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. icon
    Jay (profile), 17 Aug 2010 @ 4:55pm


    I'm sorry... what?

    " recordings no longer sell because of p2p, in your model businesses playing recordings should not have to pay a fee for use even though the music is an essential business input like electricity."

    Unfortunately, I don't agree after reading this site for quite some time. The music industry has been doing quite well with P2P exposing more people to MORE music, not less. Just because the business model has changed, you can't tell me that recordings are suffering if more people are buying mp3s than they are CDs or cassette tapes.

    Artists are already being exposed. Why put an arbitrary monetary value on this music? As stated in the debate, people will go elsewhere for music uncopyrighted, which makes Australian musicians lose in the end.

    " Then income in your model comes from merch and touring. You have to agree it is simply impossible to stay on the road all year, income from touring is sporadic, the costs are enormous. The choice of staying and playing in the same town is difficult because an audience is finite. "

    We agree that bands need time off. But there's a plethora of options from streaming online, to little giveaways. Touring and merchandising can continue to make money for a band even if supplies and resources are finite, such as the move from Sydney to another town.

    "The writers are insisting that musicians should be part time or not ask for fees for their music. I am talking about those who choose to make a living from music."

    I will have to ask you to reread that thread above. From what I understand, they were giving examples of what musicians could do. Some can make a comfortable living of of proceeds for their shows. Some can make a lot of money in touring.

    " Some people's music business models include a theory of free music but this shouldn't define the choices musicians make."

    True, but the business model has a chance to fail if it doesn't take into account what people would like.

    "Many are professionals and expect to be paid commensurate with their skill and product. Dont forget copyright is property and each time that property is hired out it is to be paid for unless the maker decides the music is unprotected."

    There is a difference between copyright laws and laws for land. Copyright law is a government mandate which is supposed to take away a person's natural rights for limited times. What I am criticizing is that this dependence on government won't win in the long run and there could possibly be better models than enforcement as the gym membership fiasco can attest. In the end, you may have a "moral right" to try to force others to pay money. Just don't expect that others will agree with you when basic economics will tell us they may look elsewhere when your music becomes too expensive.

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