UK Copyright.

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Thirteen Ball, Jan 4, 2011.

  1. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    There are currently many threads on here with arguments/questions/disputes (delete as appropriate) regarding copyright of sheet music.

    Whilst there is little opinion allowable as regards the position of the law - it all seems pretty concrete to me at least – the debate I’m proposing is as regards the purpose of copyright, and whether it is still fit for purpose.

    I am not advocating photocopying band sets, or wholesale cloning of software, albums of music etc. My main problem lies with the copyright restrictions set on written works, (such as music,) and their entry into the public domain. This is an emotive subject, on which several of my friends and colleagues on here have a vested interest – but I feel it’s important so I’m going to risk it and pin my colours to the mast.

    There’s a commonly accepted misconception that copyright was introduced in order to protect the interests of writers, composers, arrangers, inventors etc – when in actuality as far as I’m aware it was almost the opposite. That copyright was introduced to increase the number of works in the public domain, by ensuring that one person should, for a short while at least, have the monopoly on their own works and discoveries, whilst encouraging others to follow in the same vein and produce fresh work – the idea being that society as a whole would advance with the process.

    It’s even enshrined in law in America. Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the United States Constitution lays out that the US Congress has 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."

    This I feel is the key, and is what has been forgotten. Copyright is not about endlessly prolonging the influence of authors, inventors (and musicians) over the work they produce. It is about increasing the number of works in the public domain, for the benefit of society as a whole – or at least that’s what it was at it’s inception.

    There is music out there which is so old that even our Grandparents have all but forgotten it, yet it cannot yet be rediscovered and reinvented by ours and future generations, because the term of copyright is based on the longevity of the composer, rather than of the work. By the terms of UK copyright (Which expires on 1st of January on the 71st year after the death of the composer) this can often mean well over a hundred years before a piece becomes fair game for arrangement – without paying (often exorbitant) fees… usually to large corporations.

    As a composer and arranger myself, non-musicians are often shocked by the obstacles in place of arranging a well-known piece. Asked why I couldn’t expand ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ for a small brass ensemble from five parts to six, my response was simply. “Because Irving Berlin lived to be a hundred and one….” OK, that may have been an overly acerbic comment and I don’t begrudge the fact that he had a very long and successful life any more than I begrudge the fact that he was undoubtedly an amazing and very clever musician. However the fact remains that an immensely popular work, written no less than eighty-one years ago this year, will not come into the public domain for at least another fifty years. And a term of a hundred and thirty-one years for a work to be legally acknowledged as the property of humanity as a whole seems wrong to me.

    Does this genuinely inhibit us? Well, yes I think it does. Consider the stagnation of popular music. Endless pre-fabricated plasticised and pitch-corrected popsters, picked for how they look rather than how they sound – most of whom emulate the styles of their predecessors with galling predictability because the industry has influenced the music business to preserve the status quo. Since large corporations own much of the musical copyright in the UK, they have the legal might to defend it. (Like it or not, though we’re theoretically all equal before the law, money does equal power.)

    Since now every work for a popular artist is picked based on it’s saleability, rather than it’s potential impact or musical merit, it’s become more commercially viable to trot out a re-hashed cover-version with a load of synthetic sounds than actually risk releasing something a bit different. The power and influence they have over the popular music market also has the impact that if something genuinely fresh does come along, they can squash it or ignore it, in order to preserve their position, because it’s easier to drop an artist who’s trying something not commercially viable and drag up another teeny popster, than to allow the natural reinvention process to exert itself.

    I mean, can anyone genuinely imagine a record coming along that would have anywhere near the impact of ‘heartbreak hotel’ in this day and age? Or Sgt Pepper? Led Zep 1? Paranoid? It’s reached the point where popular musicians don’t seem to WANT to do anything new any more.

    With a copyright period as long as is currently set, there is no encouragement to big music publishers to branch out and do something fresh. They can simply license out, revive old works through the media, advertising, x-factor winners etc. and let the cash roll in. Mean time, for a small-time arranger for specific ensembles like myself, I have difficulty persuading copyright holders to allow me to try and reinvent their material for precisely the opposite reason – because they won’t ever make any real money.

