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Who Owns Music by Brent Silby

Who Owns Music by Brent Silby

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Published by Brent Silby
Essay argues that people should be free to make copies of music, so long as original composer and musicians continue to get credit for their work. This essay also suggests that a new revenue model is needed for music production.
Essay argues that people should be free to make copies of music, so long as original composer and musicians continue to get credit for their work. This essay also suggests that a new revenue model is needed for music production.

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Published by: Brent Silby on Dec 30, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/25/2012

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Who Really Owns Music?By BRENT SILBY
PhilosopherUPT SchoolChristchurch, New ZealandI remember buying music CDs for around $20. At the time, it seemed quitereasonable to pay for CDs. After all, I was taking possession of a tangibleartifact--a thing that cost something to produce. I was well aware that aproportion of the CD price was being paid to the original performers andcomposers, and that didn’t bother me. The fact that some of these performersbecame multimillionaires was testimony to their skill in producing music thatsold so well. But times have changed, and I am now questioning this oldeconomic model.
You-Tube Troubles
Recently, video hosting website
You-Tube
has run into difficulties with musicpublisher
Warner.
In 2006 Warner started legal proceedings against You-Tubeseeking damages of around 1.5 billion dollars. This action was taken as aconsequence of the number of music videos being posted on You-Tube. Now,the owners of You-Tube do not post the music videos themselves, but as hoststhey are directly responsible for the content being uploaded to their site. SinceYou-Tube’s inception users have uploaded tens of thousands of music videoclips. These are viewable by the public for free, and therefore publishers suchas Warner are missing out on valuable profits.
Who Really Owns Music?
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When
Google
purchased You-Tube in 2007, Warner suspended their legalaction. This was a result of a deal worked out with Google, which saw Warnerbeing paid a percentage of the advertising revenue generated when peopleview music videos on the You-Tube site. They have now reinstated the legalproceedings, and Google has been forced to remove thousands of music videosfrom You-Tube.Is this fair? For many people the answer is “yes”. After all, Warner does, infact, own the music videos, and if they are being distributed for free thenWarner cannot gather revenue from the product they own.But wait! Why does Warner need to gather the revenue from these musicvideos? It is not costing them anything to have these videos on You-Tube. It isnot as if someone has stolen thousands of DVDs from Warner. The videos onYou-Tube are digital copies. The only company wearing any cost in thissituation is You-Tube--hence Google.We could respond to this point by suggesting that although Warner has not hadto spend any money on the copying and hosting of these videos, the originalartists need to be paid for their work. The argument is similar to all musicpiracy arguments. The idea is that composers and performers need to be paidfor their work, otherwise they will be unable to afford to continue producingmusic.This is a valid point, but we can respond by stating that the original performershave, in fact, already been paid. They were paid when the music was originallyreleased. Their payment came from the sales of CDs and music videos. Indeed,they probably earned vastly more than they would have if they were simplypaid an hourly rate for the production of the music. So why do they need tocontinue to earn money from it? Does it make sense that Paul McCartney stillgets paid every time a radio station plays “Hard Day’s Night”? The songprobably only took a couple of hours to write, and it probably took less than a
Who Really Owns Music?
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day to record in a studio back in the 1960s. Why should he continue to be paidfor this song 40 or 50 years after it was originally produced?The concept of copyright and royalty payments in music has a long history. Itstems back to the late eighteenth century. Before this time, composers weregenerally employed by aristocrats, churches, and royalty. They earned a yearlyincome in return for which they produced new music. As times changed, andcomposers started to write for the free-market, they faced a problem. If theywrote a successful piece of music, which was then copied to be performed byother people, they would not gain from its success. Sure, they would haveearned money from the composition, but if it were too successful, peoplewould continue to use it in concerts and there would be no immediate need fornew compositions. You can see that it would be in the composer’s best interestto write mediocre work, which would only be performed a few times beforepeople demanded something new. If the work was too good, then it wouldcontinue to be performed, thus lowering the demand for new work. Theconcepts of copyright and royalty payments were developed in response tothese issues. The new laws gave composers an incentive to produce highquality work. The higher the quality, the higher the demand, which translatedto an ongoing revenue stream.Early copyright laws protected composers but not performers. Before recordedmusic, this was obviously not an issue. Before phonograph recordings becamecommonplace in the early twentieth century, performers were paid every timethey played for an audience (live or on radio). But when people started tomake recordings of performances there was naturally a high level of concernwithin the musical community. From the point of view of the musicians, itseemed that their future was in jeopardy. After all, if people could playrecordings of music over and over, then why would they need to pay a band toperform the music? The situation was further exasperated when radiobroadcasters began to play recordings rather than employ live bands. To solvethe problem, various unions and collectives were formed to protect the rights
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