What does long tail mean for copyrights?
Copyright expires 70 years after the author's death. One of the big arguments against this long term is that it means that in order to protect the less-than-one-percent of works that actually make money throughout this extraordinarily long time, the 99% of the works that don't make money need to lie in oblivion throughout the entire period and possibly get lost forever. Long copyright period wastes a lot of culture.
Now, Chris Anderson, the author of "Long Tail", notes that Universal - a major record company - has been experimenting with the "Long Tail" theory by releasing online a number of songs which have not been in circulation for years due to the fact that the market is not big enough to justify CD/LP reprinting costs. And guess what? There turns out to be a market for this oldie music, just as predicted by the Long Tail theory.
Universal Music Group International launched its download-only reissue programme in February, as the first step in a multi-year drive to reinstate more than 100,000 European deleted recordings. The initial offering comprised more than 3,000 out-of-print tracks from the company’s vaults in the U.K., France and Germany. They were made available through online music services in 20 countries, mostly in Europe.
Overall, these results lend weight to author Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail theory. In his recently published book of that name, Anderson contends that given the growing choice and diversity of music that is legitimately available through the Internet consumers will be increasingly drawn to recordings beyond current hits. In this scenario, the total sales of this repertoire (the long tail) can match or exceed those of the hits.
Okay. So, now, suddenly, sitting on top of a song for a hundred years starts to make sense. Thanks to the online distribution, where distribution cost is practically zero, you can keep selling and making money off that record until eternity. In practice, this will probably mean that in the near future we'll see more cries to extend the copyright indefinitely, just so that "the poor artists, dead for a hundred year, won't starve."
So, Long Tail says "good bye, public domain".
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