We often hear that various collection societies shouldn't be lumped in with the labels when discussions turn to the "problems" of the music industry. After all, the collection societies are just "focused on getting musicians paid." And that's true, unlike the labels, who seem to look for ways not
to pay musicians. But... almost every musician I know who deals with collection societies has horror stories about the experience, and they never seem to consider how much their actions (like shaking down anyone playing music in an office or making it impossible to host open mic nights in cafes) really does more harm than good.
Let's tell one such story. Before we get started, why not hit play on this musical widget from Uniform Motion
, a band from France we've written about a few times. The story is about them and the insanity of collection societies -- but you might as well use their music as the soundtrack for the post:
Andy from the band has a head-poundingly ridiculous story about how French collection society SACEM seems more focused on inserting itself into pretty much every transaction
-- even ones that happen directly between the band and its fans -- than in helping him make money. He starts out by describing how a fan downloads one of his albums on The Pirate Bay, and then goes to a show where he wants to buy a CD. As Andy notes, "what a nice guy!" A perfect "direct to fan moment." Except... SACEM is there acting like the tax man:
BUT.... what most people don’t know is that the music venue is legally obliged to pay public performance rights to SACEM (France’s Copyright Collection Society) in order to have bands play live music in their venue.
So we often have to fill out a form, providing details on all the songs we played to ensure SACEM can find the songwriter and pay them their money.
“But we are the songwriters” we cry! “Just give us the money directly, why don’t you? It would save everyone a lot of time (and money) wouldn’t it”?
But that would be far too easy.
So the venue pays SACEM and SACEM tells us we can get the money back (minus some reasonable administration fees of course, like their President’s €750,000 annual salary for instance!) if we pay them a member’s fee.
Oh, you thought it stopped there? Nope. He notes that even the CD sale involves SACEM.
In order to have CD’s made in France, you’re legally obliged to fill out an SDRM form (which is handled by SACEM). CD Manufacturers won’t press your CD’s without prior authorization from SACEM.
If the songs are not listed in their database, you don’t have to pay them anything but if they are (because maybe you became a SACEM member in order to get your public performance money from your live performances) they’ll make you pay a Mechanical Royalty.
So we fill out the forms and they tell us we have to pay the mechanical royalties to them so that they can pay the songwriter for the privilege of having their music on our CD.
“But we are the songwriters dude! So why don’t we just give the money to ourselves?!”
Again, that would be too easy!
Yes, you read that right. They have to pay SACEM to make their CD... because SACEM insists that it needs to pay the songwriters. Since they're all original songs (and quite good ones too), they have to pay SACEM so that SACEM can make sure that money goes to... er... them. The summary:
Let’s summarize what just happened here. The Copyright Collection Society makes the artist pay them to have their own CD’s manufactured, takes a portion of their live revenues and then uses the money to sue the guy who came to the gig and bought a CD!
This is what is wrong with the music business.
Ah, right. Did you miss that part? SACEM is involved in some lawsuits
against file sharing sites.
So, look at this from Andy's perspective. He's fine with his music on The Pirate Bay because it builds a fan base, which helps him attract fans to shows where they buy merch. All that works great for Andy and Uniform Motion. And yet, SACEM forcefully inserts itself into nearly every step of that process -- taking a cut of the live revenue to "pay" the band, taking a cut of the CD manufacturing to "pay" them again... and then using the money it collects to try to take down the platform that the band uses to promote its works.