Change the Law to Fit the Business Model

I’ve just been watching the following video from the Open Rights Group (ORG) on copyright extension, and realised something…

[Via Ray]

…something that’s probably obvious to anyone who lobbies against this sort of thing (extending copyright of works to prevent them from entering the public domain), but came like a doodah out of the whatsit to me…

The companies that are lobbying for copyright extension built their business models around the idea that “our artists’ work is in copyright, so we can exploit it like this and this and that.”

But as these companies are now getting on a bit, that’s not true any more. They need a business model built around the idea that “we are purveyors of in and out-of-copyright material”.

[As prompted by a clarification request from @mweller: the industry’s business model is broken in other ways, of course, not least the changing costs of reproduction and distribution. My “insight” was limited to a realisation (that works for me;-) that lobbying for copyright extension is the industry’s attempt to protect a revenue stream built on an incorrect assumption – i.e. the existence of a never-ending revenue stream from an ever-growing in-copyright back catalogue, or maybe the assumption that growth in new release sales would make up for loss of copyright based revenues from older stock? That’s probably not right though, is it? It’s probably more a blend of complacency – living off the fat of Beatles and Cliff Richard early-recording revenues, not being able to develop the desired level of new artist revenues, and the dreadful realisation that large amounts of moneymaking product is about to go out-of-copyright, whereas you might once have expected the longterm sales value of that product to dwindle over time? Like it did with Shakespeare… Err…?]

[Cf. also software companies, where the value generating life of a piece of software only extends as far as the current, and maybe previous, version, rather than version 1.0a of a product that’s now at version 10? Though thinking through something Alma H said to me yesterday, in a slightly different content, I guess if the media companies followed the lead of the software industry, they’d just delete/remix/re-release the same old songs and keep refreshing the copyright with every new “release”!]

But that’s too hard to imagine – so it’s easier to lobby to changes in the law and keep the same business model ticking over.

Cf. also academia and library sectors, which were built around the idea that access to high quality information and knowledge was scarce. Oops…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

2 thoughts on “Change the Law to Fit the Business Model”

  1. It seems like there’s an odd convergence of interests lately around copyright, fair use, and public domain. Things differ a bit between our sides of the pond (different rules about copyrighting facts), but, as in the video, most basics are the same as far as I can tell. We’ve really made a mess of things with our copyright extension laws.

    In the U.S. it’s interesting that the basis for legal copyright comes from this bit of the Constitution:

    Congress can:

    “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;” (Article 1 Section 8)

    That first clause seems especially important to educators (since that’s a good statement of what we do), as has long be recognized — but that recognition, I fear, is being eroded.

    The Center for the Study of the Public Domain offers hours of fun resources to digging into the legal issues, mostly for the US but also hitting on the bigger international picture. I especially recommend their graphic essay (that is, a comic) “Bound By Law”. If you want to go deep, the law studies under their link to Papers from the Duke Conference on the Public Domain are wonderful.

    I’m really looking forward to reading James Boyle’s book, “The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind” (I read the law essay it expands from a long while ago (It’s also in the conference papers) — I was fascinated both by it, and by the fact that I was fascinated by an article from a legal journal!).

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