music and copyright

Music and Copyright

Music has traditionally been a highly successful industry. However, these days when music is more popular than ever, the music industry seems to be in a state of disarray. This is due to the enormous impact of digital technology and social media which has enabled millions of music consumers to download or share music illegally. This behaviour understandably upsets the record labels and publishing companies as they watch the copyright revenues from recorded music elude them and their clients.

Copyright and how it works

Copyright is the legal protection of writers/authors of original songs, music and lyrics that have been recorded on a tangible and fixed format such as a manuscript, a tape or a CD. For an artist to be able to publish, promote and then get paid for their work they must have evidence of copyright such as certification from a copyright company. Writers should then sign with a publishing company who will work on their behalf to collect performing and mechanical royalties from licensed venues and also from the music companies who manufacture and distribute their music. Performance royalties are paid when other artists perform or play the writer’s songs. Mechanical royalties are paid by anyone who reproduces the writer’s work for distribution, broadcast and online streaming.

In recent years, however it has become almost impossible to enforce copyright laws within the internet where decentralised file-sharing networks encompass many different countries which in turn have many different legal practices. How can the music industry deal with copyright infringement on such a vast scale? Their legal success over Napster in 2001 only induced other file-sharing networks to quickly fill its shoes. Also it’s very difficult to prosecute these networks when files are not stored on a central server and they are also used for other legitimate files.

So what’s the future for the music industry?

So the big question is; how can the music industry persuade music consumers to buy music legally after years of illegal, low-risk downloading? Research has shown that those who download music illegally are mainly young people. A recent survey revealed that 61% of 14-24 year olds have downloaded music from file-sharing networks. 86% have copied CDs and 75% have sent music over the internet. However it seems some people are still willing to pay, just look at the success of iTunes and Spotify.

Another recent survey claimed that the majority of 14-24 year olds would be willing to use some of their limited disposable income to subscribe to an ‘all-you-can-eat’ download service for a fixed fee. This type of service has been attempted previously but came up against the brick wall of the major record labels who presented last minute demands to prevent file-sharing;

It’s clear that the music industry has been blindsided by the unforeseen emergence of the internet and digital technology and have so far failed to devise a method to generate profit from it. It is also apparent that they cannot presently prevent illegal downloading. So until they can do something to counteract it, they should investigate other methods than copyright of compensating their artists for their recorded music, for example some kind of taxation of related goods and services. Or maybe they just have to concentrate on the profits they generate through live performances.