When you see that headline, you know it ain’t gonna be good news. Permit me a little light fisking of Robin Gibb:
Bee Gee Robin Gibb says he plans to campaign for a change to copyright laws on behalf of musicians in the UK.
Currently, performers in the UK receive royalty payments for 50 years, at which point their work goes out of copyright.
Which, when you put it like that, seems like a good run. (Consider this: even if you leave school at 16, you only get 49 years to work before retirement.)
“Artists should be getting royalties for the records that they make for life,” Gibb told the BBC News website.
Why? And this isn’t a flippant question: other than greed, can someone please explain the moral or legal case why Gibb’s assertion should be true?
The singer has just been made President of CISAC, a body representing creative artists around the world. Film director Alfonso Cuaron became Vice-President.
“I’ve been a songwriter since I was 8 years old,” said Gibb. “I want to champion the rights of all those people who aren’t getting a fair share from their creative work.”
Stop confusing things Robin – performer rights and composer rights are completely different in law. As a songwriter, you should know well that you’re going to be making money off Stayin’ Alive until you die. And for 70 years more after that.
The 57-year-old said the Bee Gees had experienced several periods in their career where they did not control their music – including hits like Massachusetts and Jive Talkin’.
The singer said he wanted to make sure other artists did not suffer a similar fate.
I’m still confused – what didn’t you control? Performer royalties or composer royalties? I guess it doesn’t make any difference, since I’ll bet the circumstances were the same. As the composer of a song, and as a performer of a song, you’re entitled to two sets of royalty streams … unless you sign a contract handing over those rights to the record company offering you an upfront advance fee. You don’t mean that that’s what you did, sign away your rights to you record company? Well, tough.
“We were lucky because we had some good people working on our behalf, but the reality is that many do not,” he said.
They’re called lawyers, that’s what they’re for – to protect their clients’ interests.
“There are still many major writers who still don’t own their catalogue.
This is all too true. And a sad fact of the corporate music industry, in which young artists are taken for a ride by greedy labels. But none of this changes the legal question of copyright extension. You write the song, you perform the song, the two different copyrights are yours (for their respective time periods); that is until you sign away those rights to a third party. Once you’ve reached this point, Robin, extending copyright doesn’t help anyone, except the record companies who own those rights – who will be more than happy to lobby on your behalf, I’m sure…
“It’s a moral issue that people should get a bigger piece of the pie.”
Yes, yes they should. But copyright extension is not the way to do it. Artists need better legal representation from the very moment they start talking to labels. They need to be informed more clearly of their rights (more clearly than you seem to be, Robin, even after several decades in the business). They should walk away from any contract that takes control of their copyrights.
Gibb said his plans included creating a record label for UK artists, giving them easier access to digital download stores like iTunes.
Well, that’s sweet – but access is useless if your artists still don’t have control of their rights. Make sure you get that part right Robin, and you will be making a difference.
Earlier this year, the House of Commons culture committee said people had a “moral right” to keep control of their creations while alive.
It recommended extending the copyright term for sound recordings to at least 70 years, allowing performers to benefit from their early works throughout their lifetime.
Also, earlier this year the Gowers report – commissioned by the Prime Minister-in-waiting – said that there was no case for extending copyright for performers in sound recordings.