Friday, November 24, 2006

Copyright is socialism?

Mick Hucknall, of Simply Red fame, has written an unintentionally comical apology of copyright extension for sound recordings. Mr Hucknall tells us that copyright fulfills socialist ideals because anyone can create something and obtain a property right over their creation. It seems like 50 years of profits are not enough for some musicians, so they want to extend this protection to 95 years. Mr Hucknall reminds us that opposing such move is "retrogressive and misconceived". He says that "Copyright is not a monopoly restricting the free flow of ideas. Allowing valuable sound recordings to pass into the public domain does not create a public asset: it represents a massive destruction of UK wealth, and a significant loss to the UK taxpayer as exploitation moves offshore or into the grey market." This is quite indicative that the article is all about profits and not about socialism, or distribution of wealth. Indeed, it is all about tax returns and the ability to squeeze profits for a bit longer.

Needless to say, I believe that many of the underlying assumptions in this article are wrong. Firstly, there seems to be an unsupported claim that longer copyright periods will serve as an incentive to creators. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case. On the contrary, when was the last time that you met a struggling musician who expressed their desire not to record a new song because of limited copyright extension terms? Secondly, the argument that extending copyright terms for sound recordings will have an effect on the government's coffers is also not supported by evidence. Thirdly, Mr. Hucknall claims that copyright is the sole economic foundation of the knowledge economy. It seems like this person has never heard of user generated content, Wikipedia, blogs, podcasting and all sort of content that does not rest on copyright.

The problem here is that some people seem to continue to be enamoured in their entrenched idea that copyright owners are somehow special people, and that the rest of us should consider ourselves lucky if we are granted the right to purchase content produced in the short head. However, the knowledge economy actually rests on the short tail, that vast majority of people who have found out that the creative process is not only a monopoly of a few writers and musicians. We are all copyright owners, and we are not all interested in earning profits from our works.

The Guardian has published a couple of replies to Mr Hucknall here and here. Andrew Brown's reply is particularly well-written.

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