The Story of Copyright

Copyright history

The Story of Copyright and the challenge to music rights

MPK Article written by Linton Beckles (LCM)

Disputes, debates, feuds and bust ups and lawsuits have adorned the backdrop of music copyright since its infancy. With too much horror stories to tell on infringement, plagiarising, counterfeiting, bootlegging and outright theft, yet they are still unfolding on this most coveted of belongings; Intellectual Property (IP)

Why is copyright and the possession of IP so important? And why was it necessary for copyright to become law?

The answer to those questions really comes home when its realised that common law comes to an abrupt end once it enters the realm of properties that are not fixed like land, buildings, machines, fixtures, estates etc. When property can be created, copied and sold in multiples as the basis of creating revenue we enter into the realm of copyright. So the ‘right to copy’ must come into play which allows the author (creator) to receive full protection and benefits in respect to their Moral, Legal and Economic right on what he or she have created as IP.

In the UK under copyright law once there is ‘an expression of an idea’ and not just the idea of the expression an author’s work is automatically copyrighted.


Copyright – A brief History

Since the first copyright act; The Queen Ann’s Act in 1710 Copyright in the UK and most western countries gives automatic protection to authors although some countries require a formal registration. Another important step was the Berne Convention of 1887 in addition to the Universal Copyright Convention acts ion 1955 and 1974 which gave the same protection to authors in member states. In the UK in 1918 and 1956 two copyright acts extended protection to music authors, producers and owners for their works in the various literary, dramatic and audio-visual forms. In 1988 designs and patents rights previously under different acts were merged withe 1952 act to become the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 (CD&PA 1988).


The rise of an Industry

With the rise of an industry comprising of music and films at the early part of the last century, copyright law gave rise to the ‘rights societies’ such as the PRS and MCPS which came about to bolster an emerging industry with its members interest at the forefront.


This membership made up of authors and publishers saw the then impact of technology and a run away market of their copyright works as a threat to their livelihood to the extent that even early radio broadcasters came under fire for playing gramophone records, hence the ‘live bands’ in the studios were one sure way for musicians to receive fees for performing as was insisted by the Musician Union (MU).


A Lesson from History

With the establishing of the Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) in 1933 it meant that performers and record companies (labels) could get a licence fee for the use of their performance on broadcast made of their phonographic records.

Ironically back in those days record companies and electronic companies advances were accused of singled-handedly killing off the sheet music industry of publishers and authors.

Do you see the uncanny parallel to that story and the way digitised music and downloads with the help of Steve jobs and Apple transformed the landscape of the music industry forever. You can say the music industry took one bite of the Apple and it was over as an industry as we knew it.

The answer back then to dealing with those two problems of mechanical and performance licence was the introductory of  the mechanical royalty and the performance fee deemed as publishers (and now record companies and performers) right to earn income from the use of their of works. Thanks to those early days of disputes, debates and lobbying today we take for granted the power of licensing in copyright.


The Answers

As the industry search to find a ‘once and for all answer’ to prevent what I call the ‘five plagues of the industry, namely;

infringement, plagiarism, counterfeiting, bootlegging and outright theft’.

The problem back in the early 1900’s was; ‘how do we place tariffs on would-be legitimate users?’. Once the licence system was introduced pretty much everyone fell in line and paid the tariffs even making the BBC the king of licensed broadcasts. Today however the problem is different and much bigger because at best even the most unassuming consumer out there is a potential threat to the revenue income of record companies and publishers.


Apple’s iTunes is already proven as a way forward to stem the blood loss to the industry, the trouble is the internet is a good place for infringers, plagiarists, counterfeiters, bootleggers and outright thieves to hide.

Where Next?

This has opened up ongoing concerns, disputes and debates. Even with unprecedented cases of individuals winning cases against big corporations and even visa versa the wind of change still hasn’t come yet the problem is simple;

‘people should get paid for the use of their work in the public domain’as it is said ‘the workman is worthy of his hire’

On a number of industry panel debates and interviews over the years I have even found myself toying with idea that maybe one day music will be free on the internet but as we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But don’t knock that idea yet; who would have thought that emails and social networking would be free on the internet, now even websites can be built for free.

So what’s the solution then I hear you ask. Join me and others for more on the topics of this ongoing issue on INDUSTRY TALK in my Blog for the latest issues, solutions, ideas, rulings and legislation on this most pivotal point in the story of copyright.

Written by Linton Beckles.

Copyright guide

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