September 18, 2020

NYT Changes Copyright-Expiration Story

On Thursday I critiqued a New York Times story (which appeared in the print edition on Friday) about the expiration of some European copyrights on recorded music. Joe Liu points out that the Times has changed the story to address one of the issues I raised.

The original story said:

Defenders of the copyright laws, like Mr. Turkewitz, argue that, if anything, American laws are still too lax and that the European laws are totally inadequate.

This was a strange way to put it, since, far from defending the copyright laws, Mr. Turkewitz was offering fairly harsh criticism of them. The Times subsequently changed the story to read

Defenders of extended copyright terms, like Mr. Turkewitz, argue that, if anything, American laws are still too lax and that the European laws are totally inadequate.

It seems clear from the context that the laxity and inadequacy that Mr. Turkewitz sees are in the length of the copyright term. If so, then the modified sentence is accurate but vacuous, akin to saying, “Defenders of tax cuts argue that, if anything, taxes are too high,” or, “Defenders of increased exercise argue that, if anything, people don’t exercise enough.”

The original version, though, more accurately describes the record industry’s self-image. They seem to see themselves as defenders of the copyright laws, as opposed to advocates of a particular version of copyright law. Further, they tend to view people with different views about copyright law – even those who view the current copyright laws as just about right – as opponents of the copyright laws and even of the basic principle of copyright.

The first time I had a private conversation with a record company (not RIAA) executive, he seemed very surprised to learn that I was not totally opposed to copyright. The only public positions I had taken at that time were (a) opposition to the DMCA, and (b) skepticism about the feasibility of DRM. To him, it was just obvious that anyone with those views must oppose copyright altogether. His first question to me, in fact, was whether I could envision any situation where copying was wrong.

So I’m not surprised to see that an RIAA honcho would think that any defender of the copyright laws would necessarily support arbitrary extensions of copyright. I’m glad that the Times ultimately saw the error of that view.

[By the way, does anyone know which version of the story appeared in the paper version of the Times on Friday? I don’t have a copy.]