Mick Jagger & why copyright doesn't always help artists

I recently read this wonderful interview with Mick Jagger on the BBC website which had this fantastic extract about the impact of the internet on the music industry. What I love about this interview is that Mick Jagger is, of course, about as old a legend as you can find in the music industry.

…I’m talking about the internet.

But that’s just one facet of the technology of music. Music has been aligned with technology for a long time. The model of records and record selling is a very complex subject and quite boring, to be honest.

But your view is valid because you have a huge catalogue, which is worth a lot of money, and you’ve been in the business a long time, so you have perspective.

Well, it’s all changed in the last couple of years. We’ve gone through a period where everyone downloaded everything for nothing and we’ve gone into a grey period it’s much easier to pay for things – assuming you’ve got any money.

Are you quite relaxed about it?

I am quite relaxed about it. But, you know, it is a massive change and it does alter the fact that people don’t make as much money out of records.

But I have a take on that – people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!

Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.

So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.

So what does this have to do with copyright? Well, remember, the record labels and other content distributors (not creators!) keep saying how artists will starve unless there is copyright. But understand that for the entire 110-year period that Mick Jagger is referencing there was copyright… and yet artists were paid to record LPs and records for only a small fraction (less than a quarter) of that period. During the rest of the time, the way they made money was by performing. There is nothing about a stronger copyright regime that ensures artists (the creators!) will receive for more money or compensation.

So when the record labels say that without stricter copyright legislation artists will suffer, what they really mean to say is one specific business model – one that requires distributors and that they happen to do well by – will suffer. Artists, who traditionally never received much from the labels (and even during this 25 year period only a tiny few profited handsomely) have no guarantees that with stricter copyright they will see more revenue. No, rather, the distributors will simply own their content for longer and have greater control over its use.

This country is about to go into a dark, dark place with the new copyright legislation. I suspect we will end up stalled for 30 years and cultural innovation will shift to other parts of the world where creativity, remix culture and forms of artistic expression are kept more free.

Again, as Lessig says:

  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

Welcome to copyright reform. A Canada where the past controls the creativity that gets built upon it.

7 thoughts on “Mick Jagger & why copyright doesn't always help artists

  1. whitehouse

    I wonder if the US government is that arrogant that they will ignore Jagger's comments? Of course they will!

    Reply
  2. strunk&white

    So, because the period in which artists were fairly compensated was brief, we should be okay with seeing that trend reversed? You know, we've only really been conscious of the delicacy of the natural environment for about the same period of time. Should we reverse that trend as well?

    Reply
  3. TB

    I've been saying this for sometime. The image of the rockstar multi-millionaire is a new concept in music. Traditionally musicians (for the past thousand years) made their money by actually plying their trade (playing live music). What we're seeing is a correction back to this model where a musician's income is made primarily from touring. Piracy cannot affect this bottom line as there are no substitutes for a live show. The rockstar image is leaving about as fast as it came.

    Reply
  4. ashley macisaac

    yes- and people used to get water out of the tap- but now it is 1 dollar a bottle-it is easy for rich guys to say musicians dont need mroe money or copyright- but for 99.99 percentof working recording artists- records are still a source of income.Jagger is wrong

    Reply
  5. David Eaves

    Ashley, thank you for the comment. A couple of thoughts:1) Most people actually don't buy water by the bottle for a dollar – they do it when they don't have access to tap water, so they are paying for the convenience (much like many people aren't paying for music they could download for free, they are paying for music that is labelled correctly in their itunes)2) I suspect that 99.99 of artists don't use copyright, they make money performing, and then I suspect that 99.99% of recording artists don't see money from their record labels since their albums don't sell…

    Reply
  6. Scott

    Let's all keep in mind here that Jagger is speaking as a man who never has to worry about how he will pay his next mortgage payment. Is is in a tiny minority. Most musicians and artists need every penny they earn. I speak from experience representing numerous composers in the licensed music industry.Scotthttp://www.royaltyfreemusiclibrary.com

    Reply
  7. Scott

    Let's all keep in mind here that Jagger is speaking as a man who never has to worry about how he will pay his next mortgage payment. Is is in a tiny minority. Most musicians and artists need every penny they earn. I speak from experience representing numerous composers in the licensed music industry.Scotthttp://www.royaltyfreemusiclibrary.com

    Reply

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