In a recent speech before the UK record industry, the head of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, pledged to increase copyright terms for music, as well as shift the focus for enforcing copyright onto the ISP, echoing the recent decision by a Belgian court.
Mr Cameron stated during the speech, that it will be Conservative policy to increase copyright terms from 50 years, to 70, echoing the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extention Act of 1998, which increased US copyright terms by 20 years. The reasoning behind this new policy seems bizarre in the least, however.
“Extending copyright term is good for musicians and consumers too. It’s good for musicians because it would reduce the disparity between the length given to composers and that granted to producers and performers.” Cameron stated, “and extending copyright term will also be good for consumers. If we increase the copyright term, so the incentive is there for you working in the industry to digitise both older and niche repertoire which more people can enjoy at no extra cost.”
Clearly, Mr Cameron has not thought this through, since he appears to be oblivious to the fact that when it falls into the public domain, anyone can digitise the old media, at no cost, not just no-extra cost, if the record company decides to.
Mr Cameron also makes the case for the poor performers, saying some 7,000 of them will lose royalties to their songs over the next ten years. How or why these 7,000 are more important than the 7,000 or so that have lost their royalties in the last ten years was not something that was commented on. Nor was it stated why these people, who have known about the impending end of their royalty payments for some time now, suddenly need an extra hand, an extra twenty years of income. If any other group of workers squandered away their wages, would they be getting government promises to make things better?
Finally, in his push to secure the support of the British Phonographic Institute (BPI), the honourable member of Parliament for Witney showed his lack of knowledge. “Let me also speak about one final responsibility too: that of Internet Service Providers. They are the gatekeepers of the internet. Some ISPs claim there is nothing they can do to stop illegal downloading of music. But last month alone, there were eight sites that hosted more than 25,000 illegal downloads. That is clear and visible internet traffic. ISPs can block access and indeed close down offending file-sharing sites. They have already established the Internet Watch Foundation to monitor child abuse and incitement to racial hatred on the internet. They should be doing the same when it comes to digital piracy.”
The problem is one of degree – whilst racial hatred is always illegal, as is child abuse, is all music you can download infringing copyright? How can an ISP determine if that song you’re getting is licensed to you, or to its distributor or not. How can they tell if it even requires a license or not. The short answer is, they can’t, unless Mr Cameron is promoting an agenda by which all music file transfers are blocked by ISPs – a move the music industry would love. Preventing people using the internet for distributing their own works, and forcing them to use the music industry would resuscitate the flagging business models of the record industry.
Statements by politicians supporting the BPI and its ilk are not uncommon, unfortunately. In 2005, Arlene McCarthy (MEP for North West England) claimed sales of pirate DVDs in European cities financed the World Trade Center bombings in 1993. She subsequently blamed it on ‘the data she was given’. Of course, the only politicians not likely to pander to these special interest groups, will be those elected from the various Pirate Parties around the world.
Mr Cameron MP was contacted but had not responded at the time of press[.]
July 24, 2007:
Reuters: UK rejects music copyright extension