The Good, Bad And Ugly - Copyright of Music
The way the copyright works is simple – you do creative work like painting, song composition or writing and your work is covered under copyright.
You don’t have to apply for it. You can, if you wish – the registration can act as proof of the first appearance if someone loots your work. And like a patent, it’s an attempt to protect undue use of your copyright material.
All seems fine and shine until you realize that big corporations are basically manipulating the rules, laws and bending people in power to make sure they can milk the copyrighted material and only they can.
If you have to use the copyrighted material, either you have to pay for it, give all revenue to them or get sued.
On the layer, it seems the right thing to do. But when you peel the layers, you realize how nasty the copyright battle has been.
For the sake of this article, I will focus on using audio on YouTube for dancing videos or review-parody videos. Because that’s where the pain lies for me and many creators.
Patent Vs Copyright
When you file a patent, you get protection for 20 years. After that, your work is in the public domain and anyone can use it for commercial purposes without paying a dime. 20 years is a reasonable time for you to exploit your work and make whatever fortune you can.
This is necessary because every work has to be in the public domain eventually. So that the culture can benefit and thrive.
You use so many things which have been invented by many great people. If they all had patents and charged high fees, you could not afford or only use a few of the inventions. But because eventually, all things come to the public domain, there comes new innovations on top of that and culture moves forward.
Now, let’s compare copyright. Copyright only comes in the public domain after 60 years of the author’s death.
That means if someone in their 20 makes something and dies at 100 years. Then the copyrighted work comes into the public domain only after 140 years after it’s creation.
That’s a long time. Ideally, copyright should last for a specific period and that should be till the author’s death or 50 years whichever is less.
Absurd Copyright Laws
Let’s consider the song – there is a copyright for lyrics, musical notations, the composition of the song and the recording of the song. That’s four copyright for a single song.
That means you can’t use the tune and do some creativity. Also, you can’t use the lyrics for your own composition. And so it becomes difficult to take any element of it for commercial purposes.
If the song has to come in the public domain then all the four elements have to pass the rule of 60+ years after the author’s death. And so, you can assume that songs before 160 years should be in the public domain.
But since you aren’t a musician – most people aren’t, you have to rely on recordings of songs to use. But you will not find the recording of songs that old. You will find lyrics, notations and composition and a song recording done in the last 20 years by some music label.
You can’t use the song recording because by recording the song, it has got new copyright. So essentially, if you aren’t a musician, it becomes difficult to use songs that are legitimately in the public domain.
This means the music label does everything in their power to bend rules as much as they like. If you are an individual they will simply sue you or threaten to sue because they know you can’t fight.
On YouTube, although many people use copyrighted music under fair use, the music label will still claim all the revenue.
Because most of the creators can’t fight for it. Court procedures require time and money.
So, if you see someone on YouTube using a song – most probably the revenue is going to the music label. It’s alright for normal use but they gulp the revenue from fair use too.
If legally, to commercially use the song you have to wait for 150 years. And even after that, nothing is guaranteed then how can the culture move forward.
Assume a creator who does a good parody of songs under fair use. She will earn Zero revenue for her efforts because the music label would gulp all her revenue. If she is able to sustain herself from another source of money then good, else she will eventually stop or do less of the parodies.
Resulting in us as a culture missing out on so many cool parodies. This is one of the many examples where creators rely on music and when they can’t make money, eventually most of them stop their creative work altogether.
This isn’t how the culture should be shaped. If anything, it should be the opposite. But the music labels want to earn hoards of money because they know music has to be used in so many places.
And the big bummer is that the revenue isn’t passed onto the actual lyricists, singer or music composer. Because often, their copyright is sold to music labels. That’s the only agreement music labels will sign or else they will not even touch your songs.
I dance and upload the video on YouTube. And all my videos have been claimed by the song copyright holder, usually billion-dollar companies.
Now, they are within rights to claim the video. However, how a dance artist supposed to work.
Music will come first, has to come first. And being in today’s culture, it makes sense for me as a dancer to dance to today’s song. And I can’t earn money from it. That is ridiculous. There has to be an exception for dance.
Because dance can’t be done without music/song. And I can’t make my own songs because then I would be a song composer – which I ain’t. I am a dancer.
So, although I put in my creativity, energy, passion, hard work and produce a dance video – I get nothing from it. Because if any revenue is generated, the music labels will take all of them or they can shut down my videos too. Thank God, at least they don’t do it. Else, all dancers would be doomed.
Dancers on YouTube dance and put up video – earn nothing from it. And then upload tutorial without songs to earn an income.
But there are so many dancers whose core talent is dancing and not teaching choreographies – they are doomed because of the copyright restrictions.
A Better Copyright
The current copyright protection is too much. More than 100 years is not feasible.
Else, if you want such long protection then the below use cases should be permitted by default for commercial purposes:
- Reaction Videos.
- 20-second clip to explain something.
- Outro/intro music clips.
- Song cover
- Dance cover
These are something that I see many creators complaining about, and rightly so. And before you tell me that all the above is covered under fair use or fair dealings. Let me tell you the music labels will still claim and unless you fight it out in court – which small creators can’t, you have to give up.
Copyright, patents exist for enabling, protecting and promoting in reasonable terms. But it seems, it is being misused to the ultimate extent by big corporations.