//// Zyra's website UK //// Copyright and Intellectual Property //// Music //// How to Copyright Things //// Site Index

Yet another Problem with Copyright

I have heard there is yet another problem with Copyright. Because of this problem, many of the great creators of music do not own their own back-catalogue. Well, surely, this is because the musicians have sold-out their music to the corporate record companies? Is it that they simply didn't read the naff contracts? No, apparently the problem goes deeper than that. I've heard that the Berne Convention is such that musicians MUST sell-out their work to the corporate copyright companies, or else they don't have any protection at all from anyone pinching their work. The musicians would have to fight every pirate themselves, and attend every court in every part of the world, and would thus not have any time to create music.

Surely this is unjust?! You'd think they'd have written the Berne Convention better, wouldn't you? It must surely be possible, legal, and practicable, for a person who owns the original work to get someone else to guard it, without having to sell the property to the guard.

Let's take an analogy to physical property. If you own a piece of land, whether it be a farm or a garden round a house, and you want to have it defended against intruders, surely you should be allowed to hire a security guard? You pay the guard for guarding the property, and the guard is allowed to warn off would-be intruders on your behalf. Yet I have heard that the present-day (2009) nonsense is such that if you want to do the same thing with music, you are compelled to sell your garden, farm, etc to the security guard, otherwise they aren't allowed to guard it for you. It would be a bit like the law of "Oy! Get off of my land!" being phrased by the Berne Convention such that only the owner may say that and so the actual owners of the land are forced to sell their land to their security guards for a nominal fee in order to be defended. In this absurdio analogy, the Union of Security Guards would love this, and they'd stand up in court in Berne and would say that the Berne Convention was the only way to defend land against burglars, and that it was only right that security guards should have to take possession of the original person's rights. This hypothetical "Union of Security Guards" is in this case the huge corporate entities that currently own large amounts of the world's intellectual property.

So, what's to be done about it?

Well, before we hear cries of "Burn the Convention!", let's see how the setup could be reformed constructively so it could work better for the actual owners of the creative works rather than being hopelessly biased towards corporate monsters. Already some progress has been made against the evils of corporate abuse of copyright, and that's why we're seeing the emergence of such things as Linux , Open Source, and Creative Commons. But what's needed in the solving of the "Union of Security Guards" problem, is something which in effect will allow the writer of music to own the music and yet hire a music company to guard it WITHOUT having to transfer ownership. The same applies for other creative works.

To be fair, the Berne Convention was well-intentioned when it was first established, and it's only later that problems have started to occur. It might be possible to amend the Berne Convention to give more rights to people who actually create stuff rather than to the corporate entities that manage (or mismanage) it.

Down with the Mickey-Mouse Act!The original treaty was a European idea, it being originated in Berne, Switzerland, and most of the countries of the world are signatories to it. In the early days, the United States was against the idea, preferring instead a "free for all" or "pirate's charter" like the latterday China. But later, the United States (deciding that its own authors needed to be protected) became a signatory to the Berne Convention and subsequently became one of the worst misusers of it! There have been howls of disapproval regarding The Mickey Mouse Act and other intellectual copyright misuse, as such things give corporations rights to extend their own copyrights indefinitely while leaving individuals stuck with the nasty end of the stick when it comes to protecting the individual's rights.

A while ago I suggested that the Geneva Convention which has such things as "No discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, orientation, or ethnicity" should have added to it "personal appearance". With the Berne Convention, I suggest that the idea of the "Hired Security Guard" analogy be looked into as the present situation is as absurd as if you had to sell your house to your security guard in order to allow it to be guarded at all. I also consider that the situation needs adjusting so that musicians can actually own their own music without having to sell-out to corporate record companies. Surely such amendment is not beyond the cleverness of the people who write these international treaties?

Interestingly, if you create music and publish it using TuneCore then you still own the rights. This is a welcome change to the previously outmoded ways.