Copyright is a Blunt Instrument

Long­time fol­low­ers of my audio pod­cast will recall that I have ambiva­lent feel­ings about copy­right. Yes, I want my work to be pro­tected, but copy­right lim­its open exchange of cool ideas.

And now we have to ask: What his­tory is being lost due to copyright?

To wit: Check out the great arti­cle in the 3/11/07 New York Times about the daunt­ing task the Library of Con­gress faces in dig­i­tiz­ing their col­lec­tion. If the Library man­aged to dig­i­tize 500,000 text records a year, they would still need 1,800 years to com­plete the task, to say noth­ing of the expense.

And to say noth­ing of who holds the copyright.

Tim Brooks, author of “Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Record­ing Indus­try, 1890–1919″ (Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois, 2004) is quoted:

Copy­right is a very blunt instru­ment. Once you have copy­right, you have total con­trol; there’s very lit­tle room in the copy­right law even for preser­va­tion, much less reis­su­ing material.

Exam­ples of works being lost due to copy­right include orig­i­nal record­ings of John Philip Sousa’s band and Noble Sissle, an African-American tenor whose record­ings are owned by Sony BMG.

If there’s no obvi­ous money gain in releas­ing these old record­ings, they just sit in the vault.

How much new music of today is being kept behind the closed doors of copyright?

About Richard D. Russell

This was written by Richard D. Russell, New York City based composer of fine music.