Copyright extension of 45 years to net just $40 for most performers

The EU's proposal for extending copyright terms is a bad idea, and artists may be hurt more than they're helped.

Just when I think the freedom brigade is on a roll, I read nonsense like this from the European Union, as reported in Ars Technica, suggesting that the EU is considering extending copyright terms by 45 years in order to guarantee income for aging artists. US entitlements like Medicare having nothing on this....

Every few years the US extends copyright terms because Disney lobbies the heck out of Congress' weak-kneed legislators to prevent Mickey Mouse from becoming public domain. After pilfering the commons for the basis of much of its revenue (Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and even, perhaps, Mickey Mouse), Disney keeps going back to the congressional well to ensure its God-given right to make money on old intellectual property forever and ever.

But that's the US. I would have hoped that the EU would show a bit more common sense. Alas! Its proposal completely fails to solve even the problem it sets out to fix, as Open Rights Group notes:

"The Commission makes much of the challenging financial situation facing aging performers," it says. "While we do not accept that IP law is an appropriate mechanism to deal with this situation, as we will demonstrate in the second section of this submission, it also turns out to be a very inefficient one."

That's because 90 percent of the extra money generated during the extended term will go to music labels. Of the 10 percent that goes directly to artists, eight or nine percent will go to the "top 20 percent of earning performers"--in other words, the most successful groups, which have already made millions.

As with Congress and Disney, the EU's proposed 45-year extension would make the rich richer, and would perhaps put roughly 30 Euros per year in most artists' pockets. It's a terrible idea with limited benefit for its intended beneficiaries, and huge detriment to the public and would-be artists growing up in the shadows of today's artists.

If the EU wants to baby artists, set up a pension plan for them. Coddle them with milque toast in their old age. Do something. Just don't extend copyright terms. That helps few and hurts many.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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