Copyright discussions

I heard a really interesting show talking about copyright last week. It’s the Off the Hook for 19 January:

You can scroll forward to about the 10-15 minute mark.

They discuss this film: Sita Sings the Blues, with it’s director and writer.

It’s an animated film that is free to distribute and view, but has actually paid for the copyrighted music they use. The discussion of how much this costs and the process of the film maker to acquire the rights is extraordinary.

Calling something ART doesn’t necessarily justify your “right” to use something.

While the Copyright red tape may be ludicrous, it serves a purpose. This woman SEEMS to think that just because someone made something (music in this case) that she should be free to use it after a certain period of time.

Ownership means many things. It means an attempt to make money. It means protecting the artwork from being misused. It means I own it, and I don’t care what you think about it, you’re not touching it.

I think I could go on and on with this.

The short story for me, is that this “feature animation”…is crap (being a HUGE animation fan, I attempted to watch the whole thing). I would be embarassed to have any music I produced associated with it…whether I am alive or dead.

IP: I haven’t watched it yet. I am kinda scared to.

I read an interview with Francis Ford Coppola this morning and I think he says it better than I can:

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

Ya, it is going to be a wonderful world we live in when there is no “good” music. It is going to be filled with a bunch of “Sita Sings the Blues” because nobody can afford to make a living…I’d argue it is already starting to happen.

I don’t care what the indie rockers say…they all desire to be Rock Stars. They have a dream of banging groupies, and living the party life…“settling down” when they hit like 35 or 40 and making music “on their terms”. They didn’t get in the business to make music and struggle to live doing it until they’re 80. It doesn’t work that way. Eventually, with no reward, the incentive to produce will disappear.

Downloading for free…that’s a whole other discussion.

IP: Do you think that ideas, music, designs, writing, etc should ever fall into the public domain?

On a side note, indie rockers are all banging groupies and living the party life, regardless of talent or success. It’s just the size of the bus that changes.

In short. No, I do not. If the author/artist/insert-title-here CHOOSES for it to become public domain, then it should.

The only thing being difficult is anything that predates modern copyright laws. So, say Bach…his estate doesn’t get to reap the benefits of all of the royalties of his music. Mick Jagger and company…they will as they have established an estate that will protect their IP for a long, long time.

It is the choice of the creator, not the user to determine whether or not it can be used…and most importantly…how it can be used.

Put it this way…some people may not want their song being used in a Trojan Condoms ad…others, won’t care. It is a matter of integrity of the creation. The only person that can/should have final say on that is the owner. If the creator sold the rights…that’s their prerogative.

OK, now I understand where you are coming from. You are the anti-Mr-914 hehe.

I have a brother who is getting creamed because people think its ok to just download and pass around music. These guys, and other bands all around the world, pour their heart and soul into this stuff. In the past 15 years, their dream of doing this for a living has been stripped away from them because people are greedy, and aren’t willing to pay.

I personally feel that iTunes has it right. $1 per song is a fair asking price with a discount (usually) if you buy the album. There is no reason not to pay for a song so those people who put YEARS of their life into that skill to make that “amazing song that changed my life”.

Designers sure bitch when their design idea - which in sketch format is a piece of artwork - gets ripped off. Why is it different for a painter, or musician?

I agree with you 100% that I want to see artists, designers, musicians make a living from their ability, but I don’t agree that it is tied to very length intellectual property laws.

For example, I’ve had designed four utility patentable inventions in the last eight years. However, my clients and I have agreed that none was worth the time and money to actually patent. My clients still received added value and I still got paid.

I think the problem with music is that we are going through a period of transition. I bet that a lot of painters thought that their work would be worthless after the invention of the camera. Why would anyone want to buy a painting when they could have a photo? It turned out that people still valued the things that the painter could bring to a piece that a camera misses. Every summer, Montreal’s old port is filled with painters, printers, photographers selling images of Montreal cityscapes.

According to me, the difference is that painters always struggled. I think I heard that the annual income from art, for an artist, is $5000. Not nearly enough to survive on. As Capolla stated above, they need another job. Because of the huge industry built around music and movies, the musicians, actors, directors all thought that this could be their full time job. Now it seems like the last 50 years may have been the anomaly.

Hold on there, you are blending 2 distinct ideas.

First, want a song is worth is only what the market will bear. “Fair” has absolutely nothing do to with it. Artists went from having patrons to leaping the gains of capitalism. If captialism changes the game on artists, they need to adapt or ts. If I may paraphrase Danny DeVito, I bet the last company to make buggy whips made the best damn buggy whip on the planet. But if no one wants to buy that buggy whip because they drive a car, that buggy whip company should adapt or die.

