More And More People Seeing How Collection Societies Have Distorted Copyright

from the it's-not-what-it-seems dept

Over the last few years, we've seen a trend around the world for various collection societies to become increasingly more aggressive. More aggressive in trying to increase the statutorily-defined rates. More aggressive in expanding what it is they cover. More aggressive in finding small businesses to pay up. And, more recently, more aggressive in lashing out at any organization that seeks to help musicians embrace alternatives. There are a few reasons for this. Obviously, the recorded music side of the music business has seen revenue decrease, so collection societies have tried to pick up the slack. But, more generally speaking, it's an indication that the process of collection societies is broken. From their very design, they're set up to allow certain industry interests to take charge and influence them, and then to aggressively seek to expand their own rights, influence and ability to collect.

Thankfully, more and more people are seeing this. Glyn Moody points us to a recent article by Ben Eltham at Inside Story that highlights how collection societies in Australia are out of control. The whole article is worth reading, but here are a few snippets. First, it notes how these groups are really acting as fronts for industry interests:
Copyright law has evolved largely as a response by governments to the demands of powerful media and content industries. As new forms of recorded media have been invented, legislators have created new spheres of copyright to fence off that intellectual property from perceived threats to the earnings of artists and corporations.
It later highlights this by pointing out how these groups often have leadership plucked directly from record labels:
In fact, as a glance at the composition of the PPCA's board underlines, the agency is run largely by and for the record industry. The board is stacked with record industry executives such as Warner's Ed St John, Sony's Denis Handlin and Universal's George Ash, along with former Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison and prominent artist manager Bill Cullen. Representing around 75 per cent of the recorded music industry by sales, the PPCA is effectively a legalised cartel.
The article also points out how very anti-free market the whole setup is:
Who should set the prices for copyrighted music in Australia, for instance? Most economists would say "the market." But in Australia, these decisions are in effect being made by a court, in a process closer to early twentieth-century wage- and price-fixing than the kind of open and free market process most Australian consumers have come to expect.
What may be even more fascinating is that, in the comments, various copyright industry interests lash out at Eltham, including one of the board members he mentions above, who refers to those who support free market pricing as "neo Marxists." Huh? How is supporting a system that lets the free market set prices, rather than various government bodies, "neo Marxist" at all? That commenter, Lindy Morrison, also uses it as an opportunity to attack Creative Commons and the EFF again. But that neo Marxist comment is really the most misleading of all:
However the question that Ben cannot answer, is how do creators make a living in the neo Marxist world of free music they propose? It is necessary to introduce new laws with new inventions to protect the rights of owners and to pay remuneration for compensation for new uses.
Of course, we've already described how it's basically the opposite of Marxism, so that's already far off-line. And, it's important to recognize that no one is "proposing" a world of free music. They're describing what's already happening. It really stuns me how many people in these debates blame the messenger for explaining the basic economics of digital content, by suggesting it's what we're "proposing" or saying "should" happen. We're not proposing anything. We're not saying what should happen. We're saying what is happening or what has already happened. Morrison's statement also totally ignores the fact that there are many smart ways for creators to make a living, even if the music is free.

It is, of course, difficult to recognize the need to adapt when you've been making money from one specific system for so long, but it's really sad to see the sheer anger with which those who feel entitled to gov't granted monopolies lash out at people pointing out the problems and distortions of such systems.

Filed Under: collection societies, copyright, distortion

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  1. identicon
    Interestingly enough, 13 Aug 2010 @ 3:17pm

    Copied from the inside story comments section

    As big fans of Inside Story, we were disappointed to read the article “Copyright Cops”. Unlike the usual reflective and well-informed pieces featured in Inside Story, “Copyright Cops” takes a small pinch of information and whips it up with liberal doses of innuendo and emotive posturing.

    We are told conspiratorially: “Copyright law has evolved largely as a response by governments to the demands of powerful media and content industries”. We are also told – again without analysis or substantiation – that copyright law in Australia is now, “tilted decisively towards copyright holders, including famous artists and big publishers, and away from rights users like libraries, schools and gyms”. Should we readers deduce that the moral of this tale is, ‘big is bad and small is good’?

    Regardless of what you think about the Copyright Tribunal’s decision in the PPCA/ Fitness First case (there are many and different perspectives on both sides), if you are going to use it as a springboard to launch an attack on collecting societies, then find out a little more about how collecting societies work (e.g. regular reporting to the ACCC) and let this produce a more enlightening story about the public benefits sought in Australia by allowing collecting societies their special operating privileges.

    In relation to the case itself, if ‘big is bad and small is good’ then perhaps we should consider that Fitness First generated revenues of $327.6 million in 2008-2009, in a fitness industry that turned over $2.5 billion in revenue in the same year. The average creative income of a composer in Australia currently stands at about $12,000 per annum. Furthermore, because it would be logistically impossible for individual composers to collect payments from users, their incomes would be much lower without collecting societies to do so on their behalf.

    Copyright ascribes a value to culture and gives those who create cultural works the right to be rewarded for their creative effort. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines both the rights of creators to such a reward and the rights of users to access cultural works. It is true that copyright law is complex area and also true that it has become more complex in the digital age. But please Inside Story, can we have a little more rigour in future articles on this subject?

    Mary Anne Reid
    Chief Executive
    Australian Copyright Council

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