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song rights: discuss


Richard W

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This article from today's New York Times describes how the rights to many classic rock (and other genres) songs from the 70s are will soon revert to the original artists, and away from the record companies.

 

One the one hand: good for the artists. One the other hand: another financial body blow to the record industry.

 

Discuss.

"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
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The record industry is going to get their asses handed to them on these cases. Their legal arguments were already being picked apart in the Times article, with the labels citing how the artists were actually employees, and that their recorded work while in the employment of the labels would belong to the record label. But with the way the industry has worked for generations is that the artists are treated far more like independent contractors than employees. A labor law student would be able to see this very clearly, as would anyone who has ever filed a 1099 tax form.

 

What's disheartening is that some labels are already vowing to fight this tooth and nail. They probably want to try bleeding their legal opposition financially so that any reward would be negated by the cost of the litigation. Plus, labels have a vested interest in defending their stake. They are making far more income on the sort of catalog material that's up for dispute than current releases.

 

Personally, I'm glad to see these artists getting their fair share. But to do so after 35 years? That's a long time. I'm glad that this change in the copyright laws is going to change the landscape of income distribution as it pertains to the label vs the artist. But I think the window for the copyright reversion needs to be smaller than 35 years, and that the window to file for the reversion of rights should be greater than 5 years.

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"My concern is, and I have to, uh, check with my accountant, that this might bump me into a higher, uh, tax..."

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Its hard to feel sorry for corporations and scumbag managers.

 

I don't exactly feel sorry for Bruce Springsteen either...I'm pretty sure he's doing OK.

 

Regardless of what seems fair, the lesson should be "know what you're signing before you sign it".

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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The thing is, those are the types of deals that the major signed EVERYONE to back in the 1970's. And acts agree to it because it was the cost of doing business. There were a limited number of major record labels. Making a record and getting airplay in the late 1970's was drastically different from today's DIY model where you can record a full length record in your bedroom.

 

Bruce Springsteen is indicative of just how many big acts as well as small ones got taken advantage of by the majors. Springsteen's label made a fortune on his album sales alone. The man sold over 60 million albums in the U.S. alone, and the labels received most of that money. Does Bruce Springsteen need more? In his own case probably note. But if you were in the same position, wouldn't you want to pursue getting copyright & financial control of your material? Springsteen and Billy Joel are just some of the big names that are set to take on the record industry. And what about the people who haven't been doing so well? They need this money even more.

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i won't shed a tear for the record industry. they've had well over a decade to evolve in the face of a changing industry, and they've consistently decided to be litigious instead. they reamed artists for decades with extremely one-sided contracts. i don't care if they need the money now. ask china if hong kong was worth the wait.

 

personally, i think U2 has shown that the real money is made in touring. and that's a lesson that even smaller, lesser known bands can see. recording isn't that expensive any more, and it doesn't require millions of dollars to make a great sounding record. the record is a vehicle for advertising and soundtrack use, and an advertisement to encourage attendance at live shows.

 

robb.

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And let's not forget that, while Bruce Springsteen himself may have plenty of dough (and by the way, how would any of us feel if someone else declared that we had all the money we needed?), he was the head of a large team of people--the E Street Band, roadies, etc--who all might have benefited if Bruce had received the compensation that was coming to him had the record company not controlled everything.
"Everyone wants to change the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves." Leo Tolstoy
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I am not one to say that someone has made "enough" money. Bands can and do "make it" recording themselves and tireless self promotion.

 

My problem with the industry is that there is so much great music out there that no one hears because they are promoting certain other bands or types etc.

How do you sign a computer screen?

 

 

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that's also a great point. a band i love, hum, got dropped from RCA records after reasonable -- but not great -- sales figures because the record label wanted to focus more on n'sync.

 

i listen to a lot of indie music these days, and i think there's a lot more good music out now than there was ten years ago. i'm certainly aware of a lot more good music than i was then. either way, the common thread is that a bloated system based on print media and physical product distribution is no longer required for music to be heard and known. the cost of entry is lower than it ever has been, and the effect is more music in the hands of more people.

 

robb.

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I don't exactly feel sorry for Bruce Springsteen either...I'm pretty sure he's doing OK.

 

Of course he's doing okay...but that doesn't mean he deserved to get screwed.

 

This is one of my pet peeves...a lot of people think it's okay if someone rich gets screwed..."he has lots of money and he won't miss it/doesn't need any more." Ripping people off is just as wrong whether they are rich or poor.

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I don't exactly feel sorry for Bruce Springsteen either...I'm pretty sure he's doing OK.

 

Of course he's doing okay...but that doesn't mean he deserved to get screwed.

 

This is one of my pet peeves...a lot of people think it's okay if someone rich gets screwed..."he has lots of money and he won't miss it/doesn't need any more." Ripping people off is just as wrong whether they are rich or poor.

 

My point was that he signed a contract. You may or may not think it's fair, but if he didn't think it was fair then, he didn't have to sign it. Your pet peeve goes both ways. People think Springsteen deserves more money because the record company is an evil corporation and THEY have enough money. It doesn't matter who has enough money or not - it was a contract.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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that's a fair point, if simplistic and not legally robust.

 

i think my approach is the same in both cases. many artists signed contracts that were very unfavorable to the artists, whether out of naivete, ignorance, or a careful determination that it still beat the other options. they have been faithful to their contracts for 35 years.

 

the record labels have made considerable amounts of money off of these predatory contracts, but they are attempting to twist copyright law into unrecognizable state in order to artificially extend the life of said contracts to continue to take advantage of the artists. not because it's right, but because they need money now.

 

in other words, it's pretty clear who holds the moral high ground. it should be pretty easy, legally, too.

 

robb.

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It seems pretty clear now that if the major labels do not change, they're going to cease to exist as we know them. Viral marketing and digital distribution have changed how everyone becomes aware of and purchase music. Artists have been effectively adapting to these changes, but the labels have not. And if they don't figure out a way to change and do so quickly, they're going to find themselves going the way of all of those Sam Goody and Tower Records stores: gone.

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