Yet Another Move To Funnel Money To Big Copyright Companies, Not Struggling Creators

from the who-is-copyright-for dept

When modern copyright came into existence in 1710, it gave a monopoly to authors for just 14 years, with the option to extend it for another 14. Today, in most parts of the world, copyright term is the life of the creator, plus 70 years. That’s typically over a hundred years. The main rationale for this copyright ratchet – always increasing the duration of the monopoly, never reducing it – is that creators deserve to receive more benefit from their work. Of course, when copyright extends beyond their death, that argument is pretty ridiculous, since they don’t receive any benefit personally.

But the real scandal is not so much that creators’ grandchildren gain these windfalls – arguably something that grandpa and grandma might approve of. It’s that most of the benefit of copyright goes to the companies that creative people need to work with – the publishers, recording companies, film studios, etc.

One of the cleverest moves by the copyright industry was to claim to speak for the very people it exploits must brutally. This allows its lobbyists to paint a refusal to extend copyright, or to make its enforcement harsher, as spitting in the face of struggling artists. It’s a hard argument to counter, unless you know the facts: that few creators can make a living from copyright income alone. Meanwhile, copyright companies prosper mightily: some publishers enjoy 40% profit margins thanks to the creativity of others.

By claiming to represent artists, copyright companies can also justify setting up costly new organisations that will supposedly channel more money to creators. In fact, as later blog posts will reveal, collecting societies have a record of spending the money they receive on fat salaries and outrageous perks for the people who run them. In the end, very little goes to the artists they are supposed to serve.

EurActiv has a report about an interesting new copyright organization:

French publishers are close to launching a new body to collectively negotiate with online platforms, while the dispute with Google raises fundamental questions on how to monetise online content.

The president of the Institute for Digital Fundamental Rights (IDFR), Jean-Marie Cavada, told lawmakers in the French parliament that the set up of the new collective management organisation (CMO) will be completed in the next month.

The new body, which Cavada will lead, is to be in charge of negotiating with online platforms the remuneration of press publishers under the neighbouring right.

This “neighbouring right”, yet another extension of copyright, is being brought in as part of the EU’s Copyright Directive, passed two years ago. It’s interesting to note that the new organisation will be headed up by Jean-Marie Cavada, a French politician who played a leading role in getting the EU’s Copyright Directive passed. It’s a small world.

This “right” is also known as the “snippet tax”, because it basically requires online companies like Google to pay when even tiny excerpts of press materials appear on their sites. A moment’s reflection is enough to show that this is absurd: such snippets are effectively free advertising for publications, and they drive traffic to sites for free – something confirmed by research carried out in 2017 for the European Commission. If anything, press publishers should pay online companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter for the work they do.

But a clever campaign convinced EU lawmakers that the creators – in this case journalists – ought be paid more, and that Big Tech was somehow exploiting their work by displaying short excerpts in search results etc. And so the Copyright Directive was passed requiring online platforms to negotiate payments for the use of snippets, even though this has been a disaster in the two markets – Germany and Spain – where the approach has already been tried. As that 2017 European Commission report found:

After an initial rejection and chilling effect on traffic to their websites, German publishers agreed that news aggregators could take their content without remuneration. Spanish publishers did not have that option and suffered a decline in traffic.

What’s interesting about the French announcement is that its aim is “the remuneration of press publishers”. If you think that journalists working for those publishers will be seeing much or any of that remuneration in the form of extra wages, then I have a bridge you might like to acquire.

Follow me @glynmoody on TwitterDiaspora, or Mastodon. 

Originally posted to the absolutely wonderful new Walled Culture website.

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Comments on “Yet Another Move To Funnel Money To Big Copyright Companies, Not Struggling Creators”

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11 Comments
Rico R.says:

Great minds think alike!

One of the cleverest moves by the copyright industry was to claim to speak for the very people it exploits must brutally.

