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The Next Copyright Act – A Shortened Term?

Should the current term of copyrights be shortened? That is a rather significant topic that has been brought up in discussions over the last 10 months after Maria Pallante (U.S. Register of Copyrights) presented her “The Next Great Copyright Act” in March of 2013. In a section of her presentation titled “Thinking A Little More Boldly”, Ms. Pallante introduces the idea by saying, “Perhaps the next great copyright act could take a new approach to term…for the purpose of injecting some balance into the equation. More specifically, perhaps the law could shift the burden of the last twenty years from the user to the copyright owner, so that at least in some instances, copyright owners would have to assert their continued interest in exploiting the work by registering with the Copyright Office in a timely manner. And if they did not, the works would enter the public domain.”

Ouch. I think I have some problems with that on the surface. But first, let’s break it down and make sure we’re all on the same page. Is this really a call to shorten the copyright term, or is it more an attempt to motivate owners to keep records up to date for the benefit of the public?

Historically, copyright terms have only increased in prior copyright law revisions. The Copyright Act of 1909 defined the term of protection for 28 years, and added an additional 28 years if the song was “renewed” properly. The Copyright Act of 1976 then extended pre-1978 copyrights by adding 19 years to the renewal period, for a total of 75 years of protection. It also defined post-1978 copyrights as life of the author plus 50 years. The 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act increased the term another 20 years to a total of 95 years for pre-1978 works, and life plus 70 years for post-1978 works.

Even after the 1976 Copyright Act, works were inadvertently thrown into the public domain through inaction, or even wrong action, due to requirements that were difficult for many owners to fully understand. Years ago, I was personally involved with a pre-1978 copyright that was found to be in the public domain simply because a copyright notice had not been correctly affixed to a print publication by the owner during its first 28 year term. And in multiple cases, I’ve worked with pre-1978 copyrights that entered the public domain because the renewal application had either not been filed in a timely manner during the 28th year, or the form was simply not filled out correctly. The law was then updated to prevent some of these “premature” losses to the world of public domain, including a change effective 1992 where renewals were considered automatic and valid even if an actual renewal application was not registered in the Copyright Office. There are some benefits defined in order to entice owners to actually file paper renewal registrations (Circular 15, Renewal of Copyright), but the benefits were not that significant, and didn’t seem to make much of a difference in motivating owners to file.

So what influenced congress to change this law requiring owners to file an actual renewal application? One was a testimony by Jacqueline Byrd, the widow of songwriter Robert Byrd, author of “Little Bitty Pretty One”, a 1957 hit song, who told the legislatures she intercepted a letter from the Copyright Office to her husband, who was dying of cancer at the time, that the office had not received a renewal application for his hit song in the 28th year, and that royalties will stop being paid because the song is now in the public domain. Mrs. Byrd never told her husband, who died shortly afterward. Had the song been renewed properly, she and her four children would have been able to receive royalties on the song through 2037. Lawmakers made the right decision, and got rid of the necessity of timely registration that many times had to be understood and completed by family members who had no idea of this critical copyright requirement.

Think about the fact that the actual owners of a copyright nearing its last 20 years are not the authors, but likely the spouse, children, or even grandchildren. These people simply don’t know what needs to be done. And why, or how, would they? We’re potentially putting an undue burden of understanding technical and complicated registrations on a person who just received ownership in a copyright either by will, or even in the absence of one, simply by the death of a spouse, parent or family member. How would we expect them to understand something that most publishing industry people struggle to grasp effectively?

In a statement published January 17, 2014 by Pamela Samuelson, Faculty Director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, she referred to consensus during a 2013 conference entitled “Reform(aliz)ing Copyright for the Internet Age”, where the speakers concluded that “the formalities regimes of the past – the “traps for the unwary” – should not be reintroduced, but that a formalities regime of the future should take full advantage of the technological advancements that can functionally achieve the same (or better) results of past regimes without imposing a significant burden on creators or owners.” I like that phrase – “the traps for the unwary”. We were able to get rid of some of those “traps for the unwary” over the last few decades. Let’s not go backward.

