Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Copyright Left Me

Normally the BPI and the Chart company gets very excited when a historic entry enters the charts, but this week's vaguely historic moment has passed by largely unmentioned. There, at number 19, is My Baby Left Me, by Elvis Presley. A single whose recording is out of copyright.

Now, if you'd listen to Cliff Richard and the BPI the idea of records having expiring copyright 50 years after they're recorded is right up there with emptying phials of foot and mouth serum into rivers, or testing make-up on toddlers. But here's an example of the good that allowing old tracks into the public domain can do: clearly, Priscilla and family aren't going to find themselves short of cash for the gas meter this winter - indeed, RCA's 'official' Elvis releases are doing rather well despite the competition from unofficial Elvis; the writers of the track (or their estate) are going to get a sizeable payment they wouldn't have received had the song remained locked in a vault; Elvis fans get the chance to hear something they haven't grown heartily sick of from the official imprints. Everyone - except those of us who despair at the chart getting cluttered with half-century old songs - is a winner.

The sky hasn't fallen. Andrew Gowers was right.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ummm that's not quite the point... leaving aside the rights and wrongs of copyrights and licenses, this isn't a previously unheard recording and it hasn't been locked in a vault. All the 50 year thing means is that - as long as you have an original recording (ie tape, 78, record) older than 50 years then you are able to reproduce it. It's up to you now how you buy My Baby Left Me - whether on a Sony BMG release from the master recording or a copy by someone else sourced from a (presumably good) 50 year old source tape.

Either way, nothing radical here for the punter - they're still buying a song that's been available now for over 50 years. The composer still earns their royalties regardless of whichever label is releasing the song.

The big story here is for the industry and the suits at Sony BMG who - until now - were making money every time someone bought My Baby Left Me.

Picky note: Priscilla turns up these days as a sort of Elvis ambassador, singing his praises and appearing in documentaries like that "Presleys By The Presleys" show. Don't forget though that she and the King were long divorced by the time he died. Priscilla probably gets a retainer in some form but she's not a Yoko-style widow. Lisa Marie however should be getting enough money to mean she shouldn't need to be dabbling with a musical career of her own....

simon h b said...

Anon...

Erm, actually, the point that this is the first time that a single has charted out-of-copyright is precisely the point. I didn't say that the song was "unheard" or "unavailable" - the phrase I used was "Elvis fans get the chance to hear something they haven't grown heartily sick of from the official imprints" - My Baby Left Me has never charted in the UK before, unlike the RCA official releases which had only been out as singles three years ago, and while you could get hold of it as, for example, a bonus track on some versions of some of the compilation albums, it wasn't exactly easy to get hold of:

The big story here is for the industry and the suits at Sony BMG who - until now - were making money every time someone bought My Baby Left Me.

Except they weren't really bothering to make it available, were they? So instead of the composers getting a few quid from one bonus track on the odd album, they're now benefiting from having a Top 20 hit as someone else is exploiting an under-used song.

You're right about Lisa Marie, mind.

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