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The Absurdity of Copyright Law

July 9, 2010 20:41:49.630

Who is actually served by today's copyright laws? Witness this example, where author Tony Woodlief explains why he didn't use a song lyric to head a chapter of his book:

When I asked to use a single line by songwriter Joe Henry, for example, his record label's parent company demanded $150 for every 7,500 copies of my book. Assuming I sell enough books to earn back my modest advance, this amounts to roughly 1.5% of my earnings, all for quoting eight words from one of Mr. Henry's songs.
I love Joe Henry, but the price was too high. I replaced him with Shakespeare, whose work (depending on which edition you use) is in the public domain. Mr. Henry's record label may differ, but it's not clear that his interests —or theirs—are being served here. Were they concerned that readers might have their thirst for Mr. Henry's music sated by that single lyric? Isn't it more likely that his lyric would have enticed customers who otherwise wouldn't have heard of him?

The main problem is that the copyright mavens don't think that far ahead. They think they'll always get the license fee; it doesn't occur to them that the more likely result (as seen above) is that they'll get nothing at all.

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posted by James Robertson

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