I was thinking about this very concept the other day. In the music industry, it’s an especially vicious and exploitive cycle. The smallest musician usually tends to dream of a major label deal, so they can say they "made it" like the Katy Perry’s, Coldplay’s, and Taylor Swift’s of this world. And if they ever get big enough to attract the attention of a major label, their number one concern tends to be creative control. They don’t want the label to make creative decisions for them, be it their sound, lyrics, what songs do or don’t appear on the tracklisting, who they collaborate with, etc.

Unfortunately, they gloss over the more important aspect of any deal any label would write up: By signing on the dotted line, they gain very little in the short term while the label swallows up 100% of the rights of the master recordings released through the label, which they can use to pocket more money than they hand over to you.

It gets worse once you consider how some musicians tend to be anti-copyright in one way or another. For example, Miley Cyrus once said on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she doesn’t mind it if anyone downloads her music illegally, saying that they’re just fans at the end of the day. Yet, you know who does mind very much? Miley’s label! And unfortunately for the "pirate", it’s the label and not Miley who has the copyright to the recording you’ve downloaded.

And what’s worse, whenever the label successfully defends its legal rights in court, the artist sees nothing from that payout. These are the very artists that the label claims to be defending in court. The very same artists whenever they lobby for more copyright maximalist policies in Congress. And whenever that hypothetical artist mentioned above does make it big and is signed to a label’s roster, one of their fans looks up to them and dreams of following in their footsteps. Unfortunately, those footsteps are on the path to copyright maximalism, whether the artist ever wanted it or not.

That One Guysays:

'For the artists. OUR artists specifically.'

While it’s possible that it will shake out somewhat differently now that Facebook and Google have swapped from outright refusal to appeasement and paying out as Spain showed when you make it so that having links costs you money those links get dropped, and while the major outfits are hurt by this the smaller ones who depend even more on that traffic end up completely screwed over, so to the extent that moves like this might be ‘for the artists’ they are for a very select few of them.

DNYsays:

Just a reminder of the original intent of the Copyright Clause

This article seem a good place to remind one and all that the Law of Queen Anne, the first modern copyright law, which established the 14 years renewable for 14 years pattern, was a reform that prevented the granting of monopolies to publishers by the Crown, a common practice before 1710. It was this law that the American Founders had in mind when the granted Congress the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." And it was the terms of the Law of Queen Anne that were copied by the first American copyright statute.

Quite frankly, if we had a majority on the SCOTUS that actually believed in strict constructionism and original intent in interpreting the Constitution, the current life-plus copyright statutes and the entire practice of completely alienating rights from the author and granting them to the publisher could be declared unconstitutional, much to the benefit of actual authors and artists.

Samuel Abramsays:

Re: Great minds think alike!

It gets worse once you consider how some musicians tend to be anti-copyright in one way or another. For example, Miley Cyrus once said on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she doesn’t mind it if anyone downloads her music illegally, saying that they’re just fans at the end of the day. Yet, you know who does mind very much? Miley’s label! And unfortunately for the "pirate", it’s the label and not Miley who has the copyright to the recording you’ve downloaded.

Fortunately, thanks to termination clauses, the rights to the masters eventually return to the artists themselves. That’s why Peter Gabriel, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, King Crimson (c/o Robert Fripp) etc. all own their own masters even though their works that they own were once on major labels. The same thing will eventually happen to Miley Cyrus (if Global Warming doesn’t get us first) and we’ll be in the clear if we download their music.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Just a reminder of the original intent of the Copyright Clau

was a reform that prevented the granting of monopolies to publishers by the Crown

Not quite, a prior act of parliament had completely removed the publishers monopoly, and it was the publishers, who having failed to get some form of direct monopoly, that proposed copyright as an authors right. They did so in the full knowledge that an author would have to sell that right to the publisher if they wanted to get published.

Back then, as now, for the author was and is political spin for laws that protect the publishers rights and profits.

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