But maybe this notion introduced by Ms. Pallante is not so much to shorten the term, but rather an attempt to motivate owners to keep records up to date for the benefit of the public. After all, she says, referring to this section, “We believe further consideration of this proposal…would serve to improve the functioning of our copyright system.” I sat down with a group of attorneys and key staff in the Copyright Office a few months ago and brought this very issue up. The response I received, although a little vague, seemed to confirm the thought that this is more about motivating heirs to keep records up to date, as well as streamlining Copyright Office operations, rather than promoting shorter terms.

Now, I believe in motivation. A carrot on a stick is not a bad strategy. But this seems more like a grenade on your butt. Rather than motivating copyright owners to move forward and receive a reward, they would be pushed from behind (blindly in many cases), and the result could be end of life (so to speak) without even realizing there’s a bomb back there. I think we can figure out a better way rather than introducing “traps for the unwary” with the consequences of “end of life”.

Now hang with me as I introduce one more thought into this discourse.

What truly motivates people? One of the obvious answers is money. If I move to a new home, I realize I need to update my information to people or companies who have my address on file. But the first ones I’m going to be motivated to update would be those who send me money. I don’t want to jeopardize that pipeline. I’ll then try and remember everyone else who has my information, but I’ll probably construct that list based on mail I’ve received in the last year or so; bills, memberships, notices, etc. The entities I’ll probably miss are the ones I haven’t heard from or dealt with in years. I’ve forgotten that they have my information, because we haven’t interacted with each other in ages.

Most song owners receive income for active songs on a somewhat regular basis. Those are the first “sources” they would be motivated to notify of a change in address, ownership, or payment methods. How often do these people correspond in any way with the Copyright Office?

The Copyright Office is an entity that attempts to keep valuable information up to date. However, it is not a “dynamic” entity in that it does not communicate with the copyright owners on a regular basis. While it may attempt to maintain dynamic and up to date records, much of what exists is “static” information. If this information is filed one time, and remains the same for 95 years, there is no need for further communications. The dynamic entities are those who ultimately make royalty payments to the owners. So would we be better served if this information was retained and maintained by a kind of “dynamic” entity? When the U.S. Copyright Office was first established in the late 1800’s, it was a central place where claims were recorded and physical copies of information were collected and maintained. Now that much of that information is digital and maintained “in the cloud”, do we still need to follow the old, physical, and static, model to maintain up-to-date ownership information?

A recommendation included in the statement published by Pamela Samuelson and The Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (mentioned above) suggests, “The Copyright Office should transition away from being the sole registry for copyrighted works and toward certifying the operation of registries operated by third parties, both public and private.” It further suggests the Copyright Office set the standards and specifications for such private registries, with the hope that this would create an environment of competition which could “lead to lower costs and innovations in registry design.” While I may not agree with everything Ms. Samuelson’s group suggests, this one is interesting.

The bottom line for me is the new copyright law should NOT introduce new “traps for the unwary” with the consequences of “end of life”, but rather open up the possibility of new “dynamic” registries, under the standards and specifications of the Copyright Office, and introduce new ways to motivate owners to keep registrations and information current. That’s more of a direction than a solution at this point, but that’s where the wisdom of the crowds comes into play.

What do you think?

John Barker

ClearBox Rights, LLC

© 2014 John Barker.  All rights reserved.  Information contained in this Blog is of a general nature and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice.  Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters related to information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced attorney. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained in it is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. John Barker is President and CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC.

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The Copyright Laws…They Are A-Changin’

It is happening right now, at this moment. There is no denying it. The U.S. Copyright Law is going to be changed, and the process of review and comments has begun. Are you aware? Are you up to date? Would it impact you? Do you care?

If we are in any way affected by copyright law, I believe we have a responsibility, at this moment, to engage in the process. U.S. lawmakers, the U.S. Copyright Office, and industry leaders, are interested in what we, the stake holders, think. They are asking, they are inviting, and they are concerned. Are we ready to respond, or are we content with letting the changes occur without getting involved? If we don’t have the will to change it, we don’t have the right to criticize it.

This past week, The Copyright Office, on request of the House Judiciary Committee, was scheduled to take part in a roundtable discussion with music leaders in New York. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has held six hearings on the Copyright Law since this past March. According to Maria Pallante, the Register of Copyrights, this is the most activity in copyright hearings “in a very, very long time.” Maria Pallante has presented her own call to copyright change in a lecture delivered on March 4, 2013 at Columbia University, called “The Next Great Copyright Act”, which she also presented to the House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property a few weeks later. Have you read it? Do you know what some of those changes she is exploring are? (You can read her full lecture at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/next_great_copyright_act.pdf ).

