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
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Aug 2010 @ 8:38am

    Re: Copied from the inside story comments section

    "Copyright ascribes a value to culture"

    You are confusing value with price. Something doesn't have to have a price to be valuable.

    "and gives those who create cultural works the right to be rewarded for their creative effort."

    They have that right without copy protection laws. Copy protection laws give monopolists the privilege of monopolizing content that they really shouldn't have the privilege of monopolizing. It's a necessary step to ensuring that both the distribution channels (ie: public airwaves and cableco infrastructure) and the content delivered on those channels are monopolized. Right now, outside the Internet, we have a system that monopolizes both, making it difficult for those who want to freely give their content away to gain recognition and making it difficult for the public to acquire cheaper or free alternative content that artists wish to give away for free, instead attempting to force consumers to pay monopoly prices for all content. The artificial obscurity that the system creates for independent artists (making it difficult for them to deliver their work through restaurants and other venues because those venues get harassed by collection agencies, denying them the right to broadcast via public airwaves without first going through a monopolist gatekeeper who will likely insist that a hand full of people have copy protection control of the content, ditto for cableco infrastructure) is arguably one of the biggest impediments to content creators that there is. Anti copy laws are just a way to ensure that the content delivered via monopolized information distribution channels is also monopolized so that the public has little choice but to pay monopoly prices for everything. There should be no monopoly on both the communication channel and content at the same time, that is unacceptable.

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