US Intellectual Property law is relatively kind to our fair land’s performing musicians and songwriters; Americans enjoy 95 years of protection for copyrights on sound recordings and performers’ rights. Put simply: Write a song, chances are you’ll expire before your song passes into the realm of public domain, free for all to use and enjoy. Fair enough, right? The law polices your shit while your breathing, and then lets the world partake in your genius forever more.

But be a Brit, and it’s not the same tune. Under British copyright law, you’ve got 50 years of protection. That means, according to Yahoo, “McCartney’s Beatles could be up for grabs from 2012 and 2013, including early hits like ’Love Me Do’ and ’I Want To Hold Your Hand.’” Sure, dude’s got quid to spare — but with that divorce coming up, it’d be nice to royalties into his 80′s, no?

But the story’s bigger than Paul. On Wednesday, McCartney was joined by the likes of Sir Cliff Richard, U2, Yoko Ono, Barry Gibb, and 4,500 other artists in signing onto a newspaper ad that ran in the UK’s The Financial Times, proposing that the copyright be extended to the American standard of 95 years. The twist is that it’s the Times’s former editor Andrew Gowers who wrote the government accepted report rejecting the artists’ plea. According to The Guardian, Gowers’s report suggested “that changing the copyright law would give little public benefit, but would increase costs.”

And though the British government rejected Macca’s plea, there’s still hope; the decision ultimately rests with the European Commission, who will hear the artists’ plea next year. So do you agree with Sir Paul? Is 50 years of protection too little? Think about those less fortunate songwriters than The Beatles! But those silly Brits; legally, they could have extended their protection by moving to the States sooner! (From the mountains, to the prairies, to the courthouse, with your songs.)

Comments (27)
  1. artmusiche  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    Imagine there’s no Heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

  2. awmercy  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    50 years is a reasonable copy right period. 95 is not. Extending a copy right retroactively will not promote creativity. Keep it short and society benefits.

  3. So, by 2012, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Cliff Richard, U2, Yoko Ono, Barry Gibb will all be living on the streets?

    50 years is enough.

  4. Jesse  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    For sound reasoning against extending copyrights check out Lawrence Lessig’s work. His book Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity is particularly good. A lot of his work is available at http://www.lessig.org/, even mp3s of selected lectures.

  5. nicholas  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    while we’re quoting lyrics that have nothing to do with the topic, from elvis costello’s “the other side of summer”:

    “Was it a millionaire who said ‘imagine no possessions’?”

    copyright law has nothing to do with creativity; it just means that the people that wrote the songs would still be able to benifit from the money they earn – which is not a crazy idea.

  6. phishy  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    more uniformity in the entertainment industry wouldn’t hurt.

  7. richard  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    as a song writer, i think it’s ridiculous that after a certain amount of years, you lose the ownership to something you created.

    forget the beatles and u2, what about songwriters you had one semi-hit, cutting them off can seriously reduce their living expenses, if they rely on, say, a couple $1,000 in royalties every couple of months to get by.

    it makes no sense to me that something that was once yours, is not yours any longer just because of the passage of time.

    i am curious to know if drug patents suffer the same fate.

  8. Toño  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    McCartney was joined by the likes of … Sir Paul McCartney?

  9. Alex  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    Richard: drug patents tend to expire after 20 years: patent expiry is a huge issue for pharmaceutical companies.

  10. Jesse  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    Drug patents last 20 years, but are exclusive less than 7.

  11. mike  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    There are a few things that should be clarified

    Copyright is 95 years if you make the work for hire for someone else, but 70 years from the date you die if you own the copyright in a work you made. If you write a song and don’t sell off the copyright, it’s yours until you die and for a lifetime afterwards. That’s more than a reasonable amount of protection. So nobody is going to get cut off unless they sell the rights to someone else.

    Patents only last 20 years.

    The purpose of copyrights, as laid out in the Constitution, is to make works for the public benefit. Rewarding creativity is only the means by which this purpose is met.

