Elvis Owners Threaten Jailhouse Rock

They never rest at Sony BMG, the world’s least friendly entertainment company, not even at Christmas time. So when Cargo Records planned the UK release of some 50 year-old recordings by Elvis Presley, it was time to call the Sony BMG lawyers and start quibbling on whether any of the recordings were slightly under 50 years old, and hence still protected under UK copyright. As a result, Cargo has decided not to risk a costly legal battle, and has instead put the release of their Elvis album on hold.

Imagine the scene, if you will, 50 years ago. A lean, taut young Elvis has just finished in the studio. He smiles and asks his new manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker what he thought about the tracks they have just recorded. Parker responds: “fabulous, these will make you a big star, so we better be careful that we label the dates correctly ‘cos otherwise the lawyers will be arguing about copyright long after we are both dead.” That is the love of music for you. And lawyers. The love of music and lawyers. And money. The love of music and lawyers and money. Yup. You can hear it on every track. Or you could, if they released the album. Well, you can, so long as you are willing to pay for whatever album Sony BMG has the recordings on, if they do, because it is their copyright still. Or not. Nobody can be sure. If only they did put more effort into pedantically ensuring the dates were noted correctly, then Sony BMG would have nothing to worry about ;) Of course, this problem only occurs in the wild west of UK intellectual property law. Over in the US, they keep solving the problem by putting back the dates on when copyright lapses, so it will be a few decades before anyone in the US can listen to Elvis music copyright free. Elvis never toured outside of the US, apart from a few concerts in Canada. The supposed reason is that Colonel Parker did not have a valid US passport. How strange then, that his music will soon be free, but not in the Land of the Free.

Sony BMG are going down fighting. Because they are going down. If more big artists follow the path blazed by Radiohead in giving away their music for whatever price people want to pay, and just not caring if people copy it, then Sony BMG’s profits will evaporate even faster than they have in the last few years. Perhaps in 200 years Sony BMG will still be arguing in a US court about when Elvis recorded “Jailhouse Rock”, in some vain attempt to squeeze a bit more money from it. I wonder, did those lads in Radiohead think to keep a careful note of when they recorded their music? Smart American customers, of course, will simply buy abroad and evade the legal barriers that way. In the meantime, I will be listening to lovely free music, courtesy of people who just give it away. Forget the scrooges at Sony BMG, and remember on Christmas Eve to download the tremendous “Letter From God To Man” from the MySpace page of Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. It is free. In case you missed that, it is free. Free music. If you do not understand by now, it can only be because you work for Sony BMG and struggle to come to terms with the idea. The song is a remix of a Radiohead track, so I suppose what goes around comes around. Music begets music. Freedom begets freedom. Peace and love… you get the idea. Christmas miracles really do happen :)

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.