EU extends music copyright to keep Cliff Richard rich

The BBC reports that the EU has decided to extend music copyright to 70 years. However, I feel the article needs some helpful translation work.

Musicians are set [to] receive royalties for their songs well into their old age under a new EU ruling.

“Record labels are set to make even more money from dead and very aged popular musicians, under a new EU ruling, which doesn’t actually help most musicians.”

Regulations approved on Monday extended copyright on sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.

“Cliff Richard’s earliest songs had started to enter the public domain, which would have reduced his royalty cheques by a little bit, and this would have been a disaster for the 250-million-records-sold musician.”

According to those backing the law, the copyright extension is all about creating an ‘incentive for authors’, and I’m sure Cliff and others in their 70s will now feel a huge incentive to make more music and be more creative. We’ll for a moment ignore all the people who could have done something truly creative with popular songs entering the public domain.

The move has been welcomed by the music industry. Presenter Jools Holland called the ruling “fantastic news”. “Artists put their hearts and souls into creating music and it is only fair that they are recompensed in line with the rest of Europe,” said Holland who also performs and records his own music.

“And who is also getting on a bit, which has nothing to do with his stance on this subject.”

I agree with copyright and patenting in principle. There should certainly be a period during which a creator and their backers reap the rewards of creativity. But there must be balance. In extending copyright beyond the point most creators will live, we’re not encouraging creativity; instead, we’re helping a few very old musicians not lose some royalties from their earliest recordings, but mostly filling the pockets of record labels petrified of losing their investment that’s already been paid for myriad times.

Still, I can’t imagine anyone expected a different outcome, and copyright for popular media will continue to be extended periodically. If you ever think the likes of Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain, I’ve a mouse-shaped bridge to sell you.

September 12, 2011. Read more in: Music, News, Opinions

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Cutting the cable con

While it’s clearly a publicity stunt, I’m glad to see Kogan smacking down other companies regarding cable prices:

When you buy a TV from John Lewis, Currys, or countless other high street stores, you will be offered hideously expensive accessories such as HDMI cables. These cables are sold with absolutely ridiculous markups, many multiples of the actual cost of the items.

These stores are trying to trick people into thinking they need an HDMI lead costing over £100 after buying a Full HD TV. This is simply not the case. You shouldn’t be spending more than £4 on an HDMI cable!

An HDMI cable is an HDMI cable. It’s a digital cable. You either get a picture or you don’t. Don’t get conned into buying a “fancy” HDMI cable because it will make no difference!

Amusingly, the company is now offering free cables and shipping to people who buy a TV from John Lewis or Currys; naturally, those companies are pissed off and so Kogan’s also challenging them to a blind test.

Thing is, this is a con that’s been going on for years, and it’s just become more apparent in the digital space (where cables either work or don’t); but even with analogue kit, too many people have been fooled into buying expensive cables. That’s of course mostly down to chains like Currys. Last time I attempted to buy a lead in one, I was ushered towards cables costing about 50 quid for a metre’s worth. I asked for whatever they had that was cheapest and ended up with some dickhead sales guy arguing with me that I’d “ruin my home system” if I plumped for anything other than unicorn-coated expensive-o-cables. I mentioned I’ve worked with sound engineers in the past and used to make my own cables, at which point the sales guy went a bit white and sulked off in a huff.

My advice today is pretty much as per the last sound guy I worked with: look for the cheapest cables you can get and then buy the next one up from that. As long as the connections are reasonably solid, you’ll be fine; and that goes for speaker wire, too—if you’re paying 20 quid per metre, you’re merely fooling yourself, since wiring a system with coat hangers (Consumerist) is often as good as using the most expensive wires.

July 13, 2011. Read more in: Music, Opinions, Technology

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UK record labels screw up Apple’s iTunes Match for iPhone and iPad in the UK

I feared as much. According to The Telegraph (interviewing label executives and music analysts), iOS 5’s iTunes in the Cloud features won’t launch in the UK until 2012 at the earliest. The reason, as far as I can tell, is that people in charge of record labels are fucking idiots.

A music executive at one of the major record labels, who wished to remain unnamed, said: “Tentative talks have begun between the major labels and Apple in the UK. However, all talks are at the really early stages and no one expects to see the cloud music service live on this side of the pond until 2012.”

Because the one thing a new feature needs is for people to instantly hate it by being denied access; and the one thing record labels need is for people to think “screw you, then” and carry on downloading music for free, instead of paying for it. Well played, labels! After all, it’s not like you’re not making money hand-over-fist from iTunes already and therefore don’t want people to react against it by stopping them from getting iTunes in the Cloud, you utter, utter pillocks.

Mark Mulligan, vice president and research director at Forrester Research, said: “Apple’s cloud music service will not launch in the UK until at least quarter one of 2012. These types of negotiations take a long time… For one thing the UK arms of all the major record labels are biding their time and waiting to see how the service affects download sales in the US before they sign up to anything.”

Now, this isn’t the record labels talking, but if Mulligan is right on this, then I really despair. Here are some potential scenarios for someone who might like to use iTunes Match (which, presumably, would cost a typical user about £20 per year in the UK) and how it would impact on record labels.

