Friday, November 24, 2006

We'll keep the red-head flag flying here

Missing, so far, from the copyright debate has been the champagne socialist perspective. But the rich will not remain silent for long, and so here come Mick Hucknall to speak up for them at last:

Copyright is fundamentally socialist - it is radical and redistributive, subversive even. How else would you describe a form of property that anyone can create out of nothing?

We've always wondered about Mick's politics, and what he exactly believed, but we'd never imagined before that they'd be based on such a fundamental misunderstanding. The whole point of copyright law is to assign ownership of property to an individual and take it out of the public realm - surely Mick must understand that socialism is the polar opposite?

Copyright's democratising effect is seen most clearly in the music business. Anyone who can speak, sing, rap or hum and operate a simple sound recorder can create a copyright song. Imagination is the only limit.

Actually, Mick, you're completely off-beam again. Imagination has nothing to do with copyright - since it is possible for two people to imagine the same thing. Novelty is the only limit.

Having established that he doesn't understand socialism and knows nothing about the basics of copyright, Mick's suggestion that looking at the rigid music industry where most of the sales are dominated by four enormous global corporations shows a "democratising" effect shows he doesn't really what democracy is about either. We'd love to see Mick delivering a eulogy - it'd be a hoot: "I never met Ken, nor know anything of his work or life..."

Mick then goes on to compare, somewhat modestly, the internet with the Frantic Elevators:

The opportunities offered by new technology remind me very much of my own early experiences as a musician.

The ability to hold a face-to-face meeting with people in space, or instantly search a billion documents to find a name, a face, a fact, or to crunch data on global warming at the rate of a million calculations a minute is so much like a cover of Money's Too Tight To Mention we wonder how we never noticed before.

The do-it-yourself attitude of the punk era encouraged me to release Holding Back the Years on our own label when no record company was interested in it.

Actually, Mick, didn't you release Holding Back The Years in 1986, some seven years after you'd formed the Frantic Elevators, and not really as an "early experience", then? You're not trying to shave some years off your cv by any chance?

Internet distribution promises creators and independent companies freedom from the stranglehold that major record companies and publishers have enjoyed for decades over music distribution.

Hang about a moment... if there's this "stranglehold" over music distribution, what happened to "copyright's democratising effect [...] seen most clearly in the music business", then?

Mick, of course, is in something a sticky position here - as a rich artist, he's long had the hump with the majors - to the extent that Simply Red re-recorded their entire back catalogue in order to be able to release it rather than the version held in record company vaults. But he also benefits from the cash raised in the name of copyright.

So, faced with demands from the music industry for longer protection for recordings, who will Mick side with, do you suppose?

The new musical entrepreneurs will increasingly include songwriters, performers and their close advisers, liberated from the boom-or-bust economics of the current record business, and able to earn a reasonable living from their art. As George Clinton said, "Don't fight the system - create your own."

In this environment, arguments against the extension of the copyright term in sound recordings from 50 to 95 years are retrogressive and misconceived.


Unsurprisingly, he's gone with the majors on this one, then.

Mick doesn't explain how an argument for preserving the status quo rather than changing the length of copyright period is actually "retorgressive" - it's unclear if this is because he doesn't understand that the word suggests "returning to an earlier, less satisfactory position", or if he does and just wants to make it sound that leaving the copyright term unchanged would be like some sort of journey back to Dickensian times. When, of course, honest singer-songwriters had to whore out their own children to even be able to afford to die of consumption.

Copyright is not a monopoly restricting the free flow of ideas.

A man who thinks that private ownership is the most socialist thing there is now suggests that the ownership of an idea or concept by a single person isn't a monopoly.

Allowing valuable sound recordings to pass into the public domain does not create a public asset: it represents a massive destruction of UK wealth, and a significant loss to the UK taxpayer as exploitation moves offshore or into the grey market.

Mick... if it's possible to make compilation albums of old songs and sell them perfectly legally in the UK, why on earth would anyone want to "move offshore" or go to a "grey market"? Not allowing copyright free access to songs recorded before the Suez crisis might, perhaps, persuade pirates to start pressing hooky Best of Al Martino collections in their garages to sell round the boot sales; but if K-Tel are knocking 'em out for a couple of quid down the street legitimately, why would they bother? It's a move which makes piracy irrelevant, rather than encouraged.

(Aside from which, when did the BPI last report they'd raided a car boot sale and found 50,000 illegal Glen Miller albums?)

Of course allowing these records to pass into the public domain creates a public asset - by it's very nature, it's creating an asset. You might argue, Mick, that it's not a valuable asset - but you'd be wrong. Unsurprisingly. Given the chance to do something with recordings that are now mostly left sat on shelves, the British people with all their creativity and imagination that you champion may come up with a dozen surprising ideas before lunch-time. Or possibly you'll just find that the over 70s get a chance to buy the songs of their youth all over again and remember happy times of first kisses and first shags and broken hearts, and still have change from their pensions.

