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Who Says?

He declares that the music industry fights to block technology that would enable folks to store, sort and playback copyrighted material. Not so.

What Dave Wilson puts forth in an April 8 full-page tirade “Fix Drugs and Rock & Roll” cries out for correction of some of his misguided and inaccurate conclusions and premises (though before doing so I will admit that I do agree with the tenor of the headline … but that’s another matter entirely).

His lament and woes pertain to the copyright laws. Let’s look at flaws and fallacies in his arguments.

He declares that the music industry fights to block technology that would enable folks to store, sort and playback copyrighted material. Not so.

In the 1970s Sony case, the court ruled that, in effect, “if you can receive it you can record it.” How you handle the recording is immaterial, so long as the recording is for your own use and is not given, lent, rented nor sold to another party. Moreover, a broadcaster is entitled to code his transmissions to prevent recording. This applies to aural as well as audio-visual transmissions.

He tells us that copyright life should be the same as patent life.

Well, in a word, why? Who says that the 20-year patent life is proper for either patents or copyrights? (I’m a patent holder as well as a copyright proprietor.)

One reason for the lengthy copyright life (“life + 70”) of today is that there is so much competition in the songwriting field that many songs do not get immediate acceptance. In fact, most songs written are never used commercially. You know of only the ones that you broadcast.

One other aspect to this is that the United States must comply with the copyright laws of other nations. If others agree to life + 70 but we agree to a more limited life + 50, the foreigners will not protect our songs in their jurisdictions for that additional score of years (no pun intended) unless we protect their works for the full 70, even though we wouldn’t be protecting our own works for that long.

Thus, American writers would be at a disadvantage, as they were not too long ago when our copyright protection lasted only 56 years anywhere, while foreign songs lasted for the life of the last surviving author plus 50 years … even in the United States. Should foreign writers be treated better than our own?

And let’s look at Disney, whose animal characters are protected by copyright and trade-mark rights … the latter being limited. When their copyrights expire folks who didn’t contribute to the public recognition of these creatures will be able to profit from them at no cost.

While I have no fondness for Disney yet have provided them advice with respect to terms related to broadcasting and copyright in their artist contracts, I feel it’s unfair for folks to be able to get something for nothing. This sort of thing serves to stifle creativity.

The recording industry is not fighting technology. Instead, it’s fighting the piracy that technology has generated and which has encouraged folks to steal from writers rich and poor. The 1909 copyright act provides that writers (and publishers) be compensated not just for sales of recordings of their works but for the performance of their creations, whether live or via someone’s playing records in local venues and over the air.

Mr. Wilson goes on to complain that certain releases he likes contain less than 50 percent new songs. Well, blame that on the artist and the record label, but not on the copyright laws. Remember too, Mr. Wilson, that you bought all those reissues by your favorite artist because you liked the songs that he played.

The artists and his label gave you the songs they thought you wanted to hear. And they sacrificed a lot of other material recorded by that same artist … songs that their writers created in hopes they’d see the light of day.

Maybe on the 49th CD by your favorite artist — tho’ it may not be a CD, per se (technology, you know) — those unsung songs will be able to have their place in the sun and live long enough that the writers and their families will enjoy the fruits of their labors for sufficient time to make it worthwhile being a songwriter.

Oliver Berliner
SounDesign Engineers
GramOphone Music Co.
Bozman, Md.