Sunday, March 12, 2006
They want you to steal the music
This is what a friend of mine told me today: he was sitting around chatting with his wife and a couple of our mutual friends and for some reason the conversation came around to The Comic Strip Presents episode "GLC". As you may (but probably will not) recall, this was a rather funny episode of that great series (first broadcast in 1990) in which a heroic Ken Livingstone takes on an evil Margaret Thatcher. It has fantastic title track by Kate Bush called "Ken". It is by far and away my favourite Kate Bush track as well as his, and he hadn't heard it in years. Having enthused to the assembled company about how good it was, he punched it into iTunes, fully intending to buy it to play to them there and then. There it was for 99 cents in the iTunes US music store. He tried to buy it, but couldn't, which is why he called me. But I couldn't help. It's not listed in the iTunes UK music store, and as I am domiciled in this sceptr'd isle the same as him (ie, have a UK-issued credit card) I couldn't buy it either (he thought that I might have US credit card, which is why he called me). This infuriated him: here's something he wants to buy, but is not allowed to buy it, presumably because of something to do with copyright and licensing deals. I have to say that I've been thwarted by iTunes too: it's not perfect. I wanted to buy some AC/DC and they're not on iTunes either (nor is Led Zeppelin). In fact, when I went to use it last time it was to buy an album that I'd just read about it the Saturday Telegraph review section but I discovered that it was the same price as the CD on Amazon, so I ordered the CD! Given the choice, and if not it in a rush, I tend to order the CD of stuff I want because when you load it into iTunes you can code it at a higher bit rate than the Apple Music Store and, of course, without the DRM. Anyway, back to the story. My friend googled "Ken" to see if there was anywhere else to buy it from, but after a few fruitless minutes he gave up. He even went to the official Kate Bush web site, but said there was no obvious way of buying any of her music from her. So he did what any normal person would do and found it on a filesharing network and downloaded it. What an absurd industry: it is actually easier to "steal" something even if you want to, fully intend to and even try to pay for it. How on earth did this benefithim or Kate Bush? What do EMI think? That he was going to go online and pay fifteen quid for for fifteen year old CD in order to get one track a week after he wanted to play it for a friend? I say that copyright should run for a fixed time -- say seven years -- and then that's it. Whatever Kate can make out of her song in that time then good for her. But after that, tough: back to work. If someone other than EMI or Apple can set up a web shop where people can buy and instantly download a good quality properly mastered and coded version of her songs, then good luck to them (and good luck to the world economy, which would thereby increase). Ah well, you might say, copyright is the only thing that stops artists from starving, so you have to respect it and quit bitching about it. Really? When I was first told that the song "Happy Birthday" is copyrighted, and that those well-known starving artists AOL TimeWarner earn $2 million per annum from it, I assumed it was an urban legend. But astonishingly, it's true. Copyright is supposed to be a balance between the interests of society and the interests of artists. Its purpose -- in the utilitarian sense, which is the only sense I recognise -- is to increase the net welfare. It is no longer doing this, and has as such run its course. For the sake of everyone, it needs to be destroyed in its current incarnation and redeveloped for the modern age. Serendipity: while hunting around the Internet, I did find the ukelele version of Wuthering Heights, which was thoroughly enjoyable. P.S. Just in case Kate Bush or anyone from the British Phonographic Institute (whose name tells you everything you need to know about their enthusiastic embrace of new technology -- they were formed not in 1873 but in 1973) is reading this, my friend has put his 79p in escrow (on top of my fridge) and they are welcome to collect it whenever may be convenient.