Our culture loves music. Too bad our economy doesn’t value it.

The digital world has a downside, too.

By T Bone Burnett December 18, 2015

T Bone Burnett is an award-winning singer, songwriter and producer, whose numerous recognitions include 13 Grammy awards, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. He is a member of the Content Creators Coalition’s Advisory Board.
Music runs through America’s soul and makes us who we are — as individuals, as communities, as a nation.

It fuels all the other creative arts, as I have learned working on music-infused films such as “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and television shows such as “True Detective.”

And it has driven the incredible boom in digital media that seems destined to define our age. Facts don’t lie — musical artists blanket the lists of “top most followed” on Facebook and Twitter, and “always-with-us” access to music is a big part of why smartphones and mobile broadband are the fastest-spreading technologies in human history.

But this brave new digital world has a dark side, too — and it is the responsibility of everyone who loves and cares about music to acknowledge and deal with this uncomfortable truth.

Too much of the emotional, cultural and economic value that music creates is simply lost now, slipping through the digital cracks in some cases, outright hijacked by bad actors and online parasites in others.

Artists, fans and responsible music and technology businesses alike all know this. When my friend Taylor Swift spoke up for the value of our work and the righteous claim of all artists to be paid for what they do, she was celebrated and applauded — not just by her colleagues, but also by teenagers who care about the people who create the music that means something to them and businesses such as Apple that fundamentally want to do what’s right.

How bad is the problem? Consider this: In 2014, sales from vinyl records made more than all of the ad-supported on-demand streams on services such as YouTube. I’m not running down vinyl — it is still the best-sounding, most durable medium we have for listening to music, by far. But why should a technology most people consider outdated generate more revenue than an Internet service with more than 100 million American users? That’s just wrong.

Just two decades ago, a music superstar was born when her record went gold, selling 500,000 units. Today, experts say it takes 100 million streams to match that kind of success. Even the most relentless year-round touring schedule or advertising licensing deals can’t match the income that a hit record once produced.

For small and up-and-coming artists, the income collapse has been even more severe; copies of one-penny royalty checks are rampant on the Internet. These artists are struggling American small businesses, and the deck is stacked against them.

So what’s causing this gap between the value artists create and the price today’s world puts on their work?

Part of it is that the legal mess of U.S. copyright law has anchored royalties for music creators far below fair market value. In some cases, such as satellite radio, the law actually says they can pay below-market rates for music. In others, such as AM/FM radio, it’s even more absurd — when music is played on traditional radio, artists and their labels get paid nothing at all (songwriters receive AM/FM royalties, but no one else does), even though corporate radio chains earn billions selling ads around our work. That’s a legally sanctioned slap in the face to everyone who ever picked up an instrument or sang into a microphone. It is a corrosive economic dust bowl in which giant corporations grow rich on others’ work while music creators try to survive on scraps.

But the problem runs even deeper than that. In the digital marketplace, everyone seems to have found a way to make a living off music except the creators who actually record the songs. Websites put up illegal copies of music — or turn a blind eye while others do — then sell ads micro-targeted at everyone who comes to listen. Eventually, a site may be forced to pull down the unlicensed (and for the artists and labels, completely unpaid) copy, but in the meantime, its owners have cashed in.

For more legitimate sites, creators are pressured to accept a Hobson’s choice between licensing their music at desperately low royalty rates or wading into the legal quicksand and sending thousands or millions of “takedown” notices under a broken and antiquated law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Fortunately, creators have begun to band together and speak out — the roster of those demanding reform is a who’s who of the music business, from Elvis Costello to Annie Lennox, from REM to Chuck D, and hundreds more. Congress is reviewing the copyright laws, and this time, we will be heard, and there will be no more backroom deals or giveaways. Powerful new legislation called the Fair Play Fair Pay Act is being championed by leaders in both parties who care about music and the people who make it. That would be a vital step forward — a milestone of progress in a debate that has been running in Congress since Frank Sinatra lobbied Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Bruce Springsteen and others to join him in fighting for a radio performance right nearly 30 years ago.

Music is an important part of who we are, an indelible record of what we care about and how we live.

And if we let that slip away — whether through legal gridlock, cultural apathy or technological drift — we will have lost something irreplaceable and fundamental to our lives.

(c) 2015 THE WASHINGTON POST – full article at https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/12/18/our-culture-loves-music-too-bad-our-economy-doesnt-value-it/

5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright the Media Should Stop Repeating by John Degen

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(c) 2015 https://medium.com/@jkdegen

 

Every year around Shakespeare’s birthday, which has also been declared World Book and Copyright Day, I see articles popping up here and there repeating some howling inaccuracies about the legal and economic concept of copyright. I get it — copyright is complex and, frankly, not all that gripping. Also, there’s that free culture movement that says all sorts of truthy-sounding things about how copyright might just be a bad thing. And we’re pro-freedom, right? On the other hand… Shakespeare!… plus all those still-alive authors I love to read, and who need to make a living.

