A Parade Of Horror Stories From Copyright Collection Organizations

from the not-a-panacea dept

We recently wrote about the band Uniform Motion’s problems with SACEM, the French collection society that seemed to be taking a lot of money from the band and working against the band’s own interests. We’ve noted this repeatedly with collection societies around the globe. While they are often held out as being good because they (unlike the labels) have more of a mandate to actually get money to artists, we’ve seen time and time again that their actions often do more to harm the market and harm artists than to help them. And yet… thanks to the complicated nature of the music industry today, it seems that a lot of people have been pushing the idea of some sort of “collective licensing” regime as a solution to many of the problems the industry faces. This would be a mistake. We already see that just in how such systems end up, often locking in a particular way of doing business at the expense of innovation and larger, healthier markets for musicians.

Jonathan Band has put together a fantastic white paper, detailing “cautionary tales” related to excess of and problems caused by these Collective Rights Organizations (CROs) around the globe. It’s quite eye opening. As he notes:

The episodes collected below reveal a long history of corruption, mismanagement, confiscation of funds, and lack of transparency that has deprived artists of the revenues they earned. At the same time, CROs have often aggressively sought fees to which they were not legally entitled or in a manner that discredited the copyright system. While properly regulated CROs in some circumstances enhance efficiency and advance the interests of rights holders and users, policymakers must be aware of this history as they consider the appropriateness of CROs as a possible solution to a specific copyright issue

The paper categorizes these problems into two categories. First up is a collection of stories that show how these organizations are quite frequently “Bad For Artists,” covering things like corruption, mismanagement of funds, bad distribution of funds, lack of transparency, lack of choice, diverting funds & attention from small artists to large, etc. The second group is “Bad for Users,” covering things like monopolistic control (and pricing), trying to ignore fair use, price fixing, and aggressively trying to get licenses for things they have no rights over. What’s amazing about the report is just how many examples there are. This is not a case of a few rogue CROs acting badly. It’s difficult to look through the paper and not see evidence of how these CROs are almost systemically designed to actually be very bad for both artists and the public (though perhaps helpful in keeping the status quo for gatekeepers).

Just doing a quick count, I see over 90 examples of actions taken by these collection societies that have either been bad for artists or for users. This is a serious problem, not a “solution” to fixing whatever inefficiencies there may be in the music industry today.

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Comments on “A Parade Of Horror Stories From Copyright Collection Organizations”

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Chosen Reject (profile) says:


It’s amazing to me the lengths we’ll go to in order to fix inefficiencies we created by granting monopolies in the first place. Get rid of the monopolies and you won’t have these inefficiencies. Now prove to me that copyright is necessary to create new art. While you compile your list, I’ll just throw out Shakespeare, Homer, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, the Brothers Grimm, Plato, Euclid, and the anonymous author of Historia von D. Johann Fausten. I could go on, but I don’t want to make the copyright supporter’s life too difficult.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Inefficiencies

How is it a stretch? Abolish copyright and you no longer have a need for CROs and their inefficiencies, or any other inefficiencies created by copyright. You may have other problems, but I can’t think of what they may be. The burden of proof for removing the rights of all for the benefit of one lies on those who support such a stance.

Mike Martinet (profile) says:

The Real Horror

You know Mike, it’s frighteningly disappointing that you have to spend all your time breaking stories like this.

If there were a broadband-tax supported news industry, they could be doing the investigative reporting and you’d be free for more rewarding endeavors like, I dunno, spending quality time with your friends and family, chuckling over images on the world’s only Art Humor Blog.

Anonymous Coward says:

OT: Breaking News: Brazil Judge Orders Arrest Of Google President

Off-Topic: Breaking News

?Judge orders arrest of president of Google?s operation in Brazil?, Washington Post (AP), Today (30 min ago)

SAO PAULO ? A judge has ordered the arrest of the president of Google?s operations in Brazil for failure to remove You Tube videos that attacked a mayoral candidate.


WTF Brazil?

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Shameless product placement

It’s difficult to look through the paper and not see evidence of how these CROs are almost systemically designed to actually be very bad for both artists and the public

No it’s not. All you need is a pair of patented MiddleMan ™ glasses and somehow those bits just get lost between the lines when you read.
Buy now, only $1M a pair from any good **AA approved stockist.

Chris Brand says:

The most frustrating thing about CROs...

…is that they spend so much money on lobbying. There’s a reason why we don’t allow the tax collection people to lobby the people passing tax laws.

And of course their employees have a vested interest in ensuring the continuation of the system, rather then in ensuring that the people they’re collecting for get as much money as possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

no one concerned with the music business, collection agency or otherwise, is interested in anything except lining their own pockets. if the musicians/artists concerned can actually get a little money out of it, all well and good, if not tough shit! the sooner ALL artists realise that they are being ripped off and taken continuously for a ride, then get away from (or even better, dont join them in the first place!) the labels etc, the better off they will soon find themselves!

Mike Martinet (profile) says:

Regularly Scheduled Programming

If there were a broadband-tax supported news industry…

The point I was trying to make before I took a trip into spasland, was that I never see these kinds of stories in any mainstream media.

They (collection schemes) sound so reasonable, and without digging into the details, it’s easy to see how a majority of well-meaning people would go along with them.

Anonymous Coward says:

At the International level, if you are referring to WIPO, then yes, what a waste of time. Trying to push an international music registry with the ultimate goal of being a collection and distribution agency is way too ambitious for wuch a mediocre organisation. If indeed the CISAC person at WIPO running this show is any indication, it will be a huge flop! Good luck to WIPO!

Michael says:

If they ever assimilate collection societies into one “collective licensing” unit, as you mentioned, the results will be overwhelmingly catastrophic for artists.

Imagine: they would attempt to make it mandatory for all artists to sign with them, otherwise it would be illegal to perform anywhere, upload or sell your work online, etc. Then they’d control all the profits, funneling the lion’s share to the major labels — the ultimate act of self-preservation — at which point they’d practically own the entire music industry. Check mate.

The creation of such an institute would mark the beginning of a dark ages for the music industry. We do not need these corporate suits squeezing themselves inbetween the artists and their audience.

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