The purpose of this blog for the coming months will be to dive into many, and hopefully most, of the intricate issues the music industry will be dealing with in copyright reform. Oh wait…I’m not going to use the word “reform”. Ms. Pallante has said numerous times that neither she, and to her knowledge, no one in Congress, is calling this “reform”. It’s an update. We’ll see. I believe big changes are necessary, and perhaps some things need to be completely eliminated, while other sections need to be started from scratch. The first Register of Copyrights, Thorvald Solberg, said in 1926, “there comes a time when the “subject ought to be dealt with as a whole, and not by further merely partial or temporizing amendments.” I think we’re now at one of those times.

I was able to spend most of a day last month (December) with Maria Pallante during a visit to Nashville, and I will tell you I found her to be a very smart, capable, dedicated, and forward thinking leader. I believe she is going to prove herself to be an effective “change agent” related to copyright law. She says she believes the updated law needs to be “forward thinking but flexible. It should not attempt to answer the entire universe of possible questions, but, no matter what, it must serve the public interest. Thus, it must confirm and rationalize certain fundamental aspects of the law, including the ability of authors and their licensees to control and exploit their creative works, whether content is distributed on the street or streamed from the cloud.”

The goal of this weekly blog is to provide succinct information, definition and updates on copyright law issues, to discuss specific pain points in the law, and kick around ideas of change. It is to motivate forward thinking stake holders to get engaged, to gather intelligent, new and creative ideas from those people, and to provide a focused forum, or “crowd source” medium, to discuss improvement of the law. It is also to establish the Nashville community as a very real and respected voice in the process.

We’ll cover ideas such as performance royalties for sound recordings in terrestrial radio; whether or not we need a compulsory license; whether the life of post 1978 copyrights should be decreased without additional registrations (an idea already floated by Ms. Pallante); and new license models for the digital space. I have a list of over 40 timely and relevant topics that are ready to be teed up to discuss.

While genuine copyright change is clearly a daunting endeavor, the bell to begin has been rung, and it’s time for critical thinkers to step into the game. Spread the word. We need you. And we need you now. Let’s don’t just leave this to a few individuals in Washington.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”Chinese proverb

John Barker

ClearBox Rights, LLC

(In order to better keep up to date and engage in this process, you may sign up to automatically receive this blog when it is published weekly, by clicking here https://clearboxrights.wordpress.com/ and entering your email address in the top right and press “Follow”).

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Great Day in Nashville with Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights

Maria Pallante, the current Register of Copyrights, along with Steve Ruwe, an attorney in the Copyright Office General Counsel’s Office,  came to Nashville yesterday (Dec. 17th) to meet with a number of Nashville’s leaders in publishing and copyright. Maria presented parts of her vision for “The Next Great Copyright Act”, as well as addressing other areas of the Copyright Office.

She said a lot of great things, and was careful to NOT use the word “reform” when talking about what is being discussed in committees related to the Copyright Act.

She also mentioned, but did not dwell on, the idea of shortening the life of post 1978 copyrights to life plus 50 (rather than 70), unless the heirs update their registration with the Copyright Office. Not sure how I feel about that one.

Her complete speech from the Manges Lecture “The Next Great Copyright Act” can be viewed at the link below:
http://www.copyright.gov/docs/next_great_copyright_act.pdf

Now the push is to get DC to focus on Nashville to participate in a future round-table discussion related to changes in the law.

The sponsoring organization, The Copyright Society of the South, has posted links on their website for those of you who are interested in connecting for various newsletters, to read some of the mentioned lectures, or to connect with various legislative groups involved in the Copyright Law review process.

The Copyright Society of the South’s website is www.copyrightsocietyofthesouth.com.

Also, some discussion has begun on the Copyright Society’s LinkedIn page. Whether you were a part of yesterday’s presentation, or missed it and would like to see what others are saying, you may click below to join the discussion. Make sure you join the LinkedIn group.

