Monday, December 11, 2006
"Sir" Cliff Richard must renounce his title
For all the arguable benefit the aging singer-songwriter may have brought the British public, a single act of sheer greed has demonstrated the contempt he really holds for the very people that made him what he is. As such, I petition that he should voluntarily and without delay renounce his knighthood and return to being just plain old "Mr Richard."
I'm referring of course to the recent less than successful campaign he has been spiritual leader of to retroactively extend UK copyrights on sound recordings from the current 50 years to a mind-blowing 95. Cliff, who will no longer have exclusive privilege to profit from some of his earliest recordings in just over a year's time, claims that his wish to extend copyrights comes from an altruistic desire to "bring parity" to a currently "unfair" system. Artists have families they need to support, so it is important they should receive nearly 90% more than what they originally agreed to when they first created the works.
Such appeals to the apathetic heartstrings of the public claim that many artists are relying on income from royalties as a kind of pension fund, and that if the terms they originally agreed to 50 years ago are not nearly doubled in their favour, they stand to "lose everything." This ignores the fact that if they're successful enough that they're still profiting from a sound recording 50 years on, they probably could have invested some of those 50 years of profits a little more wisely. They knew the terms when they made the recordings, so petitioning for a 45 year extension just as they're about to expire is really not going to win them much sympathy.
And of course, their absolute awareness of the copyright term demonstrates remarkably well the original intent of copyright. Copyright is about giving artists an incentive to create new works at the lowest cost to the public. It's a very fine balancing act – too short and artists will be unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary; too long and they will stagnate on their laurels, at great expense to the public good. If 50 years ago they were willing to create artistic works on these terms, then the price was probably set about right. I'm no scientist, but extending the terms retroactively is not going to cause them to retroactively create more works.
And all of this conveniently ignores the fact that their copyrights as songwriters will already outlive them by 70 years. The retirement funds of the more successful artists' grandchildren and in some cases, great grandchildren, are quite secure for the time being.
Sheer unprecedented greed aside, what Cliff and his tight fisted cohorts have also rather intentionally overlooked is the damage that such an extension would do to the public domain. Copyright is a contract between artist and public, in which a certain amount of exclusive rights are temporarily granted after which the work belongs to everyone. The tiniest fraction of sound recordings created 50 years ago are still being published, and robbing the public domain of those and the remaining vast majority for another 45 years will come at a major cost to the country's cultural heritage, much of which will be lost, forever. And because it's retroactive, works produced more than 50 years ago which currently belong to us all and can be freely shared and enjoyed, will disappear back into copyright, and probably never re-emerge. The legal position of so called orphan works where a work is technically copyrighted but the copyright holder is unknown or unreachable is already a serious grey area problem in the US, and if the various artists' associations have their way will become a lot less grey and a lot more restrictive. Is this what you want, Cliff? Is it? Is it?
Thankfully, those whose heartstrings are less easily manipulated have made a pragmatic study and concluded that the extension would be a really f&#*ing stupid thing to do. Common sense and the public good may yet triumph over the penny pinching desires of a very lucky minority.
So I put it to you, Cliff. If you wish to retain any honour, you will do the right thing. Stop this pointless and dangerous nonsense, admit you were greedy and wrong, renounce your title voluntarily and without delay, and if things get tight during retirement you could perhaps switch to a supermarket brand of caviar to make up for the minor dip in earnings that were entirely predictable at the very start of your career!
Sign the petition!