware of, and in favour of, copyright. It means I can decide how my music and lyrics are used. Since 1995, given the ease of copying material online, there has been a new debate about the nature, purpose and flaws of the copyright system. I follow this debate closely and study a lot of UK and USA legislation.

In the past couple of weeks (when I got involved in this particular conversation) I’ve been thinking about a world without copyright. Those involved in the discussion range from artists wondering how best to use the Internet, to free-culture fundamentalists who demand you agree with them before they even talk about their reasoning.

Fundamentalists are confused between copyrights and licenses. Copyright is set down in national law and different in each country. Licenses—such as Creative Commons, soundtrack sync, a blanket performance license, or a record label territorial sales deal—are individual permissions based on the national law.

Abolitionists protest, often quite rightly, about the behaviour of Big Content interests (movie studios, Major record labels and publishers) and blame copyright. If a Major label rips off their artists or customers that isn’t the fault of copyright. If you’re unhappy about Apple’s commission on iTunes sales that isn’t the fault of copyright either. Copyright simply gives the artist the choice, it has no control over what happens after the choice is made; after the record deal is signed or the tracks are submitted to an aggregator.

We covered most of the points in comments on the previous post but here’s one angle that’s worth bringing together.

Copyright abolitionists imagine that without copyright, artists would still be able to earn a living from their art while wider society enjoyed their work for free. That alone is quite a tricky argument to sustain but it doesn’t end there, they also imagine middlemen would be abolished. Let’s examine those 3 ideas:

Without copyright, artists would be able to earn from their art

If everything was public domain, everything an artist made could be copied. A great T shirt design could be sold in supermarkets. A box set of their music with special artwork and booklets could be re-manufactured in Asia. It is sometimes thought this would just be great publicity for the artist, but it’s hard to see how unrestricted copying doesn’t take food off her table. And would the middlemen pay her a cent? Why would they? Culture is free!

(Incidentally, I’m in favour of unrestricted music file-sharing but I draw the line at commercial third parties copying unique art without compensating the artist, unless that’s what the artist wants.)

Society should have free access to all artists’ work

Copyright doesn’t stop that happening—enlightened artists do share and it does help them.

Without copyright there can be no middlemen

Unfortunately you can’t abolish middlemen by abolishing copyright, unless you also ban the sale of goods and aggregation of content. There will always be shops and superstores. They will always need goods. A free supply of art and design ideas would be welcomed by big retailers. Many Internet sites make their living by aggregation (Google, YouTube, Grooveshark, and many others including the lyric sites Drew Stephenson mentions). Just consider all the places that copy your stuff now, then add the other commercial locations prevented by current law.

Abolitionists seem to think a level playing field would allow buyers to seek out the original artist rather than using a middleman but they wouldn’t. People pay a big mark-up for aggregation in a superstore and inevitably choose Internet aggregators over individual artist sites. That’s what they do now—the absence of copyright wouldn’t change that, it would just make art cheaper for the middlemen.

If you have a solution to these problems I’d be pleased to hear it, but copyright is designed to protect the artist in a world of commerce and unless you can change the world it seems we are stuck with it.

Copyright is not really complex for individual artists. If you want to do business in your own way it should be easy to describe it to customers. “Pay what you like.” “Buy one share one.” “Pay what you like, or nothing.” “Virtual tip jar.” “Free music, buy a T shirt.” The possibilities are as broad as your imagination, just browse some artist sites or Bandcamp. Lawyers will go purple, and they do have a point but only a small one. You need to make sure your licenses (“Pay what you like” is a license) are coherent and don’t conflict with other licenses but that’s just common sense. Don’t make two exclusive deals in one territory for example.

You can’t transfer your ownership without transferring your ownership, so don’t think you are endangering your copyright by offering your stuff for free. Don’t feel compelled to add legal mumbo-jumbo: “Pay what you like to enjoy unlimited personal use for yourself and your immediate family, limited to the tracks you have chosen, in the territory where you are resident subject to copyright law.” I don’t need to explain why that’s bad, do I?

(Some artists also fret about their best track being stolen by Sony and making millions for an X-Factor runner-up. That isn’t really a problem of copyright either. If you make your stuff widely shareable and it does get stolen by a Big Content user you have the problem of suing them. Your best bet might be to shame them on social media.)

You may prefer to use Creative Commons licenses but they are limited to certain specific uses and although many people think otherwise they too are based on national copyright law. Creative Commons is a set of copyright licenses.

© is good for artists, ask them

Today I was copied into a Twitter conversation about copyright. It began with an interesting article about The Limousines and a rather badly informed interviewer taking issue with crowd-funding. From there it developed into a downer on copyright in general.

Let’s consider the Torrent Freak article quoted here:

tweet

140 characters won’t do it justice, so here’s my reaction.

Rick Falkvinge says gatekeepers take 99% of the money. That’s true. I’m well aware of the Tamla Motown story and how artists are gouged by the record industry but that’s a feature of the record industry not copyright.

I’m not interested in labels, especially big labels, and I see publishers as largely incompetent. The future—for creative music at least—is happening outside of all that. Independent artists (the ones I’m interested in) don’t give up 99% of their earnings to gatekeepers. They rely on their copyrights.

Rick Falkvinge says “Eliminate those gatekeepers and those 93% of the money go to artists instead – or at least, a significantly larger portion of it.” But if the artists have no legal claim to their work how can they earn from it?

We don’t have to guess how big business would behave in the absence of legal ownership. Sam Tarrantino (Grooveshark) makes money out of other people’s work. So does Kim Dotcom (MegaUpload). And so, of course, does Google and many others. They pay the artists nothing.

Tunecore screens uploads for tracks that are simply copies but they still get through and often appear on iTunes and other retail sites. Without ownership of their work how can the money “go to artists“?

Rick Falkvinge says:

The myth that the copyright monopoly is needed for any kind of artistry to make money, or even to happen in the first place, is an obscene myth perpetuated by those who have something to gain from skimming off 90% of the artists’ money by denying them an audience in an old-style racketeering.

But I can point him to hundreds of artists without any record label who say otherwise. Perhaps he can tell us how composers who write for TV and cinema would get paid (composers are getting a PRS distribution right now). Without copyright that money wouldn’t find its way to artists, it would simply stay in the pockets of TV and film studios. How would artists get paid by radio?

The old mainstream system was and still is corrupt but because of greed not copyright. The new technology companies want everything for nothing and would rather see the back of copyright. The old and new mainstream are both playing the same game.