Second, if another person wants to profit off of anothers person’s art (music in the Trojan ad), that is an entirely different matter. I would call that stealing if they don’t pay the artist.

So as the cost of producing art approaches zero, capitalism will dictate the price will approach zero. That’s why I want my kids to be doctors and electrical engineers.

Well there is a rub…

While I agree that the price will be dictated by what the market will bear…if the market says that music is FREE…well, I have a hard time believing that musicians are going to continue making music. Some might, but we’re going to lose out on a LOT of innovation and amazing music because we’ve effectively told the musicians that their work is not worth paying for. What I find really sad about this, is that people take a TS approach to this for no other reason than the internet has made it EASY to download music. We’re a cheap, lazy society that places very little value on a group of people that fundamentally MAKE US HAPPY.

Now, all I hear is how expensive it is to go to a concert anymore. I even complain about it. But there is no other form of profit. People complain about bands “selling their music out” to corporations. Heck, Colbert had a couple bands on recently mocking this very idea. That bands whore out their music to make a buck. But a primary revenue stream (albums) is gone. So, for a typical band, 4 - 5 people…you have to make a minimum of $1,000,000** per year to cover expenses, salaries (assuming $100K USD for a round number indicating a “good” living). That’s $400 - $500 to cover salaries. The rest covers equipment costs, travel expenses, management fees, and other business expenses. These are a all small businesses, afterall. So…they have to make money somehow. (**I’m sure you could argue the $500K is high or low based on an annual run for a “decent” band). $1,000,000 isn’t something to sneeze at.

Music is part of our culture. It makes our soul taps its foot. And because its EASY to download, we tell the people who do this for us TS.

I, for one, can’t do that.

iab: You bring up some good points about music. However, the cost of music is not approaching zero, just the cost of distribution. Studio time is still just as expensive as always. Having said that, I’ve noticed people on the ground changing their approach.

I’ve read about a lot of bands that signed with a label to make an album and then sunk $50k into studio time, producers, engineers, session players, etc. Today, most Montreal bands are renting out a studio for peanuts and twiddling the knobs themselves. Making albums for hundred of dollars. They only have to sell 100 CDs for $5 to recoup the cost. Or, give them out (myspace, torrent, whatever) and encourage people to see a show.

BTW, at the peak of the record industry, the average album sold 3000 units. I think royalties are never over $1 / album. Most bands never made money on records.

IP: I think concerts are ridiculously cheap. I can go to a show a week here for $5-10 cover. Not only that, the bars are half full.

I know what you are talking about, these top heavy dinosaurs from our youth. They do need $250 a ticket to cover everything they do. Right now, they are quickly becoming a luxury for the rich, but they will die out. Tomorrow, kids will do what they’ve always done, find the cheap local stuff. I think it will be great.

$100k salary to play guitar?!?!? I can’t help but to think of Dire Straits, Money for Nothing. The bands I know either have day jobs, or live together and drive their own gear in a crappy car show to show. Moreover, that’s how they all started.

It is a profession. Why is $100K wrong? It is a business. To own a house, have kids, and live life…I think $100K is a fair number. What do you aspire to as a Designer? Anymore, $100K is an middle to high end paying job.

It seems you’re bringing in your own personal bias to this. You don’t think of being a musician as a profession? It takes YEARS to learn how to play that guitar. Just like it took you YEARS to be a designer.

Those numbers scale. For your start up friends in a band. They need to bootstrap their way up. Just like any other business. Shift that number down to $30K per year. That’s still $120 - $150K…just for salaries! On top of that, you have all your expenses to cover (you alluded to studio fees).

That’s a LOT of $5 - $10 cover fees for half full bars.

Downloading for free, and only paying $5 per concert is justified because of what? People find a musicians job to be a luxury job?

I don’t get this whole argument against musicians and artists. They create something, and people want it for free? Why? Because its less valuable than what a Lawyer or Doctor or Engineer does? That Copyright is trying to protect those artists from a society that doesn’t want to pay them for their skill?

We obviously don’t agree on the value of music/art. Explain to me why it should be free.

Right now, the only reason I can see is because the system was broken BEFORE. Run by dinosaurs milking the artists for pennies per album, doesn’t justify us stripping profit from the artists now that there’s a way to get around that archaic system.

To me, if anything, we should be buying the albums directly from the artists on their websites or a better, yet to be determined process, letting the revenue funnel directly to them. Figure out ways to dissuade people from torrent sharing.

