How to save the music industry

To go forward, we must first go back

Since 1977, we have had copyright extension after extension. We have laws that made the record companies judge, jury and executioner and force all manner of others — including libraries, ISPs and branches of the Government — to do their dirty-work for them. We have watched as the courts have handed down judgment after judgment for illegal file-sharing for exorbitant amounts that are, to the rest of us looking on in horror — the very definition of cruel and unusual punishment. They even tried to change a law in the dead of night when no-one was looking. More recently they have even tried to sneak a one-world-copyright agreement under the radar by calling it an “Anti-Counterfeiting Treaty”.

For over thirty years, the copyright mob have gotten pretty much everything they wanted.

And what do they have to show for it? An industry on the verge of collapse, falling profits, businesses on the verge of bankruptcy — and a generation of customers who hate them and want to see them fail.

And what is their solution? They continue to clamor for harsher and more consumer-hostile laws.

Somebody should slap some sense into these folks

I submit that their efforts at “control” of their “property” have stifled the market  and driven customers away. The world has changed, but they have not; their solution is to pretend that it is still 1975 and wish that the Internet would go away. That is not going to work.

Here is my solution for how to sell digital music online, protect the public domain and make sure that everyone — including the artists, whom they claim to represent — gets paid:

  1. One year of “Ownership“: For the first year after a piece of music becomes available in a digital format online, the publisher can assert “ownership”. They can control who sells it, and for how much. They can also dictate terms about who gets how much money — in other words, the way things are today.
  2. Four years of “Agency“: After the year is up, they still exert “ownership” of the work, but they lose the right to control the price or who can sell it. For the next four years, the music company gets 40%, the Artist/Songwriter split 40% and the seller pockets 20%. Statutory damages during this phase must be limited to seven times the PROVEN damages, and not based on outrageous and unprovable assumptions. The artists should be paid out of those damages, instead of the money being quietly pocketed, as is currently the case.
  3. Five-year Renewals: At the end of the first five years, the publisher can get another five years of “Agency” by paying a fee of $20,000 per song. The publisher can renew this for as long as they are willing to pay the fee. This fee will force the publishers to ask themselves if the copyright is worth keeping, and will be used to finance the system.
  4. Artistic License: If the publisher declines to renew, the Artist may acquire the rights for half-price. At this point the split changes to 60% to the artist/songwriters,  40% to the seller. The Artists can renew for as long as they want. If the artist has died, their direct heirs may exercise this right until the artist’s youngest children reach the age of 21. If an artist wants to provide for their heirs, they should do like the rest of us (life insurance, investments etc.). Copyright was never intended to be a legacy except to all of us, via the public domain.
  5. If the artist refuses to renew, the music falls into the public domain.


A similar model could be applied to movies, with slightly different times: Five years of “Ownership”. Ten-year “agency” agreements, renewable for $200,000 a pop. Since they are works for hire, there is no “artist”, and the movie will then sidestep the orphaned works problem and fall, as gracefully as Forrest Gump’s feather, into the public domain.

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