Copyright overtaken by technology

Public IP networks and digital technologies that enable the copying and transmission of digitised works of music are a very real threat to the industry's raison d'etre.

The crux of the problem is the artist's right to project a work of art as he or she sees fit. The creative industries are structured so that the 'intellectual property rights' are owned and sold on by the distributor, rather than the creator of the artefact.

Such is the state of affairs with the music industry. In most cases, the record companies own the rights to the recorded work and the publishers own the rights to the song.

Rags to riches

But technology has overtaken the law, and the record industry, which came into being to distribute a format - the shellac disc - has been rendered hopelessly out of date. That is the problem.

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Copyright law, as it applied to records, prevented "piracy", the mass reproduction and distribution of copyrighted discs by other companies. There was no attempt to stop users from sharing their discs with their friends, selling them or giving them away if that is what they chose to do.

The record companies had control of the format, and the channels of distribution. It owned the artists, who had no alternative outlets, unless like some blues artists, they recorded for many different record labels under many different names.

The cash return to the individual artist on each unit sold within the record industry was minuscule. Indeed, the industry has always been rife with rags-to-riches and back-to-rags-again stories, a characteristic that it shares with another traditional meat-for-entertainment industry, boxing.

The music industry, like the newspaper industry, is facing massive problems which are not of its own making. But they still must be tackled if the industry, as it is currently constituted, is to survive.

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