Permission Culture Gone Mad: Worries About Proper License For 'Balcony Singing' Lead Collection Society To Say It's Okay, You Can Sing

from the copyright-is-broken dept

Yet another reminder that copyright is really, really broken. As you may have seen, there have been a few viral videos making the rounds of people locked down in apartment buildings deciding to hold impromptu music performances from balconies. When the first of these came out, I had joked that it would only be a matter of time until some music collection society called these an unlicensed public performance and demanded royalty payments. Thankfully, that has not happened, though in Spain, a copyright professor did tell a journalist that those singing from the balconies should first get a license (relying on Google translate here…):

Singing songs from the window or the balconies on the terraces, as seen in Spanish houses these days during the confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic, could violate the intellectual property rights of their authors. This is collected by information from Europa Press. In it, Pablo Velasco Quintana, an expert in intellectual property at the CEU San Pablo University, it is necessary to “request authorization” for a “communication to the public”, whether or not it is “profitable” , since, according to the law, the author is the only one that it can “authorize or prohibit” “reproduction”, “transformation” and “communication”.

Thankfully, the Spanish collection society SGAE (which has a bit of a history of corruption) felt the need to come out and clarify that no license was necessary and that it was actually encouraging people to sing in these trying times:

The General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) encourages in a statement to the entire population to continue singing from the balconies, from the windows, or from any place where confinement allows it during the state of Alarm to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Because singing has no cost, but it is invaluable, especially for those who directly suffer from the virus or for those who fight on the front line against its consequences,” he says.

According to the SGAE, the songs that, every night, unite millions of citizens are part of the collective memory of the Spanish and function as a link that reinforces the state of mind.

I’m glad that SGAE seems to recognize that now is not the time to nickel and dime people on lockdown in their homes for entertaining their neighbors with songs — but just the fact that some experts in the field worried about this possibility, likely means that there were chilling effects from copyright, and some chose to avoid this form of social distance bonding among their neighbors.

While it’s good that it’s been made clear no license is needed, the fact that people even thought about it is a real condemnation of just how terrible copyright maximalism is. It has infected peoples’ brains to the point that they were uncomfortable with the idea of singing in even these conditions, and that’s truly messed up.

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Comments on “Permission Culture Gone Mad: Worries About Proper License For 'Balcony Singing' Lead Collection Society To Say It's Okay, You Can Sing”

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36 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Are you sure that some collections societies that have more needles left than brains won’t still try and sue over it?"

The big umbrella organizations – IFPI, SGAE, RIAA etc – aren’t usually linked to the concept of adaptation and innovation but after all these years of bad press they seem to have realized a few key point to observe in their mission;

Be in the limelight for all the fuzzy goodwill messages, then outsource the extortion and racketeering part of the business to the horde of willing copyright trolls following in their wakes.

It probably helps that in spain there isn’t as easy money in mass extortion as there is in the US, where singing from a balcony today might have some RIAA spokesman praising the act while a hundred lawsuits immediately hit the mailbox courtesy of Rightscorp and assorted other prenda successors.

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Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The big umbrella organizations – IFPI, SGAE, RIAA etc – aren’t usually linked to the concept of adaptation and innovation but after all these years of bad press they seem to have realized a few key point to observe in their mission;

[ED: bold mine]

Keep in mind that collections agencies are different than Recording Industry Associations. Here’s how: at least in the US, collections agencies (i.e. SESAC, ASCAP, and BMI) cover the rights to the music itself, e.g. sheet music or when a musician does a cover, the collections agencies make sure the original songwriters get paid for it. The RIAA covers the owners of the recordings, i.e. record labels (to even more wit, the major corporate labels, not the good ones who treat their artists fairly like Polyvinyl).

As TechDirt makes clear over and over again, sometimes there should be things you shouldn’t need permission for but the chilling effect is there anyway.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Keep in mind that collections agencies are different than Recording Industry Associations."
I think it depends on the nation whether the group demanding the money is separate from, or included in the outright lobbying interest group.

Either way amounts to the same – they handle the administration and legislative lobbying while subletting the extortion and racketeering.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Do they actually have the authority to grant a free blanket license for balcony-singing? As ridiculous as this would be, would a litigious songwriter have cause to sue them for that statement?

That’s a good question. I wonder if there’s any copyright lawyer who will be able to answer that for us here. My guess is that since there’s no commercial interest at play, it’s no different than singing in the shower. If it gets uploaded to youtube, then there’s a commercial interest, so collections agencies would get triggered for payment. As I have said, I’m not a lawyer, but this is my best guess knowing what I know based on © law.

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nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I don’t know if European law is different, but in the US there need not be any commercial activity or interest for it to be actionable copyright infringement. Commercial use is one of the fair use tests, but depending on how the other factors weigh, non commercial use can be infringing (and vice versa).

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

"I don’t know if European law is different, but in the US there need not be any commercial activity or interest for it to be actionable copyright infringement."

The relevant parts are all in the Berne convention – so this is a global common denominator. Copyright is infringed whenever a copy is made without authorization of the rightsholder.

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Anonymous Coward says:

This does raise the question: at what point does something stop being a private performance and begin being a public performance?