    I don’t write for brass for the money, I do it because I love it – but brass band publishing is a business like any other, and for every copyrighted arrangement I make and sell, a publisher who takes it on has to accept that they’ll lose a weighty slice of any revenue they make – which can sometimes make what would otherwise be a great piece to play completely unviable to print.

    To sum up, Yes, I do believe that composers of original works should have their interests protected, and should have at least some control over the way that their works are used. I’d be cutting my own nose off to spite my face if I though otherwise. And yes, I’d agree that those who transgress should be faced with severe penalty. But would I be happy for my works to enter the public domain in say… 50 years? Well yes, I would. By then they will be well overdue a reinvention by the next generation of musicians anyway.

    So, in my experience so far, UK copyright in it’s current form has become a license to print money for the large companies, a millstone round the necks of the small and entrepreneurial publisher, and an indirect threat to the amateur ensemble as an entity in the UK.

    Last edited: Jan 4, 2011
  2. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    No discussion here. I completely agree. :tup

    A fairer copyright length term in my eyes would be the lifetime of the composer, 30 years after initial production of the work, or 80 years after the composer's birth, whichever could be proven to be longer.
  3. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    The length of time after a composers death has in my view nothing at all to do with protecting the rights of the composer/Author and their immediate dependents, and has everything to do with protecting the profits of the Vested interests of Publishers and Recording companies.

    The SA for example, until the back end of the last century, used the Copyright Laws to prevent non SA Choirs/Bands from accessing the vast SA music Library!
  4. phildriscoll

    phildriscoll Moderator Staff Member

    I can't think off the top of my head of any copyrighted work which is so original that it has not been built upon the work of others. A long copyright term puts the brakes on 'standing on the shoulders of giants' and slows down progress. I agree with Andy, save that I would say that 50 years is far too long. Rufus Pollock suggests 15 years in this paper:

    I imagine this post might earn me some dirty looks from straightmute at band practice on Thursday evening :)
  5. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Then maybe you should remind Mr Lancaster that the original proposition came from a fellow composer and arranger? Might stop him giving you dirty looks. Ok it'll probably turn 'em my way, but then I'm a bass player so that's a large part of what I'm there for. ;)
  6. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Interesting-looking paper. I'll save going through the dirty mathematical details for later!

    Speaking of works that are 'so original that they do not build on the work of others', such works do not have a broad appeal because of this - people in the main do not want to listen to music that bears no resemblance to any other music. An overstrong copyright law encourages mindless innovation - it makes it illegal to keep the baby in the bath if you are throwing out the bathwater...
  7. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I don't think that copyright laws came into that decision at all, and there were several instances of non-SA bands playing SA publications - from perfectly legally-obtained sets of parts - well before the regulations were changed.
  8. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    I have to disagree with you Peter. I worked at SP&S in the 80s at the time and the Only Legal way to buyTriumph General and Festval Series Music at that Time was to purchase it (either printed or Photocopied) from SP & S, and those purchases could only be made if the music was signed for by either the Bandmaster or Officer.

    Any Non SA band having obtained those parts legally must have done so with the complicity of a friendly Leader. The whole objective of this set of rules was to restrict SA music to SA Sections. An SA friend of mine who worked for the MCPS was most vociferous about it.

    Copyright Laws were used to prevent any oher publisher from producing the affected SA music; even for a fee, and Campfield press only distributed it to SP & S for selling.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2011
  9. Straightmute

    Straightmute Active Member

    Excuse me? No, I'm in complete agreement that 50 - let alone 70 - years is far too long. Copyright must exist to protect the rights of composers over their own intellectual property and to earn an honest crust. 15/20 years would cover the lifetime of a composer's widow in the vast majority of cases; after that any extension of copyright only really serves the publisher and I would far sooner have publishers promote the work of living composers than dead ones. (But that's a slightly different grudge).

