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. Discuss.