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When Rights Are Wrongs

Paul White's Leader By Paul White
Published September 2006

There's bound to be a conflict of interest between what musicians believe their rights over their music ought to be and what the music-using public thinks. Clearly, wholesale music piracy is a non-viable situation, but at the same time, does it really affect the record companies' revenue in the long term if you make a copy of one of your CDs for a mate to listen to? Most of us buy paperback novels and then pass them on to other people to read when we're done, and though no physical copying is involved in this case, it still amounts to a sharing of the same intellectual property. Of course you need to know where to draw the line, but the record companies' assertions that they lose the full value of a CD every time one is copied are also clearly ludicrous. It's more likely that the real loss of sales is more or less balanced by the free promotion music sharing gives to their artists — certainly something that anyone outside of the chart brigade desperately needs.

These are some of the issues being considered by the National Consumer Council, or NCC, who have pointed out that the present laws are not only unworkable but also very unclear. For example, how many of you knew that it was illegal to copy your own vinyl or CDs onto other formats, even if only for your own use? According to an NCC survey, over 50 percent of those interviewed believed that making copies of CDs you've purchased for your own use was fine. Apparently, though, the wording of the present rules implies that even if you're only putting your own music collection onto your MP3 player or making CD-R copies to play in the car, you're doing so outside the law. In fact, the only legal way to get music onto an MP3 player appears to be to use a licensed pay-per-track or pay-per-album music download site such as iTunes. The only other mitigation for copying music or other copyright material is apparently for critical or research purposes, but I can't imagine this gives every musician on the planet carte blanche to copy everything on the grounds that they need it to research their playing technique!

The NCC would like all these rules revised so that consumers know exactly what they are allowed to do with music they've purchased, and this would presumably include some provision for fair use copying. Their recent submission to the Government's Gowers review panel suggests that 'the law is out of step with modern life and discriminates unfairly against consumers, putting unrealistic limits on their private listening and viewing habits'. The NCC's submission also challenges the current long periods of copyright protection and suggests that the length of all copyright terms should be 'reduced to fit more closely the time period over which most financial returns are normally made'.

This is clearly at odds with the ongoing campaign by the record industry to extend the copyright period for sound recordings beyond the current 50 years. The NCC suggest that record companies generally make returns on material in a matter of years, not decades, and that even the current terms are unfair on consumers.

Obviously there are two sides to every argument, but my own view is that once I've paid for a piece of music in one form, there's no reason why I shouldn't copy it into any form I like as long as it is for use only by myself and my family. I even resent paying the copyright portion of a CD cost when I already own the vinyl version, because to me, that means I've already paid for the right to listen to that piece of music. As most of you are both musicians and music users, I'd be interested to hear your views on the subject.

Paul White Editor In Chief

Published September 2006