Debunking the RIAA’s version of history

In the course of researching a longer post/rant on the state of copyright law, I came across this little gem from their RIAA: Their brief “history” of copyright.

The utter bullshit found in it is astounding. Not surprising, given it’s the RIAA, but still astounding. The “history” lasts for about three paragraphs before it descends into flat out propaganda and lies:

Copyright law all started with the “The Statute of Anne,” the world’s first copyright law passed by the British Parliament in 1709. Yet the principle of protecting the rights of artists predates this. It may sound like dry history at first blush, but since there was precedent to establish and rights to protect, much time, effort, and money has been spent in legal battles over the centuries.

In the United States, the principle took hold during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when James Madison suggested that the Constitution include language “to secure to literary authors their copyrights for a limited time.” The provision passed unanimously. It is found in Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution. It states…

The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries . . .

So far so good.

Before free speech, before freedom of assembly, before freedom of religion, there was copyright protection in our Constitution.

The bold is theirs, not mine. I’m not sure if they’ve just never read the constitution (probably) or if they’re too stupid to understand it (also probable).

The copyright provision appears in Article I, Section 8, because it’s a power granted to Congress. As such, it appears in the section of the constitution where it lists the powers granted to Congress.

First amendment rights appear in (shockingly enough) the amendments to the Constitution, listing what rights the people have that the government may not infringe on. Copyright isn’t included here.

To imply that copyright appears before free speech because it’s somehow more important (as they’re doing here) is disingenuous at best and terribly RIAA-like at worst. At the very least, it demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension of even the most basic aspects of our Constitution and government.

The founding fathers knew copyright protection could improve society by preserving the economic incentive for people to come up with brilliant ideas and inventions. They also realized the fundamental fairness of granting control of the creative work to the author.

This, again, is disingenuous. I’m sure you’ve heard of Thomas Jefferson, right? He was opposed to federal copyright protections, because they’re monopoly rights and he believed (quite correctly, IMHO) that the ills of a federally protected monopoly outweighed the benefits of copyright protections.

But notice how they left out that tidbit. Or maybe they just think Thomas Jefferson isn’t a founding father?

President George Washington signed the first copyright law on May 31, 1790. Nine days later, author John Barry registered his work, The Philadelphia Spelling Book, in the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania, making it the first “writing” protected by copyright. Since then, the copyright laws have been revised numerous times. The revisions have been aimed at balancing the author’s right to reap the benefits of his or her work, and society’s ability to benefit from that same work.

I’m not sure what world they’re talking about, but it’s not the one we live in.

Each revision of copyright has made it more onerous and almost universally detracted from society’s ability to benefit from creative works, and more often than not did nothing to advance “author’s rights”, instead managing to take away from an author’s ability to benefit from their own work.

How does society benefit from copyright extension after extension? Initially, the maximum copyright term was set at 28 years. Lobbyists fought to change that from even before such people were called lobbyists: the length increased throughout the 19th century, became “lifelong” in the 20th century, extended beyond the life of the author in 1976 and was extended an additional 20 years in 1998 thanks to the Disney’s lobbying (for the sole purpose of preventing society from benefiting from “Steamboat Willie” another two decades.)

As for the author’s rights, how did expanding copyright so that corporations can own them help authors? The law was adapted so that most of the artists, the people the RIAA claims to represent don’t own the copyrights to the works they created, the labels do. How does society benefit from letting a “corporate person” own copyrights (since a corporation is an abstract legal entity that creates nothing)? How do artists that create stuff only to have a corporate claim the rights to it benefit?

But yeah, the revisions to copyright were about “balance”.

Today, in the recording industry, singers Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, and many others, are fighting for their rights. In the music business, stars are made not born, and it takes plenty of hard work to make it. Poe cut her debut album, “Hello,” in 1995. She knows the value of a copyright, “Copyright protects the creative process….It’s rough out there….There is nothing more inspiring to creativity than independence and that requires protection. If you’re an artist that can do something nobody else can, you need to know that your work will not be diluted or mass produced.” It’s as simple as that.

The principle that work one creates belongs to the creator and should be controlled by the creator is as timeless as it is global.

Then why the hell do you steal copyrights from your artists? Douchebags.

Likewise, for centuries, new inventions, from the printing press to the Internet, have threatened that principle.

No, entities like you have fought new inventions claiming that they threaten that principle (which you yourself violate).

The reality is that every new invention has opened up new markets for creative works.

For centuries, advocates have resolutely defended it. The RIAA is just such an advocate today.

You defend your business model and nothing else. A business model that depends heavily on the exploitation of actual artists and demonstrates day after day just how broken our copyright system is.

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