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November 15, 2006

8 out of 10 ten surveys aren't worth the paper they are written on

There's been widespread reporting about the recent BPI survey into attitudes on copyright protection in recorded music for songwriters and performers (e.g. BBC and Observer).  Amongst other things, the survey appears to suggests that:

62 per cent of those polled believe British artists should receive the same copyright protection as their US counterparts

and that

Just under 70 per cent of 18- to 29-year-olds hold that view, the highest of any age group surveyed.

I've had a quick look round and can't find any evidence of how the survey questions were phrased or what context they were put into, which to my mind means that it is pretty much impossible to draw anything more substantial from the survey than a few juicy headlines.

I did stumble across the BPI's Five reasons to support British music: one of the UK's most valuable industries during my search, which it seems to me presents a rather uncompelling case.

On the other side of the debate, the British Library IP Manifesto sensibly urges caution:

The copyright term for sound recordings should not be extended without empirical evidence of the benefits and due consideration of the needs of society as a whole.

I found it interesting to note that the BPI list being a "unique cultural asset" as the first reason for copyright extension, concluding that

... recordings are the cultural heirlooms of Britain. They should remain in possession of their original owners.

whereas the BL argues that longer copyright makes it difficult or impossible to preserve recordings for the future.


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In your BPI vs BL comparison, are you or they clearly distinguishing between possession of an object, and ownership of rights in (some|all) applications of same? Isn't the beauty of digital objects, that the original owner can retain possession, while you or I can have an identical copy!

Jerry is right that in the digital world, there is no technical problem with different people holding separate copies of the same object. But the issue is around what you are allowed to do with your copy - what does the rights holder allow me, or the BL or anyone else for that matter to do with their sound recording.

I haven't looked into this in detail, but I'm guessing that the BL are not allowed to make an archive copy of a digital sound recording (for the pruposes of long term preservation) without asking each and every rights holder whether they are allowed to do so - clearly an impossible task for any significant collection of digital recordings. The BL are only able to make archive copies once material falls out of copyright.

Extending the length of copyright therefore makes the problem of digital preservation of this stuff much worse - because the BL (or whoever) has to wait longer before they can start archiving.

But I must admit I'm out of my depth here and haven't done enough background reading, so I'd certainly welcome the views of others on this topic.

What struck me as interesting about the story is that both sides are acknowledging that sound recordings are a valuable cultural resource - but the BPI then draws the conclusion that they should therefore remain in the possession of their owners, whereas the BL wants to be able to preserve them on behalf of everyone.

Yes - it's only (!) the rights that get in the way! Rights models are changing, though, and will continure to do so, in ways that needn't compromise the creator's ownership or moral rights. Such rights are enshrined in legislation and contracts, which are not themselves inviolable or everlasting: I heard that the National Archives and/or Library of New Zealand has been empowered to take any measures necessary - including cracking encryption and neutralizing DRM - to preserve digital objects. But don't quote me on that - I'll try and find a link!

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