Everything he does, he does it for us. Why Bryan Adams is on to something important about copyright

Rebecca Giblin, Monash University

Last Tuesday Bryan Adams entered the copyright debate.

That’s Bryan Adams the singer and songwriter, the composer of “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”, and “Summer of ’69”.

Authors, artists and composers often have little bargaining power, and are often pressured to sign away their rights to their publisher for life.

Adams appeared before a Canadian House of Commons committee to argue they should be entitled to reclaim ownership of their creations 25 years after they sign them away.

No control until after you are dead

In Canada, they get them back 25 years after they are dead when the rights automatically revert to their estate. In Australia, our law used to do the same, but we removed the provision in 1968. In our law, authors are never given back what they give away.

Some publishers voluntarily put such clauses in their contracts, but that is something they choose to do, rather than something the law mandates.

Australia’s copyright term is long. For written works it lasts for 70 years after the death of the author. It was extended from 50 years after death as part of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement.

What copyright is for

Copyright is a government-granted limited monopoly to control certain uses of an author’s work.

It is meant to achieve three main things: incentivise the creation of works, reward authors, and benefit society through access to knowledge and culture.

Incentive and reward are not the same thing.

The incentive needn’t be big

The copyright term needed to provide an incentive to create something is pretty short.

The Productivity Commission has estimated the average commercial life of a piece of music, for example is two to five years. Most pieces of visual art yield commercial income for just two years, with distribution highly skewed toward the small number with a longer life. The average commercial life of a film is three to six years. For books, it is typically 1.4 to five years; 90% of books are out of print after two years.

It is well accepted by economists that a term of about 25 years is the maximum needed to incentivise the creation of works.

But the rewards, for creators, should be

The second purpose is to provide a reward to authors, beyond the bare minimum incentive needed to create something. Quite reasonably, we want to give them a bit extra as thanks for their work.

But, in practice authors, artists and composers are often obliged to transfer all or most of their rights to corporate investors such as record labels or book publishers in order to receive anything at all.

In the film and television industries it is not unusual for creators to have to sign over their whole copyright, forever – and not just here on Earth but throughout the universe at large.




Read more:
Life plus 70: who really benefits from copyright’s long life?


It means investors don’t just take what is needed to incentivise their work but most of the rewards meant for the author as well.

This isn’t new. Creators have been complaining since at least 1737 that too often they have no choice but to transfer their rights before anyone knows what they are worth.

Other countries do it better

In recognition of these realities, many countries, including the US, have enacted author-protective laws that, for example, let creators reclaim their rights back after a certain amount of time, or after publishers stop exploiting them, or after royalties stop flowing. Other laws guarantee creators “fair” or “reasonable” payment.

Australia stands out for having no author protections at all.




Read more:
Australian copyright laws have questionable benefits


Canada’s law already protects authors by giving rights back to their heirs 25 years after they die. Bryan Adams’s proposal is to change one word in that law. Instead of copyright reverting to the creator 25 years after “death”, he wants it to revert 25 years after “transfer”.

Copyright is meant to be about ensuring access

Handing rights back to creators after 25 years would not only help them secure more of copyright’s rewards, it would also help achieve copyright’s other major aim: to promote widespread access to knowledge and culture.

Right now our law isn’t doing a very good job of that, particularly for older material.

Copyright lasts for so long, and distributors lose financial interest in works so fast, that they are often neither properly distributed nor available for anyone else to distribute.




Read more:
Australian copyright reform stuck in an infinite loop


In the book industry my research into almost 100,000 titles has found that publishers license older e-books to libraries on the same terms and for the same prices as newer ones. That includes “exploding” licences which force books to be deleted from collections even if nobody ever borrows them.

Publishers are interested in maximising their share of library collections budgets, not ensuring that a particular author continues to get paid or a particular title continues to get read.

As a result libraries often forgo buying older (but still culturally valuable) books even though they would have bought them if the publisher cared enough to make them available at a reasonable price.

Restricting access to books is not in the interests of authors or readers.

… and directing rewards where they are needed

If rights reverted after 25 years, as I have proposed and as Adams now proposes, authors would be able to do things like license their books directly to libraries in exchange for fair remuneration – say $1 per loan.

If authors weren’t interested in reclaiming their rights, they could automatically default to a “cultural steward” that would use the proceeds to directly support new creators via prizes, fellowships and grants – much like Victor Hugo envisaged with his idea of a “paid public domain” back in 1878.

We could do it all without changing the total copyright term imposed on us by the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement and other treaties. We could get creators paid more fairly while keeping Australian culture alive.

Reversion is the key.The Conversation

Rebecca Giblin, ARC Future Fellow; Associate Professor, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The book business: 2012 vs 2008

There are some interesting claims being levelled in the publishing industry about the death of books (rubbish), that publishers are going broke (only if they messed up) and that the industry is in turmoil (only when scaremongers keep saying it is). Well, the infographic below highlights some statistics on the US book industry – I think I’m going to stop calling it the publishing industry, maybe reading industry is more appropriate. The final figure is the one that everyone should quote the next time a smaller or non-existent advance is offered to authors, or royalty rates are lowered, or high book prices are justified.

