Copyrights and other law topics aren’t really covered here a whole lot. It’s for good reason though. This is a tech blog aimed more at gadgets. But being the nerd that I am, I follow many more areas than just gadgets. Music copyrights and the whole music label tango that so many deal with on a daily basis interest me. We see daily how the digital world in which we love constantly gets lambasted by labels and content owners as the cause for declining music sales, the reason for sinking profits, and overall the start of the end of the world. Those facts have been disproven many times over but that doesn’t stop them from repeating the same sentences over and over. They claim that because of the digital age, copyrights need to be protected to a higher degree and more of them filed.

Thankfully for us the end user as well as artists, the end (or at least significant decline) of label control of the music scene is one that desperately needs to come. It seems like an implausible, almost laughable dream — that labels will lose their copyright with the artists getting back what is rightfully theirs. But it isn’t that far of a stretch. Thanks to a law passed in 1976 called the “U.S. Copyright Act of 1976″, artists will very soon be able to reclaim their property giving them the ability to succeed where the labels have failed time and time again — to properly manage, distribute, and market musical content in the digital age…


The whole sweetness with the Copyright Act of 1976 is that it will allow artists (and their heirs) to at the very minimum renegotiate deals with the labels and at the very most, cancel copyright contracts. The latter is a god send to many artists who have seen labels destroy their image by relentlessly suing fans of all ages for all the wrong reasons pushing them away from music. For a business and business model that is so stuck in the past, the provisions in the Copyright Act are truly a blessing.

So when exactly can these artists cancel their copyright deals if they so choose? Well, there’s two stipulations:

  1. If the music was originally sold released before 1978, the artist can reclaim the copyright 56 years after the original release date.
  2. If the music was released during or after 1978, the artist can take back their bounty a mere 35 years later.

So what’s the big deal? If you spend any time reading Tech Dirt, you will at least know a little about copyright and the tangled jungle that it is. You’ll also know or find out via Tech Dirt that the idea of stricter, more prevalent copyright actually hinders innovation and the advancement of science. And does anyone know what the original intent of copyright was? Precisely the opposite — to further innovation while giving slight protection and credit to the originator of the idea/service/product. Unfortunately, the world at large has begun to grossly misuse copyright law to the point that it is now nothing but a hinderance.

All this talk of digital liberation sounds like a fairy tale. The reality however is that it is very real and happening soon. With the 35 year rule set in place, music released in the year 1978 is coming up on it’s “get outta jail date” in 2013. That year is going to be a very bad one for labels. Think that a bunch of no names and small town heros are actually going to challenge the provisions in the Copyright Act of 1976? Again, try rethinking that idea. Big names such as The Eagles, Journey, and Barbara Streisand are all pursuing the termination of their copyright contracts with major labels come 2013. The artists will be able to again control their fate. If the labels got their way, copyright would be infinite. That’s good for them and their pockets but bad for everyone else. With such strict copyright in place (as they’d like) completely 100% original ideas that weren’t based of of someone’s previous work even a little bit would dry up. The market would cease to recreate and refresh itself and we would find ourself in an incredibly boring, entangled web of over powering IP law.

How will artists be able to benefit from their new found ownership? Let’s take for example, Eagles.com which is currently in the construction phase. Now I don’t know all the details of the Eagles.com set up or anything behind the scenes, but I would like to know why it is just under construction now. Why wasn’t it launched five years ago when digital music was really getting big? Hello, missed opportunity? Once freed from it’s label shackled prison, consumers will be able to go to Eagles.com and interact with the bands merchandise in ways the labels would never allow. Things such as free streaming of the entire catalog to schemes such as monthly give ways where you can download a particular song for free every month (**Note these are not official announcements or events…merely ideas of what could happen). Such thoughts are really exciting to think about.

Big labels’ sole money machine is physical sales of merchandise that they hold copyright over. They’re already losing boatloads of money due to the increase in digital sales and more consumers attending concerts and spending money things that labels don’t get as big of a cut on. If they think it’s bad now, just wait until artists start cutting contracts in mass numbers. Then preverbal shit is really going to hit the fan. Don’t expect the labels to just roll over and surrender the copyrights though. Noooo sir. There will be extremely fierce and drawn out lawsuits I can almost certainly promise. It will really be interesting to see how this all goes down in 2013, being the first year the Copyright Act of 1976 can actually be challenged. We already know how many artists are going to react. And with a little mind power, we can gather that labels are going to put up one hell of a fight to protect an era of business and business models that were based shady practices, poor planning, failure to embrace emerging technologies, and a whole host of other dropped balls and missed opportunities.

There is one flaw, one catch, one backdoor that ethically is a poor excuse for a cop out though perfectly legal. Much of the old music that is nearing the copyright termination date is old mono recordings. If the labels go ahead and re-record or recompile those mono recordings into stereo, they get counted as new material more or less and therefor can have that 35 year stopwatch reset. BS? Most certainly. But again, it’s a backdoor that labels can use and I guarantee they’re going to try everything they can.

Backdoor tactics and shady deals aside, a new dawn is approaching for the music industry as a whole. The greedy middleman and inovation-lacking individuals who currently helm the ship are walking on a tight rope. The years of turning a blind eye to what the artists really want, the people they claim to represent to the fullest, will come back in more ways than one to haunt them.

Is any even remotely excited that the almighty beast is nearing the end, that consumers and artists will once again control the market in the way it should be?

Wired > Law.com

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