David Bowie suggests copyright is over, or near enough:
I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing. Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity… So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.
I don’t really think this is true. There’s no question that we need a good, smart, comprehensive look at both copyright and patent law, but I doubt we’ll entirely eliminate either.
And I think “music itself is going to become like running water and electricity” is the kind of thing that people say, along with occasionally arguing that content should be free, that really merits more serious and critical examination. Given the opposition to public funding for the arts (at least above current levels), I think we’re unlikely to see a scenario where people are willing to pay tax dollars or a small fee each month to create utility-like backing for artistic creation. Maybe we’ll see more non-profit fellowships, but probably not enough to make up for the total collapse of a music market in a world without copyright. On the other hand, metered-usage models like Spotify may provide a way forward for people to pay to access a service rather than for individual tracks, which might mean we end up with a more electricity-like approach to music consumption. But of course that model requires someone to have copyrights in order to get paid.
And while labels may be irrelevant for someone like David Bowie, and while tools like Kickstarter may help people get the capital they need to record the tracks that will make it possible for them to make a living out of touring, I still think that labels will continue to exist in some form even if the relationship between them and artists shifts over time. I think it’s possible that the roles of labels and managers and publicists will collapse into each other, much in the same way I’m told agents now often do a lot of the initial heavy lifting in the book editing process.