18 August 2011

The same old played out scenes

This week in copyright comes the news that the rights to many songs from 1978 could transfer from record companies to the original artists. It's a provision in the 1976 Copyright Act called "termination rights" which allows artists to acquire copyrights held by their publishers after 35 years.

I'll admit that the main attraction to this story is watching the publishers hem and haw over the finer points of the law while maneuvering to hold onto these properties. These are the same people who pose as protectors of artists' rights when they sue file sharers (and pocket the settlements); now that their interests are in conflict with the creators they allegedly champion they are making no attempt to hide their hypocrisy.

But while I'll happily grab a bag of popcorn to watch the recording industry's shameful display, I think there's a deeper lesson here. The fact that the RIAA is spending lawyers on 35-year-old rights demonstrates once again that Copyright in its current form is failing at its basic goal of promoting the production of new work. Why should Columbia be looking for new talent when it's more profitable to fight over Darkness on the Edge of Town? For that matter, why should Bruce Springsteen write anything new if he can snag those rights?

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