Copyright? It’s still copywrong for writers, musicians, photographers and more

Probably the first time I got worried about the yawning gap between old-fashioned copyright law and modern business was when I asked my hairdresser why the radio wasn’t playing in her salon any more.


Who needs to buy a consumable when you can download it for pennies or get it “under the table” for nothing?

It turned out that without paying for proper (and quite expensive) licensing, the law said you couldn’t play music on the radio in a “public place,” which includes anywhere with employees and/or customers. So Radio Two had to go. Thank you, BBC.

But now? Unless you have the not inconsiderable legal grunt of a huge organisation like the BBC, my hairdresser could probably get away with playing all the Top 10 hits in her salon without a second thought. And this totally would bypass the MCPS, PRS and other organisations who exist to sheep-dog public performance and protect music originators along with their livelihoods.

I suspect those organisations are getting nowhere fast. Why?

The music industry – how copyright disasters have messed with the musos’ social lives…

The music industry is still the scene of huge arguments about intellectual property. Although efforts have been made to protect musicians’ rights through licensed streaming, downloads, etc., the bottom has dropped out of the music business as CD and vinyl sales are merely frivolous mementos you can buy.

And revenue from the licensed stuff is knocked to hell and back by the thriving pirating industries.

Who needs to buy a consumable when you can download it for pennies or get it “under the table” for nothing?

Musicians who previously never ventured out of air-conditioned recording studios now have to get out there and tour, tour, tour if they want to pay their mortgages.

And yes, that principle even applies to the megastars like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Rihanna etc. who almost certainly wouldn’t have been staging so many giant concerts back in the days when “record sales” were the main way to make musical tills ring.

Photography – another profession hit hard by copyright fail

The laws of the copyright jungle are so blatantly in favour of the consumers who choose to abuse them, it’s just a joke.

People will help themselves to an image off the internet even when the poor photographer has slapped huge watermarks all over it.

htwb-copyright-symbol-2016-2Once when I emailed a photographer to ask permission to use a shot on HTWB here, he replied giving his permission and thanked me profusely for bothering to ask – I was the first person ever to do so.

Unless you run one of the behemoth picture agencies and can afford to snarl loudly at anyone helping themselves to one of their pictures (Getty Images have particularly sharp teeth here), photographers still are having a horribly hard time of it.

Copyright that’s still in the Dark Ages

Many of our current copyright and intellectual property laws still date back to the time when the internet didn’t exist.

Documents, books, articles, films, video, music and much more were only available via solidly earth-bound media which made copyright protection a comparative walk in the park.

Once the internet exploded into cyberspace, copyright law was stood on its head.

Suddenly the media in which material could be shared went berserk. So how have the powers-that-be coped with such dramatic evolution?

Possibly one of the most unhelpful – and laughable – comments from a publisher was made a few years ago by a spokesperson for Rupert Murdoch’s publishing company HarperCollins, according to an article in the London Evening Standard.

“I’m a passionate believer in the importance of a strong copyright framework as a key driver for economic growth,”  bleated the spokesperson.

Really? I don’t think so. In my view there are two things wrong with a “strong copyright framework.”

One, a publisher’s idea of strength is strangulation of information that needs to be shared more freely if national and international commerce is to make any headway at all.

And two, a strong copyright framework is virtually impossible to maintain within the cyberfiasco of the internet. Any financial benefit to copyright owners is probably eradicated (or at least greatly diluted) by the sheer cost of policing it.

A breath of fresh air, we hoped

A moment of hope emerged with the launch of The Hargreaves Report back in May 2011. Here was a breath of fresh air, considering the confusion and paranoia that had been sweeping through business circles up until then.

“The Hargreaves Report shows potential to boost economy,” pronounced the UK’s Intellectual Property Office at the time. “Changes to Intellectual Property systems could add up to £7.9 billion to the UK’s economy, the first report looking at how it can drive growth said today…recommendations aim to give the UK a competitive advantage – and put it on a par with international competitors. Taken together, they have the potential to add up to 0.6 percent to annual GDP and to cut the costs of doing business with IP-related business by £750 million within a decade.”

The Hargreaves Report, requested by our then prime minister David Cameron, went on to make some pretty viable suggestions about the relaxation of some restrictive copyright laws and provide a workable framework within which intellectual property could survive – while at the same time not throttling growth or innovation.

htwb-copyright-symbol-2016-3It seemed the government would be setting up a “Digital Copyright Exchange” to sort out copyright licensing by the end of 2012.

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At the time, I got my wrist slapped for being cynical when I murmured that I would be very interested to see if that actually happened. And if it did, whether it would go far enough to liberate modern businesses from the stranglehold of our archaic copyright law to which, unfortunately, the more traditional industries were (and still are) still clinging with their financial fingernails.

Now, in 2016, many of the statistics quoted on the UK Government’s Intellectual Property Office website still are dated from 2011. That’s 5 years ago. Where has everyone been?

Why is it taking so long to put copywrong copyright?

According to the UK’s IPO, “1.3 billion files were accessed illegally online in 2014. Infringing films accounted for 23 percent of all films consumed online, infringing music for 28 percent, and infringing TV programmes for 14 percent.”

And they continue … “An independent Copyright Infringement Tracker 2015, commissioned by the IPO found that the most commonly cited reasons for infringing online were because it is free (49 percent), convenient (43 percent) and quick (37 percent).” Well now, there’s a surprise, eh.

OK, there have been a few moves to get things rolling, with the “Digital Copyright Exchange” metamorphosing into a “Copyright Hub” and a few other things.

However the IPO concludes, “Since June 2014, 11 million views have been diverted from pirate websites to an official police warning page and 4,513 illegal .uk domains were suspended between April 2014 and 2015.”

Oh, whoop-dee-do. (Remember, we’re still working largely on statistics quoted in 2011.)

htwb-copyright-symbol-2016-4What can be done, realistically, to rein in copyright infringement which is still so rampant? Particularly for millions of us creative workers for whom international lawsuits trying to chase scammers from around the world at vast expense, are just laughably impossible?

Or are we doomed to finding other ways to make a living?

Please share your comments and please, prove me wrong…