Copyright, used properly, isn’t the issue. It is a system in flux, that has one side that was milking the system, and now the other side rebelling and wanting it for free. Neither side is right.

The part that really scares me about this is that it sounds a LOT like what Designers are complaining about. Being undervalued. Being subservient to a Marketing or Engineering Department that doesn’t “get it” or is hoarding all the profit and glory. Being turned into a commodity that “anyone can do”.

OK. Let’s look at nearly free music. First, I’ll disagree with Mr. 914. Digital recording costs are extremely low as compared to the past. A little capital and a basement will get you a quality (not necessarily the best) recording. Distribution, especially file sharing, is free. Those two things drive an over-supply. If demand stays the same, or drops because the over-supply dilutes quality art, price will drop. Why shouldn’t the artist look to a new model? Yes, the low-hanging fruit will be gone. It will discourage some artists and many will quit. But the amatuers won’t quit. They are not creating art for the sake of money. I’d say most, if not all artists start by just wanting to express themselves. So I don’t think the supply of artists will diminish.

So can an artist transition from amatuer to professional? I think absolutely yes. Will it be as “easy” or reap the rewards as the past? Absolutely not. Will this stop “a LOT” (as you put it) of innovation? I don’t know. But then again, I don’t think you are certain either. Plus, what exactly is a lot?

There needs to be a new model of artist. If Colbert and others want to make some phony construct of “artistic integrity”, that is their right. But it is ironic coming coming from a guy sitting on a mountain of ad revenue selling junk food and penis enhancement. Not exactly moral high ground. So an artist can sell to advertising, a LOT of money is there.

And again, concert revenue is determined by what the market will bear. Deserves has nothing to do with it. $100K may be a lot, it may be a little. Art has no special standing over a ditch digger or a doctor. All are necessary to society. Making an exception because it is good for the soul and easier than innovating the profession?

To quote you, I, for one, can’t do that.

Where we agree, iab, is that value is impossible to quantify. It isn’t a moral position I am taking on the societal standing musicians/artists hold over another.

Where this thread starts, is the idea that the value starts at free. Downloading music because you CAN, does not mean you should. Replicating a piece of artwork (a photograph) because you CAN…it holds true across the board. I don’t find free acceptable. The woman who made this Sita Sings the Blues argues that because the song is old, she should be able to use it however she wants…for free.

I threw out $100K because that’s a number that is pretty solid for saying you have made it solidly into middle class. Again, the numbers can scale. I concede that the value is subjective.

What I still do not hear, is any reason why a song, photograph, or other copyright covered piece of artwork should be FREE unless the artist chooses for it to be.

Whoa…time out.

I think that all intellectual property laws should be, as in the beginning, limited monopolies for creators to profit on their work to encourage them to produce more. Here is current US law:

copyright is 95 or 120 years (depending on type) or the life of the author plus 70 years.

design patent is 14 years

utility patent is 20 years

I think that copyright is, essentially, no longer a limited monopoly, but a complete monopoly that discourages people from continuing to create & shackles future generations from being able to use works as they wish.

The thing that I found most interesting in the case of the director of Sita Sings the Blues is how hard it was for her to use music. First, she wanted to use music that is no longer available on CD or iTunes. Not because the music isn’t popular, but rather no one knows who the right’s holders are! Part of that is the antiquated system of managing the rights, but part of it is also because who the hell is around 70 years after the death of an obscure author to care who uses their work? Other than the case of Disney*, not many.

If I were god-emperor, I would knock it down to 30 years from the time of first publish. Ideally, I would say 20, like a patent, but I’ll compromise to 30.

As for “music is free”, I don’t believe that either. I still buy CDs and vinyl. I hate dealing with iTunes and other software. It’s even more of a big deal for me, because the stuff I want I can’t find in stores (especially now…HMV is like a desert). I used to pop into the store once a month and buy a couple CDs, now I need to plan ahead and order stuff. It’s a pain. I only torrent if I can’t find something available (more often than you think) or I want to listen to a whole album before buying.

As for “music is a profession”…ugh, I don’t agree there. 99% of music is just people who enjoy playing an instrument or singing. I practiced and took guitar lessons for a year. I know it’s hard. It doesn’t mean that everyone who can play should get a career out of it. Which compares nice with design. I think only 1/4 or less of ID students stay in the career after five years. That is probably optimistic…

Lastly, I think everything we do should eventually become public domain. I don’t think that Bach’s fifth concerto should be free because we can’t do the accounting to figure out who holds the rights. I think it should be public (owned by humanity) because it has passed into something greater than just another concerto. It’s part of our collective culture. The same goes for any art or invention in my mind.