  12. phishy  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    more uniformity in the entertainment industry wouldn’t hurt.

  13. volume-addict  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    Macca and Yoko on the same page with an issue…astonishing!

  14. mallory  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    Thank you mike for clearing that up. It’s been bothering me that they keep saying 95 years in all these articles. I had been trying to simply explain the US copyright laws and just kept getting too technical. So thanks. Educate the public. Yay for copyright nerds!

  15. EricF  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    The only reason a song “belongs” to anyone in the first place is because the law wants to incentivize creativity. When the copyright term ends, it’s still “yours” in the same way it always was (you can sing it, love it, tell your grandkids about it, take pride in your accomplishment, etc), you just no longer have the exclusive right to make use of it– an exclusive right that can only exist with a legal system that grants it! There’s no such thing as “natural rights” in intellectual property!

  16. jon  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    Intellectual copyrights are intended for compensation, not control. When our government continually adds years on to protect the mega-corporations like Disney, it skews the original intent of creating a copyright in the first place.

    When something is copyrighted, it’s there to protect the artist’s best interest, NOT so the intellectual property can be permanently exploited and wrench profit out of others. I say 50 years is suitable considering the original concept of copyright (even though that concept generated in the US in the late 1700′s!).

  17. (expanding upon mike’s comment,) intellectual property has EVERYTHING to do with creativity. the right to exclude must be sufficiently long such that it provides incentives to create/invent. patent law differs fundamentally in that it incentivizes creating around already-patented inventions to engender improved or different solutions to the same problem. so a shorter patent term is necessary in terms of encouraging technological advancement – patents have to expire sooner so we can develop technology based on prior inventions. coypright law, however, is at base expressly about providing protection for artists so they can freely create without fear of their ideas being stolen (also a primary purpose of patent law, but patent law has competing interest mentioned above).

    in that sense, the whole PURPOSE of intellectual property is control – it’s a PROPERTY right. you can exclude whoever you want from your property and you can do what you want with it. if someone wants to use your property, they have to pay you. it’s your choice if you want to license your song to disney for its benefit (and ultimately, the benefit of the listener). and ‘mega-corporation’ or not, disney has the means of getting your creative product out there. which – regardless of whatever you think about independent vs. major label distribution – is arguably better than no one hearing it or receiving the benefit of your creativity.

    the point is, more copyright protection = more incentive to create = more music that WE get the benefit of.

  18. allison  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    i’m so glad someone else mentioned lawrence lessig. his stuff is tops against this issue.

  19. nathan  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    If I did anything that anyone gave a shit about in fifty years, I’d consider myself pretty god damn blessed. I second (third? fourth?) the lawrence lessig comments. it’s great he’s already been mentioned. his argument is better than anything i could ever say.

  20. nathan  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    If I did anything that anyone gave a shit about in fifty years, I’d consider myself pretty god damn blessed. I second (third? fourth?) the lawrence lessig comments. it’s great he’s already been mentioned. his argument is better than anything i could ever say.

    and to those people who say copyright is an “incentive” for an artist to create, i dare you to come up with a brilliant idea for anything and keep it under your hat because you’re afraid of what will happen 50 years down the road. it’s a ridiculous argument.

    prolonged copyright is only an incentive to capitalize on the creativity and originality of others… or for the supremely selfish and money-grubbing to capitalize on that one good thing they did so long ago. what fosters creativity is not owning a single idea outright, it’s being able to contribute an idea to the world of creative thought. artists don’t live in a vacuum. they pluck their inspiration from the firmament, of which the public domain is a large part. the pd needs to be sustained and fed – the free exchange of ideas is the only thing that has ever lead to great art, great music, great literature.

  21. QUOTE: “the point is, more copyright protection = more incentive to create = more music that WE get the benefit of.”

    You’re telling me that some artist sits down and looks at the US copyright code and says “well, it’s only life plus 70 years…hmmm…no, I don’t think I’ll write a song now. If it was life plus 150 years!! Now you’re talkin’!!”

