Friday, April 21, 2006

Royalty deadlines told to "move it"

A little something I picked up on in the last few days, is that many artists of increasing longevity are calling, nay, demanding, longer copyright measures. They feel that 50 years isn't enough for the work they've done. They'd much rather find that 95 years (for instance) is a much more appropriate term for music copyright. Is it people just being greedy?

Kenny Ball says "My wife is 15 years younger than me, so it is terrible to cut off the source. Midnight in Moscow alone pulls in a few thousand a year."His complaint is that he is going to lose out when it loses copyright in 2012. Humphrey Littleton finds it galling that his song, bad penny blues, falls out of copyright at the end of this year, and Sir cliff is coming close to losing royalties incomes for 'move it"

The problem is this, they're artists, they create. They want to earn money from their work, but their production is low. At he root of their argument is the fact that making music that's popular is hard (or was, now its a question of throwing money at it to make it popular and thus recoup the money) and so they wanted to be recompensed for it. Most of them no longer work. They still want their income. Ian Anderson, who was a member of Jethro Ttull, says "the unsung heroes of the 1950s depend on royalties to pay heating and nursing home bills." This is all very well and good. pensioners need an income, to pay their bills, keep the gas on, buy the years new cardigans, tartan zipup bootie slippers, and beige/mushroom ensembles. in short, money - you can't live without it.

the flip side is, of course, all those OTHER pensioners. my grandparents weren't in the music business, but didn't starve or freeze. Of them, we had an orthopaedic bootmaker, a matron at a world-famous childrens hospital, a painter and a housewife. Three houses between them, one car (only one could drive) and no real money worries. What did they do that these struggling artists didn't? Two things
1) not blow their money when they had some
2) plan ahead to their old age

I'll bet that those royalties over the years added up to a lot more than my grandparents ever saw. More than most of our grandparents ever saw, and yet they're still claiming poverty? let me give you another example. I've a friend who's been retired almost 20 years now. He's not old, far from it, only in his mid-50s now. he made a lot of money in the mid-80s, and saved his money, invested it, and now lives pretty much off the interest. he's a huge house, with an extensive workshop for his hobbies in the basement (an electronics shop better equipped than the undergrad lab at the electrical engineering dept. at Liverpool University). He wasn't alone in making the money, but his business partner, like these rock stars, lives in a 3-room flat, living from cheque to cheque. He'd sure love to be getting lots of royalties for his work for another 30 years, since it was a technological product that quite literally revolutionised the world. Can't say the same about a song, can you.

Finally, a word to what extending the royalties time limit means. in the US, the song "happy birthday" is copyrighted until 2030. Anyone who's ever been in an American restaurant where someone's been embarrassed by the chain-specific clapping chant being yelled throughout the room, should understand why that's not a good thing. Incidentally, the composer, Mildred hill, was born in 1859. The tune and original lyrics were written in 1893, and finally copyrighted in 1934, by the sister of the creators. Mildred, however, had died in 1916. under UK laws, it would fall into the public domain in 1985, not bad, considering its 69 years after the composer died. Who's getting the income? Well, its owned by Summy-Birchard music (formerly Warner-Chappell), and in 2002 was still bringing in over $2Million/year. half goes to the company and half to the Hill foundation. Hmmm...

Can someone please send me $1Million/year for a few days work one of my great-grandparents did in the 1890's? I'm sure you can pick any one of them that died 90 years ago to attribute it to. Mr Anderson claims a song disappearing into the public domain "becomes instantly devalued" - but the only way it does is fiscally, to him. We're supposed to envy them the rock-and-roll lifestyle when they're young, and then feel sorry for them that they blew all their money living that lifestyle, and give them more money. Logical, fair? I don't think so. Its clearly time people started living in the Real World.

Ben Jones

Article in the Daily Telegraph

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