Firstly, this is curious:
The British record industry – which invests more in new British musical talent than any other
Now I suppose what they mean here is that they invest in music talent more than another country's industry does in their talent. At least, that's what I hope they mean, because otherwise you do have to wonder about what they're going on about (damn those French labels for not investing in Glaswegian bands!).
I've already mentioned about how the BPI has woken up to this fact rather late (they didn't care when Jimmy Young's songs went public domain, did they?), but the important point, one that is obvious but that I 've never really thought about before, is this: on January 1st 2005, all BMG copies of Elvis Presley's That's All Right will not spontaneously combust. BMG can sell the song for the rest of time, and all others recorded before 31st December 1954. The only thing that will change is that now other people will also be able to sell copies of the same songs. Some will be the usual large labels, but new, smaller labels might spring up, using this cheap product to build up capital so they can invest money back into the industry, helping to reinvigorate today's rather bleak independent label situation. There will be competition. But hey, isn't that what capitalism is all about? There's so many ways to add value to a public domain product, as shown by the continued strong sales for books like Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, despite the fact that anybody can download them for free. This can be done in many ways, from the simple idea of reducing the price, to including special features with the public domain release (liner notes, extra tracks, videos, etc) thus making the item more attractive, even if it does have a higher price.
Raising the spectre of The Beatles's work going into the public domain is a cheap shot, but — well, all I can say is that I can't wait. The Beatles's back catalogue is a reflection of all that's wrong with the British music industry at the moment; high-priced, awfully-packaged, and woefully produced. Take Abbey Road — the last record made by the band! So much that could be said! And what do you get? A flimsy piece of paper with the titles and copyright information on it. Tremendous. Apart from Let It Bleed…Naked and the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, all of the original albums haven't changed since their original 1987 pressing, a pressing well-known to be inferior to the vinyl recordings. So, I can't wait for a Beatles fan to make his or her own version of Please Please Me, creating a superior pressing and writing obsessive liner notes that are infused with a blinding love of I Saw Her Standing There and Love Me Do.
I'm looking forward to posting That's All Right here on January 1st 2005. An important piece of music history will be released freely into our culture, and hopefully more will follow as the years go by.