As for my work, I pray that someone values it 20 years from now! I would die a very happy person I’m fortunate enough for that.

  • footnote on copyrights. Disney is the driving force for copyright law. Steamboat Willie, the first appearance of Mickey Mouse is copyrighted until 2023, 95 years after it’s release and 44 years after Walt Disney’s death.

NOTE I wrote this before I saw Mr. 914’s last post but got busy with other things before I had a chance to submit it. But now I have more things to do so here it is unchanged:

One part of this discussion which hasn’t really been touched upon, and which I haven’t fully figured out for myself, is the relative value of types of creations and when they become free, if ever.

If I invent something and get a utility patent I can profit from anybody recreating my invention for 20 years. A design patent is even less. After that I can still profit if I make it myself, but I have no control over who else makes it and can’t profit from their recreation.

If I write a book or a song I have rights to it until my death, and my heirs retain these rights for 70 years. Even for work for hire the copyright is in effect for 120 years. After that my heirs can no longer benefit, except perhaps by selling memorabilia.

If I make a painting or a sculpture, I believe all the same copyright rules are in effect for reproductions of the work. But unlike a book, where value is retained in the copies, the primary value is in the original (which is sold to someone else). And the original can exist and be sold essentially forever. I imagine for most works of art a couple centuries old, besides perhaps a dozen frequently reproduced works, the value of the original is far greater than 100 years of reproduction rights.

So we’re left with a system that makes some things free sooner than others, and leaves the creator with more or less of the value, either by decision or by the nature of the work. The company line for patents, as I’ve heard it, is that patents give you protection for your work, in exchange for full disclosure so that in time it can be recreated by all, for the overall benefit of society. This says to me that yes, you are allowed to profit from your work, but that work can have value for society that outweighs any claims that you should have exclusive rights forever. Which leads me to ask whether art (creations covered by copyright) has value for society (an easy yes) and whether or not its value to society outweighs claims that you should have exclusive rights forever, and furthermore, whether your heirs can make those claims.

Personally, I think the basic idea that a copyright is in effect for the creator’s life plus a little extra after which it is freely available is a good one. Give the author full benefit of their creation and creative control, but after they’re gone it is (at least can be) a valuable part of our culture, and at a certain point should be freely available throughout our culture. It’s similar to the patent trade-off, plus I don’t think any author can know what society will be like or what their heirs will do decades in the future, so I think it’s actually unreasonable to extend their control beyond a few decades (erring on the side of an open society). Personally, I think 70 years is a little long, but that’s probably due to my general feeling towards inheritance (I’m pro estate tax).

And yes, you should pay for your music - iTunes, CD, whatever. Small-time infractions should be overlooked as people spread the word of your music, but pay for the album if you’re going to keep it. Though I wonder if music distributors will ever go the way of print publishers and offer “classics” (past copyright recordings) at a significant discount - essentially distribution cost (approaching zero digitally) + profit.

I don’t get this at all. How is the creation of something (an animated mouse, a piece of music, etc.) creating a Monopoly? Prior to the age of Disney (I’m taking your word that they effectively pioneered Copyright Law), people did not form companies, or estates to protect their assets.

Isn’t the job of an artist to be able to create something new, and unique? How is Mickey Mouse creating a Monopoly, and subsequently, preventing me from creating an icon that is as powerful and long lasting? This idea that Copyright creates a Monopoly doesn’t hold water for me.

So, where that leaves me wondering, is how do you define “USE”?

Why should I have any right to USE Mickey Mouse as something of my own? So, after 95 years expires, I can go start making Mickey Mouse Theme Parks, and printing Tee Shirts Willy Nilly (Pun intended)?

I dread the day with Hacks like the Sita Sings the Blues woman has access to Mickey’s image to “use how she wants”.

We’re in a new age where corporations (estates) can, and are created around images. It really comes down to the individual creator to defend, or set up the protection for their work. If the let it lapse, then, by all means people can/should use it. If someone buys the creation as an asset, it is now their right to do so. No?

Just like everyone who can pick up a pen and paper shouldn’t be an Industrial Designer. Copyright isn’t protecting tinkerers (well, it does, but if the market rejects it because its not good enough…).

Again, I don’t get the point here. Its not a profession, why? Because the industry is saturated with hack/wannabe musicians?

Like my previous question of the definition of “USE”. Can you please define “OWNERSHIP”? And by being “OWNED” by the public…what does that mean to you?

If you create something worthy of long term public consumption. Something that has the possibility of providing your following generations with financial stability…would you not want that protected?