  1. Old git Craig. Craig buys all his music on CD, because he’s some kind of masochist who likes to wait for audio thrills. He rips CDs to his Mac. With iTunes Match, the labels already have money for the CD and would double-dip for the service. Winner: THE FUCKING RECORD LABELS.
  2. Downloader Dave. Dave likes iTunes. Ever since it first appeared, he’s used the service, and he even ritually set fire to all of his CDs after downloading his first iTunes music track. Yeah, Dave is a bit of an idiot. Anyway, he downloads stuff from Amazon and Bleep, too, so has loads of digital music files. With iTunes Match, the labels already have money for the digital downloads and would double-dip for the service. Winner: THE FUCKING RECORD LABELS.
  3. Criminal Bob. Bob is naughty. When a new album comes out he wants, he’s straight to his favourite BitTorrent tracker to download it for free, yelling slogans about freedom of information and evil record labels (but, curiously, not starving indie musicians, because, frankly, Bob is an uncaring thieving git). Bob also likes convenience, so he’s prepared to pay for iTunes Match to make his pilfered music more readily available. With iTunes Match, the labels have made NO MONEY for these downloads. OH NO! But, wait! They HAVE made money with iTunes Match, and out of dodgy downloads, no less! Winner: THE FUCKING RECORD LABELS.

So, as we can see from my highly scientific insight, here’s how much iTunes Match will affect downloads: not at all. Only that is actually wrong. SHOCK TWIST! And that’s because if people like Craig (which may or may not be a character based on the ‘Craig’ who happens to write this blog) have access to iTunes Match and find out how convenient it is to have a personal music collection streamable on demand, that might actually encourage more download sales. In other words, iTunes Match will make the record labels more money through people using the service and more money through people buying more downloads. It’s therefore only logical that the labels will do everything they can to stop the service escaping from the US, because, as we’ve seen, record labels are run by total fucking idiots.

UPDATE: Possible counter from Gary Marshall (paraphrased): this isn’t necessarily the labels’ fault, because Apple’s only recently started talking to them. It’s possible, but the PRS says the talks are at an early stage, not that the talks have only just started. Also, labels are known for blocking progress—there is precedent for stupidity. Most importantly, though, an unnamed music executive is the person who said 2012 for the service to arrive in the UK, which seems a long way off. The silver lining is iOS 5 isn’t out until the autumn, and so perhaps the delay will only be a few months, or maybe labels will stop being idiots and sort things more quickly. But 2012 could conceivably mean ‘December 2012’ as easily as ‘January 2012’. Regardless, it’s utterly in the interests of record labels and Apple to get iTunes in the Cloud into international markets as soon as possible, rather than for the record labels to hold music hostage, gambling on, presumably, Apple offering a bigger cut.

June 10, 2011. Read more in: Apple, Music, News, Opinions, Technology

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Let’s all chip in and help poor Adele pay her tax bill

Poor Adele. I’m CRYING MY EYES OUT right now, having read The Guardian’s piece on the poor singer. Adele, the multi-million selling artist, has had to… sorry, I’m finding it hard to bring myself to type this… she’s had to pay tax. Yes, I know. Actual tax.

I’m mortified to have to pay 50%! [While] I use the NHS, I can’t use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are shit, and I’ve gotta give you, like, four million quid – are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [the album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire.

I’ve been thinking about what we can all do to help. It must be really hard as a 23-year-old, plucked from obscurity and having number-one albums all over the world, to have to pay tax. Maybe we can all have a whip-round and help her.

Let’s of course ignore the fact no-one in the UK pays 50%, because the 50% band only affects income over ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FUCKING THOUSAND POUNDS. (You pay less on earnings under that amount.) Also, let’s ignore her tax bill being less than her net income for working on one album, meaning she’s made more from that than many indie bands will make during their ENTIRE FUCKING CAREERS.

Good grief, Adele, way to endear yourself to your audience. I bet most people and certainly most musicians would be jumping for joy if they could get a four-million quid tax bill for a year or so’s work, because it’d mean they’d received income to keep of more than four million pounds, you spoiled brat.

May 25, 2011. Read more in: Music, News, Opinions

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Google Music designed to piss off record labels and Apple

Greg Sandoval for CNet.com on Google Music:

While Google and Levine have negotiated to obtain licences from the four top labels for over a year, the service will appear first in beta without licensing from the labels.

That’s sure to go down well with record labels, just like Amazon’s cloud service is going down well with them. And by well, I mean ‘well’ in the sense of ‘not well at all, due to them spitting fury and going GRRARRGGHH’. Apple’s trying to get record labels on board for its cloud music service, so will record labels go with unlicensed models just to screw the big evil (Apple), or will they finally recognise that Apple’s domination in the digital music space is also making them money? I wouldn’t bet on the latter, sadly.

It’s also worth noting that these online services appear in part to be relying on fair-use laws. This is why they are rolling out in the US. In the UK, they’ve a much tougher battle, given that the UK essentially lacks even basic fair-use law. For example, it’s not legal in the UK to copy any media, even for personal use. The only exceptions are time-shifting of television content and backing up software, although more recent legislation demands that the second of those things not circumvent copyright protection. That the BPI has in the past been quoted as saying it won’t sue people for ripping CDs to use the music on iPods is irrelevant, because that’s very different from legal precedent.

The CNet.com article also quotes Google exec Zahavah Levine:

While the service is still in beta, users will be able to join by invitation only. Initially, to access the service, users will require a browser that supports Flash — that means no Apple devices — or on any Android device that’s version 2.2 or higher, Levine said. Currently the service will start off in the United States only and will be free.

Sounds great. I can’t wait to get stuttering music playback on a Flash-based browser. Still, luckily for Google, Amazon hasn’t updated its own cloud player so that it works with iOS, or Google’s decision to run with the ‘open’ technology of Flash for the future of music playback outside of Android would look a bit stupid.

*cough*Amazon Cloud Player works on iOS devices all of a sudden (9to5 Mac)*cough*

Oh.

May 10, 2011. Read more in: Apple, Music, News, Opinions, Technology

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