For example, if people moved their large screen TVs out onto their balconies, or set up a projector that projected against a nearby building, the MPAA and co. would be immediately ready to start the lawsuits. They will sue even if you show a movie inside your own home to a gathering of people who don’t live there.

If you live in an apartment complex and singing on your balcony can be heard by an audience of hundreds, this is a public performance, isn’t it? Is it any different than performing in a park without putting down a hat? Because people have been sued for that (as well as chased off by the police).

And how does this fit in to "disturbing the peace?" If I lug my fender and amps out onto the balcony and lay down a few metal riffs, neighbours can call the police on me if I don’t keep the noise down at appropriate hours. So what if someone calls the local licensing body about unauthorized use of some grindcore property?

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All of this raises the fundamental reason why the current copyright system is broken – it assumes that anything that reaches more than a couple of people must be done for profit. The people who wrote the law did not conceive of people willingly putting on performances for or distributing to groups of people without a profit motive.

That’s why we get so many silly ideas being enforced. The law assumes that distributing copies of something must be done for profit as it was written to assume expensive printing or duplication facilities – it’s broken once applied to copying digital files at no cost. The law assumes that public performances must be either busking to get money, or at a venue that profits them – it does not conceive of people singing for free, or having the radio playing passively in the background while going about other business. The law assumes a video must be a professional production, it fails when applied to YouTube videos that happen to catch some music in the background.

There’s other flaws in copyright, but whenever we get it rewritten, the underlying assumption that people only do things for profit must be removed.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"All of this raises the fundamental reason why the current copyright system is broken – it assumes that anything that reaches more than a couple of people must be done for profit."

Most of IP is broken simply because of the assumption that if person A has something and person B gains the same without person A incurring a loss then person A must still be paid by person B.

It’s the assumption that the plumber who gets paid to install a toilet is entitled to send angry letters to every person flushing that toilet in the future and ask for money.

This is a principle which is – fundamentally – wrong. On many levels, some of which bear horrifying consequences.

"That’s why we get so many silly ideas being enforced."

Try "dangerous" rather than "silly". The core premise and assumption of most of IP is in fundamental conflict with freedom of speech, common sense, market economics and basic property ownership. And it’s lent itself, on not a few occasions, to authoritarians eager for a legal lever to finally shut the mouth of that troublesome priest, to analogize. We already have Erdogan on record for using international copyright law to shutter dissent because even Turkey’s own not-so-sterling censorship laws just weren’t good enough.

"The law assumes that public performances must be either busking to get money, or at a venue that profits them – it does not conceive of people singing for free…"

The fact that copyright in practice turns storytelling and general expressions of happiness, cheer or sympathy into a cold currency commodity is – albeit also horrifying – one of the less dangerous consequences of implementing information control legislation in the hands of private entities.

Copyright – most of IP – is about information being owned irrespective of who has learned it. THAT is the horrifying thing about it. That modern legislation reintroduces the exact mechanisms of medieval blasphemy law.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"at what point does something stop being a private performance and begin being a public performance?"

There’s a reason cab drivers in some jurisdictions are leery about having the radio on these days. Mobile phone ringtones were in the limelight. Hell, Ford got sued because their built-in CD players had "write" capability.

Generally speaking, if you carry a tune where people in a public place can hear it, there will be copyright trolls willing to put your name on the extortion list. If you possess a device capable of recording there are lawyers looking for a way to make you pay for it.

The only limit is the very soft boundary of what a judge will allow an unscrupulous third-rate former ambulance chaser to push in court. Which in some places can be quite a lot.

tweetiepooh (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Breathing in itself is OK as it is likely you are creating your own unique work. However if your breathing matches the pattern or sound that is copyrighted you may be liable. So for example, if you breath soundlessly then it may infringe the rights of John Cage and his work 4:33, this would be true if breathing silently solo or in a group.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Progressivism, socialism, communism all result in the subjugation of the masses in service to an elite."

You say that like someone who hasn’t looked at the US lately.

The subjugation of the masses to the elite is the natural outcome of running too far to either direction on the left-right scale. Because when you’re standing in the middle the ultracapitalists and the communists are in deadlock, allowing the sensible moderates to carry the day.

The problem is the US is standing on the extreme right even when the democrats are in charge. I’m not sure HOW to describe current republicans, only that since McCain died they no longer fit on any conventional left-right scale, happily accepting forms of collectivism and ultra-authoritarianism you wouldn’t expect to see this side of WW2.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

More like the state being controlled by the means of production rather than the other way around. That, essentially, is what "regulatory capture" means.

In both cases it leads to the gradual elimination of a free market which is where the alt-right’s rants about "socialism" take on a laughable aspect in the background of what they themselves keep cheering for.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"How about "proto-fascists"?"

Most of them are acting more like old-time soviet commissars, really. Dedicated to the Great Leader while loudly condemning any implication that The Glorious State and it’s enforcers could ever be wrong. And the first to decry anyone not sharing their opinion as a recidivist guilty of thought crime.

In short, they are embracing all the core values of orthodox stalinism.

I’ve been thinking lately that ever since the USSR collapsed the US has slowly slid towards the exact type of governing principle espoused by that old clay-footed giant. Possibly because there’s no persistent threatening power everyone can look at and say "Don’t do what they do. It’s bad.".

Except possibly China. Which could go a long way towards explaining the increasing US hatred for actual market economy today…

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