Morpheus on… Artistic Copyright

The term is “Intellectual Property” (although in the area of “designer goods” the word intellectual is obviously a SERIOUS misnomer).

That being said, whilst an artist’s work clearly needs protecting against theft, the copyright laws set up for that purpose have become a JOKE, highlighted by the recent court case involving “Happy Birthday To You” – a song written over a CENTURY ago.

Mildred Hill wrote the tune and Patty Hill the lyrics – except they ran “Good Morning To All” and were only adapted later. And there is reason to believe that even the tune may have been “borrowed” from the world of folk music.

Of course, The Hills have not been Alive for many decades now (did you see what I did there?) Nevertheless, this has not stopped Summy – then Chappell – and more recently Warner – from glomming two million bucks a year in royalties from this Victorian song.

And that is where artistic copyright falls off the rails. Naturally, an artist has the right to benefit from their work – but not for EVER. If I built someone a gazebo, I would only expect payment ONCE.

However, thanks to these outdated laws, money has to be paid for enjoying art – to people who have played NO part whatsoever in its CREATION.

Example; Laurel and Hardy are part of American History – but do not look for their work on YouTube. Anything of theirs that is uploaded is quickly torn down. But not by L & H – or even Hal Roach (who lived to 100, but even HE is now long gone).

No, the company that now owns their work is a GERMAN PROPERTY COMPANY (or it was, a few years back).

And THAT is the problem. As any right-wing arsehole will say, intellectual property is as tangible as a ton of coal, a Ferrari, or 500 copies of my book. And as such, it can find itself – like “Happy Birthday To You” – passing through any NUMBER of hands, NONE of whom had anything to do with its conception.

Which is where something COULD be done. Like, drastically SHORTENING the time before a piece becomes public domain. “Happy Birthday To You” WAS set to become public domain next year, in Europe (70 years after the death of its composer) but in America…

Thus a company could still buy an artistic property, but would be aware of its limited lifespan – say TEN years after its creation.

And that way, a composer could still make a mint out of a hit – and pass some or all of it on to their heirs, if they wished – but after a decade, the piece would become public domain. Then again, public domain might have to be re-defined as being for use WITHOUT PROFIT.

Another solution would be to limit the amount of involvement by companies not related to the pieces in question – in other words, this would force artists (and their descendants) to be RESPONSIBLE for their work, rather than them just unloading it onto some faceless corporation.

Whatever is done, it needs to be done SOON. THIS medium has made enforcement of artistic copyright almost impossible – with “examples” being made of unfortunate individuals by bullying corporate giants (the “mix-tapes” fiasco of a few years back).

Most people are reasonable and would PREFER to respect artists’ copyright – but they have little time for those faceless giants. So if Messrs Sony, Universal and Warner want public support – without which, they are now HELPLESS – they had better COME UP with something said public can LIVE with…


6 responses to this post.

  1. (1) Am I breaking some copyright law if I sing a favourite song of mine in my apartment? (2) What does China do?

  2. Posted by Alfie on October 5, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Thank you for going into a subject that causes me to go red and rant a lot!

    You are quite correct – something needs to be done – preferably involving Recording Industry Executives and firing squads!

    A couple of years ago, when the full legal might of the RIAA was being hurled at hapless individuals found guilty of downloading a song from Pirate Bay, I decided that I would like to listen to some of my old albums on the car CD player while on long business trips.

    Now due to what I feel was a deliberate design ploy, none of my 12 inch vinyl records would fit in the slot of the CD player and so, in fear of a visit from RIAA Hit Men I set out to do what I thought would be the fair thing to do and buy the CD version.

    The album I looked for first was “Déjà vu” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which I had paid £1.67 for when it came out in 1970 – equivalent to about 15% of my weekly pay. It had been quite popular then and had, I am quite sure, covered its production costs in the early years of its vinyl existence.

    Consequently, given the cost of the CD and the cover printing would have been well under a pound I was expecting to pay a fair price of somewhere around £3 for it in HMV.

    Oh, dear me no!


    “Stuff that for a game of soldiers!” was a version of my reaction to this, followed by “So who’s trousering around sixteen quid here? I bet it’s not the artists!”

    Needless to say I didn’t buy it – instead I put the record on my music centre turntable, taped it onto an unused C90 cassette then played it via a Walkman into freeware recording software which saved it as an MP3 on my computer. I then burned that to an Audio CD – which I still use. None of that is illegal as I believe you are allowed a “Backup Copy” without the obligation of making the rapacious Record Companies even richer provided you are in possession of the source material (which I am).

    For your comparison purposes that £17.50 is about 1000 Thai Baht but I see that Amazon UK is now offering that particular album for around £6 (+\- 330 Baht).

    I’m still not buying it though!


  3. Posted by Vincent on October 7, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    (1) No. (2) China respects all copyright laws, always. (Did that sound even remotely convincing?)

  4. Posted by Vincent on October 7, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    My modular system enables me to make DVDs of albums – which is only good for the car if you have a DVD player!

  5. Posted by Alfie on October 7, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    I think your singing probably counts as advertising – they should be paying you not the other way round.
    Which makes me wonder – if I sing along to something I’ve downloaded for free surely the Record Company and I are quits! Yes?

  6. Posted by Cy Quick on October 11, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Cy to Alfie: sorry for my delay in responding. You are clearly correct. I have decided that your singing-along (and mine, and that of Morpheus) is indeed NOT a crime. A song is as natural as laughter. And who is to say that any given song is original? It might be a recalled lullaby from babyhood.

    It is record companies who are the ones at fault. They ought to quit their sordid demands for cash. Live concerts are the only noble medium for music including singing. Good old Caroline (and indeed Radio Free Plymouth and other post-offshore free stations) who were the real fighters for right!

    I now have to examine my proclamations and decide whether I am serious or kidding. This will help me be ready for if or when they arrest me after all these years… Sing and stay safe you guys and gals… We’ll meet again… Don’t know where… Don’t know when… She is the fairest of them all… We’ll come running when she calls…

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