Thursday, 7 January 2016

NIPC Inventors Club: Joy

My good friend Jane Lambert has written an excellent review of the film, Joy, about the trials and tribulations of an inventor trying to get her idea to market, on her NIPC Inventors Club blog. Go and read it, then go to see the movie!

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2016?

What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2016?  asks the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a piece designed to highlight the harmful effects of the extension of U.S. copyright protection from 56 years to life-plus-70 which happened as recently as 1978, the year in which I passed my Law Society Part II exams (well, most of them in the August of that year, after one attempt which was a complete failure in the February). That was when the 1976 Act came into operation, finally bringing the U.S. into the Berne Convention family.

My eye was caught by the reference to one of my favourite records,  Kind of Blue, recorded in 1959, so copyright would have expired this year if the old rules had still applied. Extending the copyright term is always contentious, and it seems to be accepted that it has to be back-dated so that existing works get the benefit of the longer protection, notwithstanding that the generally-accepted justification for copyright (that it encourages copyright owners to create more) is hardly served by increasing protection for things that have already been created, indicating that there was already sufficient incentive at the time; and in some cases the author, being dead, is in no position to respond to a new incentive anyway.

The EFF article doesn't make it absolutely clear whether it refers to copyright in the music or the phonogram. It seems to be more about the music, but copyright in the recording is also important, certainly in our copyright law - and, intriguingly, there's a very close relationship between the two, because Kind of Blue is a sustained piece of improvisation, so the sound recording in a sense is the musical work.

Here, the Copyright Act 1956 would have given the recording protection for 50 years from release, so it would have expired at the end of 2009. The music, notwithstanding its improvisatory nature, would have been protected for the life of the composer plus fifty years, a much longer term already than that provided for in U.S. copyright law. According to the sleeve notes, all the pieces on the album were written by Miles Davis, except two attributed to Miles (died 1991) and Bill Evans (died 1980), so even before the idiotic extension of copyright protection in the mid-90s copyright in the music would have run until 2041 and will now run for 20 years longer. The EFF's point, that if you wanted to use a Davis piece in a film you'd have been free to do it in the U.S. had it not been for the 1976 Act, never had legs in the U.K. (But if you want to use it that way, what's wrong in principle with paying for it?)

As for copyright in the phonogram, that would have expired 50 years after the end of the year of release - 2009. That's just a little too early to have been caught up in the ludicrous Cliff's Law extension of copyright in sound recordings, and clearly too late to give Miles any incentive to get his trumpet out again.

None of this, however, has stopped it from being available on YouTube.


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