Copyright extension is partly about equality for performers, with other creators and with those in the US and elsewhere.

Okay. But... why? Why is it important or even desirable that copyright terms in the UK and the US are equal? And if it is, why do we have to lengthen ours to match their arbitrary term?

It is also about maintaining the cultural value of works by controlling their exploitation.

Well, it's not exactly a socialistic idea he's expressed, but there is something charmingly Stalinist about that one. You can't let someone market a range of birthday cards which play fifty-year old songs when you open them, dammit, it's undignified.

Does Mick really think that "cultural value" of a piece of music is something that should be guarded by statute? Further, a statute which makes attempts to do something else with the tune illegal for a century?

Does Mick really believe that if you allow someone to offer a free download of a song recorded while bananas were still on the ration, the cultural value of that song is somehow diminished?

Does Mick really want us to agree that, yes, the best way to promote the cultural value of a recording is for it to be locked in a dusty room in the vaults at EMI, for making it available on a cheap CD at your local newsagent would be like drawing a crude cartoon cock on the Laughing Cavalier?

But, most of all, it is about nurturing the development of a truly revolutionary explosion in small-scale grassroots creative businesses.

Besides from sounding like the sort of thing you'd read in a Pathways Framework Proposal by a Multi-Disciplinary Funding Regime, it's just not true. Here is a scene, portrated by actors, to demonstrate why Mick is being ridiculous:

Boy: [singing] Lalalalala ding ding blaah...
Girl: That's a great tune. You should record that and release it as a download - 79p a time, you'd make a fortune
Boy: Yeah, I would but... not worth it, is it? I mean, sure, I could be making money off it for the next five decades but why bother? In 2056 someone will come along and make a ringtone based on it and that, effectively, will mean all the money I've made up until then will disappear in a flash...
Girl: Like Cinderella's coach?
Boy: Exactly like that. I'll be living in the mansion with my four Britney Spears clones I've bought with the money, and then - poof! - the copyright will expire and so will all my wealth
Girl: Are you sure it works like that?

Copyright is the sole economic foundation of the "knowledge economy".

Not quite - after all, there are companies that do very nicely out of open source software, for example, by providing support to users.

Strong copyright protection is not only compatible with future digital business models: it is an essential pre-condition of their success.

Yes - look at iTunes: Apple could have a lovely little business there, but who would pay 99 cents for a song when everything available in the store was somewhere for free on the internent? What did they sell in the end - seventy-three downloads before they went out of business, wasn't it?

It would be bitterly ironic if hostility towards certain practices of major corporations were to destroy the opportunity that new technology offers creators to challenge the hegemony of those major corporations, and establish a direct independent relationship with their consumers.

Yes, if you read that slowly, it does say: We have to defeat the RIAA and it's stranglehold on music, and we can only do that by increasing its stranglehold on music.

But he did use the phrase "challenge the hegemony", so maybe there is something of the old Living Marxism in him after all.

The benefits of extending the copyright term will last a long time.

Erm... forty five years, isn't it? Curiously, this 45 year period is a "long time", then, while the current 50 year period isn't long enough.

We should not be deterred by the perception of where the current benefit will chiefly fall.

Yes we do, Mick.

If need be, those who receive windfalls can be persuaded to share them, just as the future cultural and economic benefits will be shared across all of society, for generations to come.

That's right. The RIAA will share the windfalls. This would be the same RIAA who, when caught fixing prices and ordered by law to provide free recordings to schools and libraries dumped their unsaleable back catalogues, would it? I shan't get too excited waiting for my goodie bag from them.

But let's say you really think that - in order that you (sorry, everyone) can keep raking in money for the next century for an afternoon's work - it would be very simple to change the law in a way that assured that. Indeed, since it's supposed to all be about the starving artist, why not gift the extended term of copyright to the original performer? Or say that the 95 term only applies to recordings made from today onwards - making truly not retrogessive?

It is a bold decision, but the right one, and one that anyone who calls themselves a supporter of Labour values, old or new, should be very proud to take.

Well, a few rich people cutting themselves a larger slice of the cake - certainly new Labour should be able to throw their weight behind that.


2 comments:

Paul said...

The last time Hucknall was in the Guardian -- an interview about just how great he is as I remember -- I proposed a drinking game: every time you muttered "twat" (or expletive of your choice) while reading it then you should take a drink. It works perfectly with this article, too.

You will, of course, be too tight to mention by the end of it.

Mikey said...

fucking hell! you're as clever as fuck!

How long have you been back off the sick? Five minutes? And you're straight back on form! Re-fucking-spect !!

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