    Give me a break. Copyright doesn’t give anyone an incentive to create, it gives them incentive to divuldge their work to the public.

    It gives them fair compensation in the form of an exclusive right to do what they please with their work for a number of years. It’s compensation for sharing it with the world and putting it in the public domain.

    Otherwise, if you don’t want to lose your work, don’t ever tell anybody about it or play your song in public. It’s a trade-off…and it’s completely up to the author. Sir Paul agreed to that trade off, and now he wants to go back on the deal.

  22. Most songs made over 50 years ago are out of print, benefiting no one. Shorter copyrights enable music fans to bring back the music to the ears of the masses. With longer copyrights, much of our musical heritage will disappear.

  23. some guy  |   Posted on Dec 8th, 2006 0

    I believe that a lot of you are missing the point in regards to the “incentive to create” that copyright law engenders. It is not the individual artist that looks at the law and determines that the time provided is sufficient to draw enough wealth from the work, it is the culture that is created by extending the idea of property to intellectual pieces.

    Without copyright law, there would be no culture of artists that can rely upon the public domain for insperation, because artists could not subsist on their own work if it was not protected in some form. Granted, there would still be art, as people would do it as a hobby, but there would be a distinct lacking in the pool of artists.

    This incentive to creat does not target the individual, it is aimed for the culture as a whole.

    Arguing the issue with regards to monetary exploitation of intellectual works, without copyright, the works could be exploited by people who have not been even remotely involved in its production.

    Now, I think that a 95 year span for copyright protection for an individual or corperation that has commissioned work is arbitrary: sometimes too long, sometimes too short. I think it should be related to individual works by artists, allowing a lease of the works to the entity that paid for them, but with the actual copyright residing with the artist(s) that created the work, and dealing with any problems in that regard as breach of contract. This becomes sticky when it is the artsist(s) job, but in that case, it should be a shorter period, as a company is expected to coninue to produce rather than leech off of previous accomplishments.

  24. A lot of people have brought up Lessig, which is good. I found two counter-points intriguing. First, I am for MUCH shorter copyrights. I think that 50 years is too long. Someone brought up the idea that patents should be short to encourage creativity. Why shouldn’t copyright be that way? Some sources indicate that Mickey Mouse was built off of other animations. Creativity always builds off of prior art, whether it is patent-able or copyright-able.

    Some guy brings up the idea of the incentive being to culture not individuals. He also uses the idea of the Public Domain. However, the public domain is currently from the 1930s. It is in danger of being older because governments continue to extend copyright.

    The idea of the one-hit song writer came up. I’m sorry, but if you only had one hit, and your copyright expires, tough! Move on, find something else to make money on.

  25. mike  |   Posted on Dec 9th, 2006 0

    The point about “incentive” is only that, without copyright laws artists would have no ability to exploit what they create — they wouldn’t own it so they wouldn’t be able to make money selling it.

  26. QUOTE: “The point about “incentive” is only that, without copyright laws artists would have no ability to exploit what they create — they wouldn’t own it so they wouldn’t be able to make money selling it.”

    So what? I’ve never made a dime off my songs and I keep writing. Do you honestly think that without an “incentive” of money, there would be no new songs? What about in the middle ages? The the bards and traveling minsterels didn’t get protection for their music…

    http://www.myspace.com/mattdukemusic

  27. Nate  |   Posted on Dec 10th, 2006 0

    I honestly cannot believe that ANYONE can argue with a straight face that US copyright laws aren’t far too generous. No one needs to keep their work out of the public domain for that long, and copyright laws have historically only been extended, as someone already said, for the benefit of huge awful corporate interests like Disney. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the standard got switched to life plus 70 in 1998 because Mickey Mouse was about to enter the public domain? Cuz I sure don’t.

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