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Copyright-Society-South-4830259?gid=4830259&mostPopular=&trk=tyah&trkInfo=tas%3Acopyright%20society%20of%20the%20south%2Cidx%3A1-1-1

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Maria Pallante, U.S. Register of Copyrights, in Nashville Tomorrow (Tue. 12/17)

Maria Pallante, the current U.S. Register of Copyrights, will be presenting “The Next Great Copyright Act” in Nashville tomorrow, (Tuesday, Dec. 17th) at the First Amendment Center (1207 18th Avenue South) at 2:00PM. If you would like to go, there are still a limited number of seats available. Email me at jbarker@clearboxrights.com and I will get your name on the list. The cost is $20.00. (Checks made payable to Copyright Society of the South).

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A New Music Theory

I’d like to propose a new music theory. But first, to set things up, see if any of the equations below look familiar from past school days.

E = mc²

Einstein’s famous equation says that energy (E), is equal to mass (m) multiplied with the square of the speed of light (c). Einstein came up with this in 1905. He wasn’t the first to propose a mass-energy relationship (Sir Isaac Newton did in 1717), but Einstein was the first to publish it in this equation.

π = c/d

This is the definition of Pi, calculated to be the ratio of the circumference of a circle (c) divided by its diameter (d), which is always 3.14159….. This is a mathematical constant, and was first “published” in a similar geometrical statement on a clay tablet in Babylon dating back to 1900-1600 B.C. The Greek letter “π” was added around the mid-18th century.

a² + b² = c²

This is called the Pythagorean Theorem, and states that, in a triangle with a right angle, the square of the length of the side opposite the right angle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. This formula is about 2,350 years old, and is used all over mathematics.

Each of these famous formulas existed and were practiced before they were formalized in the written form in which they now exist. They were complex theories, argued over a period of time, but ultimately accepted as simple calculations which show a mathematical constant.

Okay, here’s a formula that has been practiced for decades, but I can’t find where it has yet been published, nor has it reached its total acceptance in the music industry. At least…not yet.

© =

This simply says the song copyright © (Songwriters/Publishers), is of equal value to the sound recording (Artists/Record Companies). In other words, the “idea” has equal value to the “expression” of that idea.

Song copyright rates were initially set under the 1909 Copyright Act, when congress defined the “compulsory license” at the rate of 2 cents. Prices for products to play music, which at that time were piano rolls, record cylinders and record discs, were left up to “fair market”. The United States tax law defines fair market as “…the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” (United States v. Cartwright). There were no restrictions on the pricing of these recorded products.

Fast forward over 100 years, and the song copyright rates are still restricted (although they have been increased to 9.1 cents), yet recorded products continue to enjoy fair market, or “willing buyer/willing seller”, price freedom. However, in certain areas that fall outside of the compulsory license restrictions, song copyrights have been negotiated for decades at the same value as the sound recording, such as synchronized uses in film, television, and commercials. For decades, where there was no physical product involved, the industry seemed okay with the idea of  © = .

Then came digital. iTunes, and other digital downloads, continued along the physical product balance of 8 to 1 (99 cents, with record companies receiving approximately 70 cents, and paying 9.1 cents for the song copyright). However, when Apple and record companies raised prices on many single downloads to $1.29 (their right in the fair market), the song copyright remained restricted at 9.1 cents, and the resulting ratio is more like 10 to 1. Other widely publicized digital providers have any greater out of balance ratios, such as Pandora, at 14 to 1. Even though the song copyright is not restricted in the same way for streaming (Pandora) as it is in downloads, there are still restrictions with the license entities (PROs), not to mention the licenses for song copyrights and recordings were negotiated separately, and without any consideration as to a proper “ratio” between the two. The historic anomaly of imbalance between the two continues, even though there is no physical product involved.

To be fair, a more accurate way to state the formula should probably take into account that no physical product exists. Looking back at references, the symbol ∄ means “there does not exist”, and the symbol (m) means mass, or physical matter. Adding those to the end of the new formula, it now reads:

© = (∄m) – Song Copyright equals Sound Recording if there does not exist physical Matter (or product).

I like it. This is a new paradigm, or new way of thinking, for the future of music licensing. Now, I realize there are arguments that can be made against this, such as terrestrial radio currently paying 100% to song owners, and 0% to artists and record companies. And there is the statement made by various record people that they would be willing to negotiate a different balance if songwriters and publishers would be willing to take a more equal risk in getting the recordings to the marketplace. Good points. I plan to address those arguments in the coming blogs.

Bottom line, it is clear that no one knows all the right answers at this moment in time. But, until we change our paradigm related to the value of each part, we may never see a correction occur.

