Abolish Music Copyright? The Idea Keeps Gaining Steam…

If music rights are a mess, why not get rid of the mess? This isn’t a fringe idea harbored by the Pirate Bay anymore — then again, the Pirate Party is starting to win more representation than ever in places like Germany.  And just this week, the European Commissioner Michel Barnier spent considerable time arguing against the abolishment of music copyrights, perhaps validating the concept more than discrediting it in the process.

So what is the radical argument against music copyright, anyway, at least as it pertains to recordings and publishing assets?  Well, it goes something like this…

(a) Copyright law is designed to protect innovators and artists, and encourage innovation and art.

(b) There’s more music (ie, recordings and songs) being created and distributed than ever before in history, yet most of it does not make money (or produces a loss).

(c) It is highly questionable whether copyright is encouraging this huge output, or whether the absence of recording and publishing copyrights would lessen the quality of the music being created (or, even improve quality overall).

(d) In the music industry, copyright law has repeatedly served to stifle technological innovation and enrich lawyers, while funnelling revenue towards a very narrow class of beneficiaries (ie, major labels, superstar artists, estates).

(e) Artists have more outlets than ever to exploit non-recordings, like live performances, branding, and merchandising.  In fact, many artists (like Counting Crows) are eager to position recordings for free.

Here’s what Barnier told the assembled at the ‘LetsGoConnected’ creative conference in Brussels last Thursday.  It’s translated from French, so please pardon our English…

There’s a myth that copyright is preventing citizens from accessing music, books, or movies on the internet.  That it places a lock on culture, while benefiting the profit-seeking elite and finally well-off.  The myth further holds that abolishing copyright would make everything better, that people could freely access culture online, and that artists would simply be compensated through other channels.”

“The problem with all of this is that reality has little connection to this myth.  In reality, without copyright, artists would no longer have the means to create.”

“Internationally-known, bigger singers and performers may have the ability to benefit from concerts, television or advertising.  But independent and unsigned artists would be forced to do something else.  The truth is that without copyright, the public would not have universal access to culture online.”

“I state this very clearly: those who argue against the copyright are wrong. When everything is free, no one wins.  But the question remains: how we create a workable response to these very serious issues, without falling for this myth?”

Good question.

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