Monday, August 15, 2011

Artists Reclaiming Copyrights from Music Labels

It appears, in this discussion, that there are several issues, many of which are not being publicly discussed in the popular press. 

The first group of issues, that which is most discussed, is as to who owns copyright.  This issue should, with proper perspective, look into creative contributions not only by performers, songwriters, and arrangers, but also by so-called "engineers" and "producers."  The latter are in fact noteworthy artists in their own right, who adjust settings, alter arrangements, choose instrumental emphasis, and so forth.  In short, they turn recordings into more professional endeavors.  The idea that a single artist could own copyrights in recorded songs is simplistic.

The second group of issues, which I would like to see more discussion of, is equitable.  In fact, none of these artists would have the kind of valuable copyright interests that they currently have in various musical creations, without the substantial marketing, distribution, and other business efforts of their labels.  Equity should look beyond the letter of the law at other issues such as restitution.

Creative people often completely underestimate the value of the work of others.  Yet, one has now only to go to YouTube to see hosts of highly talented musicians who will not become world-reknowned celebrities, because they do not have such a business behind them.  Musical abilities are not so rare as all that.  What is rare is the attention of the huge international audience.

There were creative marketing people, such as photographers and copy editors.   There were tour managers, ticket takers, bus drivers, people who lifted boxes, janitors who swept floors, cashiers at parking garages at arenas and stadiums, municipalities that invested in building those arenas and stadiums or provided security....  Even some fans put in substantial efforts recruiting friends and family.  The list could go on ad infinitum.  There were risks taken by executives and investors, some of whom had substantial musical abilities of their own, which helped them choose which acts to invest in.  There were passive shareholders, who also contributed capital.  All of these people were necessary to creating the current value of "hits."

The common law has always provided for equity.  Self-righteous artists see themselves as the sole force that created their highly popular works, but this is simply nonsense.   These artists could not have created the value that these musical works now have.  That value was part of a huge group effort.

I hope that equity will play a large role in determining where money from "hits" is distributed and, moreover, that creative people who are currently not getting royalties from these "hits," will also be able to claim back their copyright interests.