Let’s prove this formula correct.

© = (∄m)

John Barker
ClearBox Rights

“Almost every significant breakthrough in the field of scientific endeavor is first a break with tradition; with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms.” – Thomas Kuhn

 

© 2013 John Barker.  All rights reserved.  Information contained in this Blog is of a general nature and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice.  Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters related to information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced attorney. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained in it is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. John Barker is President and CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC.

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That’s Not Fair

While at SXSW in Austin, Texas last week, I heard something from a panel discussing music licensing that was quite disturbing. A panelist told a roomful of independent artists something like “before you use part of another song or recording as fair use, you should consult an attorney.” The disturbing part was not the recommendation that an attorney be consulted. What was alarming is that he was implying the artists can start with the idea that their use falls under “fair use”, then simply verify that it does. Shouldn’t that panelist have instead implied that you should begin with the idea that you will need permission to use a part of a protected copyright and consult an attorney if you believe that use could fall under the fair use doctrine? It seems we’ve thrown around the fair use idea so much, with misdirected understanding of what it is intended for, that it has become a starting place for using songs over the idea of getting permission from the rights owners.

That same week, our office heard from a lady who is self-publishing a fiction book, saying that a book publishing company had told her that she could use up to 4 lines of a song in her book under “fair use”. Churches and other non-profit organizations frequently ask about making copies of music with the belief that their specific use of music is allowed under fair use. And I get asked all the time how much of a song can be used, that is, how many notes or measures or words, without needing to get permission or a license. These questions are all based on erroneous interpretations of the proper intent of the “fair use” doctrine.

Let’s set things straight. “Fair Use” was not mentioned in the 1909 Copyright Act. Until 1978, fair use was defined and applied by the judicial system as specific exceptions to the exclusive rights granted to the owners of copyrights. Congress realized the need to define this in the law, so it was included in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. However, the language of the current Fair Use statute is said to be illustrative rather than absolute, with the intent to restate, but not replace, the prior rulings determined by judges. Today’s courts regularly consider other factors as well.

The exact language in the Copyright Act (section 107) states fair use is “…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research…”. That’s it. So it’s a little difficult to justify those misdirected notions I described earlier as being allowed under this stated purpose.

The Act then lists four factors to be considered, under the umbrella of the above stated purpose, when determining whether a use is “fair”:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair Use is not intended as a substitute for the purchase of music, or to allow the copying of performances, workbooks, tests, or other copyrighted material in normal settings. It is not intended to allow a small but recognizable portion of music to be borrowed and included in a new work. Generally speaking, it is not intended as a method to circumvent the copyright law in order to use a copyrighted work for a standard use.

Fair Use is intended to be used as a “right” under certain, limited situations, and not as a “defense” against practical infringement claims.

Through recent decades, there have been many court cases involving a wide variety of confusing and unclear exceptions of Fair Use. Interestingly, most of these cases were infringement cases, and Fair Use was introduced into the case as an affirmative defense, many times with successful judgments allowing the use as “fair”. Personally, I believe the courts got some of those decisions wrong. But I realize anyone can argue pretty much anything in the court of law, and when it comes to complex matters like determining Fair Use, you just never know which side the final decision will support.

Without arguing over the fine points of precedent setting cases and decisions, my hope is that we can agree to look at Fair Use as a limited right in certain situations, and not promote fair use as a method to cheat the system or defend a stupid act. Let’s promote the idea of respecting and using copyrights by starting with seeking permission from the rightful owners. If the use of an existing work really is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research (which should obviously be known at the outset of such a use, and not brought up only when a defense is needed), then fair use is a fair option.

Otherwise….it’s just not fair.

John Barker
ClearBox Rights, LLC

“We want the facts to fit the preconceptions. When they don’t, it is easier to ignore the facts than to change the preconceptions.” – Mary Jessamyn West, U.S. Novelist

© 2013 John Barker.  All rights reserved.  Information contained in this Blog is of a general nature and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice.  Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters related to information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced attorney. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained in it is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. John Barker is President and CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC.

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Celebrating Great Songwriters

I read a statement about songwriters a few weeks ago and found myself automatically agreeing with it. Then I thought about it a little more, and realized it was wrong. The statement was something like, “Artists need songwriters like songwriters need artists.” Yeah, that sounds right. Day and night, hot and cold, yin and yang, right? You can’t have one without the other. But….wait…have we been swayed into undervaluing the significant creation a songwriter creates? I love recording artists. But I’ve come to realize, a great artist must have a song, but a great song does not necessarily need an artist.

