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
    Hephaestus (profile), 13 Aug 2010 @ 10:52am

    Re: Corner pubs

    "If the Australian collection agencies continue as they are, I fear they'll destroy the very thing which makes Australia a musical powerhouse. It would be another example of the triumph of short term profits over long term profitability."

    You have to think, what will the unintended consequences of this never ending escalation of monopoly rents be. Its not something that the collection societies or agencies seem to think about. The short term profits will be the driver that pushes people over the edge to other sources of music. When it happens expect their profits to tank very rapidly.

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