Music doesn’t just happen: Why you should care about the Copyright Act review

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is currently reviewing the Copyright Act. Damian Vaughan, CEO of Recorded Music NZ, argues that strengthening copyright protection under the law will benefit our local music industry.

It’s an exciting time for New Zealand music. The industry has embraced the digital transition, is investing in new distribution models, and is thriving. With artists like Lorde and songwriters like Opetai Foa’i we’re making our mark globally, and after 14 years of decline in revenue, the last three years have seen a return to growth.

All great news but we need to be honest; our music ecosystem is fragile, and this success cannot be taken for granted.

It requires an incredible amount of hard work and investment from artists and record companies, not only to write, develop, and record music but to license, distribute and market it globally. And underpinning all of this investment? Copyright, or more importantly, the right copyright framework that enables full and fair value to be returned to those that create and invest in music.

Which is why the announcement last week by the government that the first full review of our copyright laws in over a decade is getting underway in earnest is so important, and something that all supporters of the New Zealand music industry should care about.  

Copyright law is complex, but boiled down it’s the basis on which artists and record companies can control how their music is used and how they’re paid for their work. It functions to provide the incentives to create, fund, and distribute works – the music we all know and love. Without it, there are few incentives for artists to create work or for companies to take the commercial risk of investing in them.

In New Zealand, copyright is governed by the Copyright Act. Although it’s a solid framework, some important adjustments are needed to bring it into line with the reality of today’s market and to support continued growth in our music industry both here and overseas.

Firstly, we’re calling on the government to ensure fair market conditions in the digital marketplace. This means clarifying ‘safe harbour’ privileges in copyright law. These are being relied on by platforms such as YouTube to promote and monetise content uploaded by their users without paying fair and appropriate licence fees. This isn’t what safe harbour privileges were intended for and we believe that New Zealand should follow the EU’s lead in clarifying their application.

Secondly, we’ll be pushing for more effective enforcement of copyright online. In 2018, our music industry is online and mobile, but the tools to safeguard it haven’t kept up. In particular, we need a clear and streamlined process to allow courts to order ISPs to block access to illegal websites offering unlicensed music. Overseas experience shows that website blocking is effective at reducing the impact of these illegal businesses that profit from music without paying any money back to artists and record companies.

Thirdly, we think it’s time that Kiwi artists and record companies are treated equally to their overseas counterparts when it comes to the term of protection. New Zealand is one of only two OECD countries that does not give artists and record companies a 70-year term of copyright protection for their work. Our artists stop earning revenue from their recordings 50 years after they’re released. This means they may stop receiving payments for their work both in New Zealand and overseas before they reach retirement. For example, the iconic Kiwi song ‘Nature’ was released by The Fourmyula in 1969 meaning that the band won’t be entitled to receive royalties from next year depriving them of an important source of income. If The Fourmyula had been signed to an Australian or British record company, their recordings would’ve had 70 ye ofars protection. It’s crazy that our Kiwi artists don’t receive the same treatment as their international peers. It’s time for New Zealand to stop penalising its artists and record companies and harmonise copyright term to 70 years.

Finally, we’ll be urging the government not to bow to lobbying by big tech and clearly rule out a move to an American style system of open-ended copyright exceptions. Exceptions to copyright law are important but need to remain clearly defined and provide commercial certainty to all.

Copyright is hard. It’s easy to dismiss as a cost to New Zealanders that only benefits big American companies. But getting it right is really important to our local music industry. It’s the difference between a record company deciding to invest in finding and developing the next Lorde or not. It’s the difference between a band like Six60 being able to receive fair payment for the commercial use of their songs into the future or not. It’s the difference between sustainable careers for songwriters and composers, producers, sound engineers, designers and others in the industry or not.

The review of the Copyright Act which is now underway is one of the most important opportunities we’ll have to get our copyright framework in good shape to better support the New Zealand recording artists and local music ecosystem. Let’s make sure we get it right.

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