If great songs are legitimately dependent on artists, how do we explain some of the famous songs popularized before the 1900’s, and before such things as recordings? Songs like “Red River Valley” and “The Streets of Laredo” were created in the later 1800’s and passed around the western frontier. “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” was first published in a book in 1894, but not recorded until 1927 by the Sandhill Sixteens. Who? “Dixie” was written by a northerner in the 1850’s for blackface minstrel shows in New York, but was popularized in the south during the Civil War. It was not recorded by an “artist” for another 50 plus years. And does anyone know who the artist was behind “America the Beautiful”?

In another corner of history, some of the most popular gospel songs of today became known without artists, through what were called “annual convention songbooks”, which were very prominent in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Songwriters would write songs to be included in that year’s convention book and groups of people around the country would meet to sing through all of the songs in these books. The publishers peddled the books, and the most popular songs would spread throughout the country. Some of today’s gospel standards like “I’ll Fly Away”, “Heavenly Parade”, “Give The World A Smile”, and “Turn Your Radio On”, became classics through these convention books…. without recording artists.

So many of us in the music industry tend to let our attention be easily diverted to the fresh sound of the day, the new artist, the cool recording technique, the marketing focus, the hype, the sales, and how many views. But, under almost every one of these musical moments that we get excited about, there is a great song. Dig a little deeper, and you may also find…a great songwriter.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame recently announced its 2013 inductees, who are Tony Hatch, Mick Jones & Lou Gramm, Holly Knight, J.D. Souther, and Steven Tyler & Joe Perry. These writers, according to a Billboard article, will join previous recipients like Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Sam Cooke and John Lennon. Hall of Fame chairman Jimmy Webb said in a release, “Each of our 2013 inductees has been responsible for captivating the world with their creativity for decades, serving up a rich variety of songs for our global soundtrack.” As we look back at the history of the great songwriters and their songs, we could really say they contributed to our “historical soundtrack”; that of the American culture, or more so, the soundtrack of global society. These songwriters are the authentic artists of our time.

While there are millions of songs, there is a much lesser number of great songs, and even less of a number of great songwriters. These are the true creators. While I have a lot of respect for artists, unless they are also songwriters, an artist’s primary role is the interpretation of something that already exists. Songwriters create that “something” out of nothing. Songs can exist without artists, but artists cannot exist without songs.

We can’t always follow a great song back to find a great songwriter, but we can always follow a great songwriter, and find great songs. I believe these noble creators fit into the definition that Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, “Outliers”, where he suggests that the key to high level success in any specific field may take 10,000 hours of practice, work and study. While I’m sure there are exceptions to this idea, when we identify truly great songwriters, most of them have invested that amount of time in work, sweat, study, rejections, and developing their craft. Those are the ones who should be saluted, and studied, and respected.

While artists can be said to be “born with” a singing talent, I would argue that songwriters are not born to be creators. Ever thought about how easily we can be impressed with a 13 year old who has a wonderful singing voice, but hardly ever truly impressed with a song written by a 13 year old? They haven’t lived, they haven’t experienced life, they haven’t put in their 10,000 hours. They haven’t yet matured into skilled creators.

Let’s remind ourselves, especially those of us in this business of music, that the old cliché is true. It really does begin with a song…or further, it begins with a songwriter. And the great ones should be recognized for the contributions they have made. The music industry literally would not exist were it not for them. Perhaps in some way we can communicate to them our words of affirmation for their words (and music) which add so much to the fabric of our global society’s soundtrack.

Have you hugged a songwriter today?

John Barker

ClearBox Rights, LLC

“One’s lifework, I have learned, grows with the working and the living. Do it as if your life depended on it, and first thing you know, you’ll have made a life out of it. A good life, too.” – Theresa Helburn

© 2013 John Barker.  All rights reserved.  Information contained in this Blog is of a general nature and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice.  Any reader of this Blog who has legal matters related to information addressed in this Blog should consult with an experienced attorney. This Blog contains no warranties or representations that the information contained in it is true or accurate in all respects or that it is the most current or complete information on the subject matter covered. John Barker is President and CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC.

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