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Source: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114998/book-business-doing-fine

How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish

Now this is an interesting study and article. I have actually noticed this phenomenon myself when looking for crime and thriller authors and books from various generations. Everyone knows Robert Howard, Raymond Chandler and Donald E Westlake, they’ve pretty much stayed in print since they were released. But what about the other authors from the 1920s to the mid 1980s? On various writer forums you will find writers re-releasing their novels from the 80s as ebooks. This is the downside of copyright. Read for this article I stole am re-blogging from The Atlantic.

by REBECCA J. ROSEN
A book published during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur has a greater chance of being in print today than one published during the time of Reagan.

neweditions650-thumb-650x317-128315 Last year I wrote about some very interesting research being done by Paul J. Heald at the University of Illinois, based on software that crawled Amazon for a random selection of books. At the time, his results were only preliminary, but they were nevertheless startling: There were as many books available from the 1910s as there were from the 2000s. The number of books from the 1850s was double the number available from the 1950s. Why? Copyright protections (which cover titles published in 1923 and after) had squashed the market for books from the middle of the 20th century, keeping those titles off shelves and out of the hands of the reading public. Heald has now finalized his research and the picture, though more detailed, is largely the same: “Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availability,” Heald writes. “Shortly after works are created and proprietized, they tend to disappear from public view only to reappear in significantly increased numbers when they fall into the public domain and lose their owners.” The graph above shows the simplest interpretation of the data. It reveals, shockingly, that there are substantially more new editions available of books from the 1910s than from the 2000s. Editions of books that fall under copyright are available in about the same quantities as those from the first half of the 19th century.

Publishers are simply not publishing copyrighted titles unless they are very recent. But this isn’t a totally honest portrait of how many different books are available, because for books that are in the public domain, often many different editions exist, and the random sample is likely to overrepresent them. “After all,” Heald explains, “if one feeds a random ISBN number [into] Amazon, one is more likely to retrieve Milton’s Paradise Lost (with 401 editions and 401 ISBN numbers) than Lorimer’s A Wife out of Egypt (1 edition and 1 ISBN).” He found that on average the public domain titles had a median of four editions per title. (The mean was 16, but highly distorted by the presence of a small number of books with hundreds of editions. For this reason, statisticians whom Heald consulted recommended using the median.) Heald divided the number of public-domain editions by four, providing a graph that compares the number of titles available. titlesavailable650 Heald says the picture is still “quite dramatic.” The most recent decade looks better by comparison, but the depression of the 20th century is still notable, followed by a little boom for the most recent decades when works fall into the public domain. Presumably, as Heald writes, in a market with no copyright distortion, these graphs would show “a fairly smoothly doward sloping curve from the decade 2000-20010 to the decade of 1800-1810 based on the assumption that works generally become less popular as they age (and therefore are less desirable to market).” But that’s not at all what we see. “Instead,” he continues, “the curve declines sharply and quickly, and then rebounds significantly for books currently in the public domain initially published before 1923.” Heald’s conclusion? Copyright “makes books disappear”; its expiration brings them back to life. The books that are the worst affected by this are those from pretty recent decades, such as the 80s and 90s, for which there is presumably the largest gap between what would satisfy some abstract notion of people’s interest and what is actually available. As Heald writes:

This is not a gently sloping downward curve! Publishers seem unwilling to sell their books on Amazon for more than a few years after their initial publication. The data suggest that publishing business models make books disappear fairly shortly after their publication and long before they are scheduled to fall into the public domain. Copyright law then deters their reappearance as long as they are owned. On the left side of the graph before 1920, the decline presents a more gentle time-sensitive downward sloping curve.

But even this chart may understate the effects of copyright, since the comparison assumes that the same quantity of books has been published every decade. This is of course not the case: Increasing literacy coupled with technological efficiencies mean that far more titles are published per year in the 21st century than in the 19th. The exact number per year for the last 200 years is unknown, but Heald and his assistants were able to arrive at a pretty good approximation by relying on the number of titles available for each year in WorldCat, a library catalog that contains the complete listings of 72,000 libraries around the world. He then normalized his graph to the decade of the 1990s, which saw the greatest number of titles published. adjustedtitles650 By this calculation, the effect of copyright appears extreme. Heald says that the WorldCat research showed, for example, that there were eight times as many books published in the 1980s as in the 1880s, but there are roughly as many titles available on Amazon for the two decades. A book published during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur has a greater chance of being in print today than one published during the time of Reagan. Copyright advocates have long (and successfully) argued that keeping books copyrighted assures that owners can make a profit off their intellectual property, and that that profit incentive will “assure [the books’] availability and adequate distribution.” The evidence, it appears, says otherwise.

Further reading: http://artlawjournal.com/can-find-creative-work-copyright-free/