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Copyright Laws: how far does control over intellectual property go in the music industry

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No person who has ever directed a theater piece creates a piece completely alike to one created by a different director. Copyright laws today do not support culture, instead these laws created a way for large recording companies to control the way culture changes. This especially happens when culture goes where the companies cannot gain money directly from the new form of art.

Copyright laws were initially made to protect the rights of a creator.
In 1710, Queen Anne of Great Britain mandated the Statute of Anne which basically gave authors of books protection from being copied. The document was written because of Gutenberg’s successful adaption of the printing press and the resulting book-boom, where people were taking books, copying them, and selling the copies for their own profit. In the Statue of Anne, the copyright lasted for 14 years and if the author still lived after that time, another 14 years were added. This means that in a maximum of 28 years, the content would be available to the public domain, or in other words in the hands of the people. In USA, the original copyright term was also 14 years. The public domain is all information in the hands of the people. Aphorisms and short phrases, concepts and theories, songs with expired copyright terms - these things may be used by anyone, anytime, anyhow. If something, like a song, falls into the public domain people are free to distribute and remix that song, as well as download it from the internet.

Copyright laws evolved into a way of keeping an iron grip on the culture that we want to develop. In the United States of America, all media published before 1923 are in the public domain automatically. All media which are registered and have a renewed copyright expire 95 years after publication, or 70 years after the death of the last author. So today, if you want to use a song published in 2000 you must wait at least until about 2095 to use it freely, without violating copyright laws. Remixers whom many people consider to be musicians can be prosecuted for doing what they do- creating a new branch in music. Sampling, which is taking slices of music and putting together different song samples, is illegal. You are not legally allowed to sing “Happy Birthday” in a restaurant - “Happy Birthday” is long since owned by Warner-Chappell, one of the most major recording companies in the United States. The two sisters who have written this song do not get their money and neither do their descendants- the company gets the money. In reality, these laws don’t help musicians anymore.

Copyright laws not only restrict development of culture, it hurts people who are the creators of tomorrow’s culture. In USA, a person who downloads music can be fined at thousands of dollars per illegally downloaded song. Because each song made in the US since 1923 is owned by at least four companies the total fine for a single song might hit the four and five digit numbers. Fair use is one of the arguments you could present to defend your case in court in USA. You don’t violate copyright laws with the intent of creating a parody, a commentary or news report, research, or an argument against something. Fair use is a valid excuse for people who have a, as Brad Templeton puts it, a valuable social purpose. It seems that it’s not worth it- downloading music results in too big a sum of money in fines when legal CD albums cost less than fifty dollars. To many people, though, this struggle has become more than a way to get music for free. People such as Larry Lessig, the famous anti-copyright law advocating lawyer, have found that copyright laws aren’t doing their job and have to be changed according to the modern world.

Copyright terms stop people from developing music further. The way we view music has changed. Music can be created by anyone with the right program on their computer- more people can create music. Recording companies are rejoicing at all the new possible artists and grinding their teeth because of all the new remixers. As one historian has said, “Technology giveth, technology taketh.” Before radio, vinyl records, CDs, and mp3 players, musicians only earned money by playing live. Today, anyone who can access internet can find a song online and download it, without needing to pay for the song. Musicians’ incomes created a parabola. Copyright terms can last up to 95 years, and all of the songs in the public domain are ones which were released before 1923 and those which were dedicated to the public domain- the music is completely different to what remixers search for when creating new tracks. By the time currently new music is free of copyrights, it will be 100 years old and people will not want to remix it, and copyright infringement will happen again. It’s an endless chain and it won’t be fixed by suing people again and again. Lastly, to all people, different songs mean different things. When you and your friends listen to a song, do you react to it in the same way? Do you have the same impression and interpretation?

As life has changed, so did laws and so did music. When you listening to your favorite album, you don’t think of who owns it and how much money it’s worth- you enjoy.
Musicians have been caught up in the money-making race and forgot that music must be counted not in revenue, but in fans. Radiohead put their raw recording sessions on the internet and let the downloaders decide how much money to pay. The band cut all production costs and never released CD versions of their newer albums. Musicians, follow their example! Accept that your music is not bound to its container, music can fly from one end of the world to another in minutes, music can be brought to anyone. Music should be free again.

Works Cited:
"Copyright and Fair Use Overview- Welcome to the Public Domain." Stanford Copyright and Fair Use. NOLO, Web. 3 Mar 2010. <http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter8/8-a.html>.
Hirtle, Peter. "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States 1 January 2010." Copyright Information Center Cornell University. Cornell Copyright Information Center , Web. 3 Mar 2010. <http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm>.
Gaylor, Brett, Dir. RiP: Remix Manifesto. Dir. Brett Gaylor." 2008, Film.
Odin, Jaishree. "Technologies of Writing." University of Hawaii at Manoa. University of Hawaii at Manoa, Web. 3 Mar 2010. <http://www.hawaii.edu/aln/printing.htm>.
Templeton, Brad. "10 Big Myths about copyright explained." Brad Templeton's Home Page. . Web. 4 Mar 2010. <http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html>.




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