Knights and copyright

Lorcan 3 min read

The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property [report home page] was released recently in the UK, and was welcomed by those opposed to the extension of the existing copyright term. More of that later …
I recently watched Out of Ireland: from a whisper to a scream again, a video documentary account of the emergence of popular music in Ireland. A social context is emphasized and many artists are discussed. Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy, and Van Morrison emerge as focal points. And of course U2. The film is a reminder of the social importance of U2 as a part of, and symbol of, emergent Irish prosperity and confidence in the 90s. Importantly, U2 were based in Ireland: emigration was not a necessary precursor of success.
I was reminded of this because Bono has just been given an honorary knighthood by the Queen for “his services to the music industry and for his humanitarian work“. Honorary because he is not a citizen of the UK or of a country of the Commonwealth. He thus joins that other Irish musical humanitarian and honorary knight, Bob Geldof, whose Boom Town Rats and whose work on Live Aid were also central parts of the story told in the video.
Now, Bono and U2 have also been in the news for other reasons. U2 recently moved their music publishing company to the Netherlands where they pay less tax. And there has been some discussion about whether there is any inconsistency between this and their lobbying of national and world organizations to assist others.

But earlier this year Bono, a multi-millionaire, was accused of hypocrisy over taxes after moving U2’s business operations from Ireland to Holland, where there is virtually no tax on royalties. U2 were the world’s biggest musical earners last year, raking in around £145m. They have reportedly sold 170 million albums worldwide. [Bono joins Geldof as an honorary Dublin knight | UK News | The Observer]

But let us come back to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property [Wikipedia entry]. This was broadly welcomed by library and educational bodies. Here is an excerpt from the British Library response:

We are particularly pleased that the Gowers Review recommends allowing private copying for research and copying for preservation reasons by libraries to cover all forms of content. It has also made positive recommendations around dealing with orphan works. And we look forward to playing a key role in the Strategic Advisory Board for IP policy (SABIP). [The British Library response to the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property (IP)]

And from JISC:

The current IP regime severely restricts the ability of staff in FE and HE to make copies for educational use. This is especially true in the case of materials in e-learning packages, virtual learning environments, etc. JISC welcomes those recommendations (2, 8, 9, 10a, 10b, 11, 12) which will support greater use of varied teaching and learning approaches, typical of those which may be funded by JISC, as well as assist librarians to better preserve our academic and cultural heritage . [JISC welcomes Gowers review of Intellectual Property : JISC]

Jisc also welcomed the recommendation that the current copyright term of 50 years be retained.
The Confederation of British Industry also broadly welcomed the report but was not in favor of this recommendation.

The shorter copyright term in the UK directly impacts the asset value of recordings, record companies, musicians’ pension funds, and the music industry itself. For independent and major record companies that have built up a catalogue over many years, the effect on the value of the companies in the UK is significant. [CBI response pdf]

And it argues that this will reduce the UK’s competitiveness as a music business venue.
The Financial Times disagrees:

The problem with debate about intellectual property is that those who own it tend to be rich and well organised. Society at large, which pays for IP, finds glamorous pop stars hard to resist. But longer copyright, especially if applied to works already written, would be less a boost to creativity than a pension for wealthy rock stars. [FT.com / Comment & analysis / Letters – Intellectual propriety]

And a group of musicians took out a full-page advert in the FT:

Paul McCartney and U2 were among thousands of musicians who signed a full-page newspaper ad that appeared Thursday, calling on the British government to extend copyright protection for their work. [CBC.ca Arts – British musicians fight for copyright extension]

We will have to wait and see how the Government responds to the report, and whether Bono and others will have those additional years.

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