After receiving the Grammy Awards’ top honor on Sunday night, many music fans will likely be picking up Mumford & Sons’ album Babel. While most fans aren’t likely to take the time to read the tiny legal disclaimer on the back of the album, there has been some discussion lately about the fine print on albums, what constitutes ownership of the albums we buy, and what it all means for music sharing and discovery.
As reported in this Wired article, the fine print on the back of Babel states: “The copyright in this sound recording and artwork is owned by Mumford & Sons. Warning: all rights reserved. Unauthorized copying, reproduction, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting prohibited.” (Emphasis is ours.) To be fair to the Grammy winners, as TechDirt points out, Mumford & Sons are far from the only artists to include this boilerplate language on an album.
Artists’ work must be protected from piracy and unauthorized reproduction. But blankent language prohibiting lending seems more than a little extreme and could make people afraid to continue to share and explore new music. This idea seems to contradict the goal of artists to promote their music widely through word of mouth. We assume most music creators want to get their albums into the hands of potential new fans in any way possible, including by borrowing the album from a friend or the community library.
The concept of not being able to lend a record is completely foreign to U.S. consumers, but the outcome of the Kirtsaeng case could make this a reality. If the Supreme Court issues an opinion that limits the protections of the first sale doctrine, the ability to sell and lend records could be completely restricted for records that were manufactured outside the U.S. And in case you didn’t know, a significant portion of today’s albums are manufactured overseas.
The lending of records among individual music fans and from libraries has allowed music lovers to explore new music and promote their favorite artists to friends and family. Ultimately, prohibiting album lending seems like a short-sighted measure that could hurt both artists and fans.