How is anyone supposed to do the work of truly understanding copyright?

I offer this short list of seriously dumb copyright myths to help you through the clutter of free culture bunkum. Hope it helps:


Myth #5. Artists Feel Restricted by Copyright

Right… and cyclists feel restricted by bike paths. Drivers feel restricted by the network of roads and highways. Pilots feel restricted by lift and drag.

Truth: Professional, working artists who respect their own work also respect the work of others. Ask one — you’ll see.

Anti-copyright crusaders love to shout about remix culture and how copyright aims to stop it. Real artists understand:

a) Remix culture was not invented by the Internet. Original works of art have been referencing and remixing other original works of art since the dawn of… well, art.

b) There’s a difference between creative remixing and uncreative copying. That’s a line all professional, working artists recognize by instinct, and it’s a line professional artists are happy to have defined by law.

Myth #4. Copyright Harms the Public Domain

First of all, there is no “public domain” without copyright. By definition, the cultural public domain consists of those works of art and expression that have for one reason or another fallen out of copyright protection. You can’t really have one without the other.

Secondly, can we please stop conflating copyright with a lack of access? Anti-copyright activists are weirdly proud of how they “liberate” books into the public domain when copyright terms end. The Little Prince fell out of copyright protection almost everywhere but France at the beginning of this year. Was it more difficult to find, obtain or read a copy of The Little Princebefore January 1st, 2015 than it is now? Are the French suffering culturally because the book — one of the most popular books in the world — is still protected where it was written, and income is still flowing to the estate of the brilliant man who wrote it?

Truth: Just because a work has its economic and moral interests protected by law, this does not mean it’s unavailable to those who wish to access or use it. Works outside the public domain are simply still economically alive, which means folks still believe they’re worth being economically alive. In other words, there’s a functioning economy for cultural works. That’s a good thing, right?

Myth #3. Copyright is an Attack on Artistic Freedom

I have been a working, professional writer for close to thirty years. I’ve felt my artistic freedom threatened by a great many things — state censorship, all manner of fundamentalisms, Internet bullying and shaming… to name but a few.

Copyright law is not on that list, and it will NEVER be on that list. The very foundation of copyright is the insistence that if I create an artistic expression, I own that artistic expression. And if I own something, you best believe I will protect it from those who want to impose their restrictions on it.

Truth: My right to own and profit from my free expression is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Enough with the Orwellian doublespeak about copyright attacking my rights. Copyright IS my right, dammit.

Myth #2. Copyright Costs Consumers

In a recent, weakly researched piece on copyright, Canada’s National Post published without challenge the claim that copyright term extensions for music in Canada will cost “the public billions of dollars in the long term.”

Well, duh. We call that “the economy.”

You know what else will cost the public billions of dollars in the long term?

a) all jobs

b) the continuation of human existence

c) time

Truth: Paying artists for works we want to consume is how we have a cultural economy. As long as we live in market-based economic systems, the exchange of money for works, goods and services is going to be an essential mechanism. Oh well.

Myth #1. Copyright only helps Corporations

This is the whopper of anti-copyright mythology.

Anti-copyright activists love to invoke the specter of “big content” in their relentless drive to weaken artists’ rights. They claim protections under copyright really only help the bottom lines of huge corporations who grab rights from working artists. As a working artist, I am concerned about my contract terms with large corporations, absolutely — but at least there is a contract. The existence of a contractual offer for my rights means my right of ownership is being acknowledged and respected. I sure don’t remember being offered a contract for the use of my work when it was pirated online.

Guess who profits the most from this ridiculously inaccurate and misleading line of anti-copyright reasoning — giant corporations who have built a business model on free content.

Truth: Say what you want about large media corps, publishers, music and film companies, etc. — they’ve made way, way more of a tangible contribution to the livelihoods of the working artists I know than Google ever intends to.


There you have it. I hope this quick list has helped my friends and colleagues in the media who may be hurrying to file a story on World Book and Copyright Day. Here’s a final, simple, rule of thumb for writing about copyright.

If you want to understand how a working artist feels about copyright, talk to an actual working artist.

The last time I checked, ivory-tower legal-theory departments and digital-utopian advocacy groups were not the best places to look for actual working artists.


John Degen is a novelist and poet. He is Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, an organization representing more than 2000 professional authors. He is also Chair of the International Authors Forum, which currently represents close to half a million professional authors worldwide.