This Creation is Not for Your Enjoyment

05 October 2008

Several recent experiences have reminded me first-hand that our current IP system is broken, and it needs to be fixed.

Desiring to listen to some music, I attempted to go to my account.  I couldn't.  Why?  Copyright laws.  What I got instead was this posted notice:

Dear Pandora Visitor,

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.

Willing consumer, looking for music, can't listen because of "licensing constraints."  One of my favorite things about Pandora is that it uses music I know I like to suggest new music I might like.  Frequent result: I like it and look for the album to purchase.  But, I'm not in America right now, so no Pandora.

Second demonstration of the week:  Back in July I attended a weekend's worth of theater productions at the Texas Shakespeare Festival.  I was ecstatic to learn that we could order DVDs of the various shows.  A friend of mine is a fan of both 1776 and Matthew Ecclestone (the actor who portrayed Richard Henry Lee in this production), but she was unable to travel.  I ordered two copies of the DVD, one for her and one for me.  This week I received the following in an email (and yes, I got the author's permission to reprint it here):

I'm not certain if that DVD is gonna come through or not--you may just get your money back, as the script for 1776 is, in fact, copyrighted and they had some issues with that.  If you ordered one of 12th Night that's a-ok of course, Shakespeare not being all that into collecting royalties nowadays.

In both these cases, behind-the-scenes legal technicalities are preventing creative works from being enjoyed. Purchasing DVDs of the Texas Shakespeare Festival's rendition of 1776 would in no way harm the authors of the script.  This is not taking away money the authors otherwise would have had.  No one is going to buy this version instead of buying the feature film.  Nor, is seeing this DVD likely to prevent anyone from going to a Broadway performance or buying a soundtrack.

Domestic and international rights are often separate and different in conditions and length of terms. They are also often licensed to different companies.  A company's limitations in the territory it services can contribute to the division of rights in different geographical areas.  The result: Pandora has obtained proper licenses to play author's works in the United States, but has not been able to do so in some foreign countries.

Negotiations are expensive, and there are a lot of different reasons negotiations for licenses can fail.  When a company needs to go through the negotiating process multiple times, with multiple different companies, it greatly increases their costs.  If a company needs every agreement in order to perform their services effectively, each negotiation is a new chance for the whole project to fall apart.

I understand that the current copyright law protects authors' rights to publicly perform and to distribute their works.  However, when these laws prevent creative  works from being enjoyed by consumers who are willing to pay, then the system isn't working properly.  What good is the incentive to create if people can't enjoy the creation?


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