    But for Phil and Andi, here's a dirty look from me, free and gratis :frown:
  10. Pyman71

    Pyman71 Member

    I have to agree with straightmute, but how do they know when a composer dies? unless they are so well known that it becomes public knowledge then the answer will be "they don't".
    I think a copyright should have a set term, if the composer is still alive after the term is over then he/she should be able to have it extended
  11. RThomp7462

    RThomp7462 Member

    There is lots of what should, or shouldn't be . . .

    and perhaps, maybe, this ought to be said . . .

    Most I have read are (in some sense) personal perspectives . . . and in fact some of them I agree with . . . but the reality is that the time years after a composers "cease of existence" is slightly (almost) not correct . . . it depends which part of the globe copyright agreement comes from . . . Australasia and the US is different the the Euro Zone (and definitely other areas not covered by corporate agreements via copyrighty agreementments, ie MPCS and ICP).

    It also has to be considered that in general, a music publisher owns the copyright for a composers or arrangements works, and therefore accrues must of the copyright royalties (although in recent times there is a 50/50 per cent split).

    This is why in the late 60's many composers in the mainstream popular music circles set up their own publishing companies (ie Apple etc.)

    Most "sheet" music publishers in the UK today, particularly those not in minority publishing (i.e. brass bands), are struggling, and any royalties paid out (as some people think are "major") are not paid as "bonuses to bankers" but are there for survival of the company and without those royalties many of these existing publishing houses would not exist.

    I have been involved in brass bands since I can remember, playing at the very bottom and the very top, and I have met and (got "drunk") with some of the finest musicians, composers, arrangers . . . and players in OUR "movement". . . but in the end we ARE an amateur organisation . . . and ALL of us work for the better of OUR brass band movement . . . INCLUDING composers, arrangers, and the "very wealthy publishers????"

    I've been a muisc publisher for 30 years . . . perhaps I should have been a banker . . . (don't answer that!!!!)
  12. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I'm not sure who you think you're quoting when you refer to 'very wealthy publishers.' I don't mention that anywhere in my initial post, and neither do any of the replies on the thread.

    The point I was making appears to be entirely the one that you are - ie: that overly strong copyright pretection laws laws lead to large corporations owning and licensing out copyrights - and making those publishers of sheet music suffer, because there is comparitively little money to be made in sheet music, as compared with soundtracks for advertising, tv and film etc. where having a piece featured is akin to a license to print money.

    Naturally those publishers who choose to publish for what is generally an amateur market (in our case brass ensembles) are squeezed hardest, because - as I alluded to in my earlier post - they often don't have the requisite influence to showcase and promote new works to the same extent, but are also severely hampered if trying to publish more well known and popular items because the copyright is owned by an organisation with little interest in music but a large interest in money.

    As a published composer and arranger myself, I am very well aware of the pressures our dedicated brass band publishers are under - and if my initial post has given you the impression otherwise then you have certainly misinterpreted my intention. I believe things could be made EASIER for small publishers by reducing the term of copyright duration, not harder, because they wouldn't constantly be reduced to paying out large sums in copyright license for works written within living memory.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2011
  13. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Although I'm with the majority of posters on this thread that term of copyright requires a fresh look, I would also want to see some quality control brought into place. For a publisher to make money from poorly constructed arrangements does need some attention in my opinion.
  14. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Mentioning nobody in particular, brassneck?

    Unusually lacking in frankness from you.... ;)
  15. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    If its Poorly arranged in the opinion of the majority, then it probably wont make much money as no one will want to play it.
  16. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    Alas, would that it were so...

    But frankly speaking, there are those out there who make many sales despite churning out dross by the truckload.
  17. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Agreed. Unfortunately there's always some johnny who has the time to arrange oceans of the stuff to an apalling standard.....
  18. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    And then there are the companies that drive the process by turning skilled arrangers into workhorses for their definitely
    non-primo brass outlets.
  19. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I think we'll have to leave it to somebody who can write fluent Flemish to work in any more. Calling Jan Houben!
  20. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I would hope every band splashing their cash in the January sales avoids such musical vandals at all costs. Alas their arrangements have kept right on selling yearly, though I don’t think I’ll ever buy any….

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