from the look-at-that! dept
In the last few years, we've been (pleasantly) surprised at a few attempts in the UK to make copyright law slightly more reasonable. The Hargreaves Report, for example, was surprisingly reasonable, and while there's resistance, it still appears as if the government is interested in supporting many of its recommendations. We also just reported on an attempt to move some copyright claims to a small claims court, greatly limiting the damages possible.
And now, it appears that the UK has removed license requirements for small venues playing music. Under this new law, venues with a capacity under 200 won't have to pay license fees for having live music performers, and any venue can avoid license fees if it's playing "unamplified" live music (which probably limits how large the venue can be by default anyway). This is a pretty big deal.
As we've been writing about for years, various collection societies around the globe have been ramping up efforts to collect money from pretty much any place that plays music. This has resulted in some absolutely crazy stories (especially in the UK) of the local collection society, PRS, going after a shop assistant for singing out loud while stocking shelves, demanding payments from a woman who played music for her horses, and cracking down on a children's charity for singing Christmas carols without a license. Those stories may be extreme examples, but it gives you a sense of how aggressive some of these organizations are. The real end result, unfortunately, is that plenty of venues that used to host open mic nights or allow local musicians to perform (a great way for musicians to learn how to perform) have stopped such things, as it's not worth paying a huge license fee just to let some musicians perform.
The new law only applies to live music -- so situations that involve recorded music will still have to pay up -- but, at the very least, this should free up coffee shops and restaurants and the like to let some musicians perform, without having to pay crazy license fees. And, it's worth noting, that musicians are (quite rightly) celebrating this change. Even though the various collection societies like to argue that demanding license fees from coffee shops for open mic night is a good thing, most musicians recognize that's not true at all. They need more venues to play in, and that's especially true of up and coming artists. The predictions in the UK are that this will allow an impressive 13,000 venues to start having live music performances, where they wouldn't have done so before.
While you could argue that this should go even further, it's still a rare case in which copyright law is effectively limited, rather than continuously expanded -- and it's quite encouraging that musicians realize this is actually to their benefit, rather than detriment.