4 February 2011
Welcome to the February issue of our monthly public affairs bulletin, BASCA Briefing. A digest of current activities and BASCA policy, in each issue the Briefing will provide a short introduction to our active campaigns, and look at news issues from the music writers’ point of view.
Copyright, as a topic of discussion, rarely disappears from the lips of those involved in the creation and selling of music. Over the past decade, it has come under regular scrutiny and we are about to enter another period where the magnifying glass is brought out once again. In this month’s BASCA Briefing, we decided to take a step back and look at some of the viewpoints of our most senior leaders when it comes to the issue of copyright, and also to take stock of our own opinions. As you will see, BASCA continues to be committed to protecting the value of copyright and therefore music. We also take a brief look at developments with regards to a Global Repertoire Database and why it is a necessity as we move forward in this digital age.
COMMENT - WHO ARE THE ENTREPRENEURS?
In a speech at Midem last week Michel Barnier, the EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services (who have responsibility for Copyright in the EU) said: “Copyright allows an artist to live from his creations. Because creators are also entrepreneurs, starting a band, composing a song, producing an album, requires an investment in terms of time, money, talent, without any guarantee of ever recouping that investment. How many creators would take such risks if they could not hope to be rewarded for their creativity in case of success?”
Contrast this with the words of our own Prime Minister, David Cameron, in November last year: “We will also look at removing some of the potential barriers that stand in the way of new internet-based business models, such as the cost of obtaining permission from rights holders.”
Apparently our Prime Minister sees the people who create the works that, he implicitly acknowledges, drive the development of the internet and the holy grail of “new business models” and those that administer them on their behalf as the blockage on the road to our digital salvation.
BASCA is receiving rather different feedback from its members. As one of them succinctly puts it: “I don't know about anyone else, but writing music wouldn't be my job if I couldn't use it to pay the mortgage. Do we really want a nation of creative amateurs?”
BASCA appreciates that times, business models and means of distribution change: creative people are usually amongst the early adopters of new technology. However what we are really talking is, who should be taking the entrepreneurial risk to launch new business models? The most successful online music service is iTunes. One does not need to have a business degree to see that the service was launched with the primary aim of selling hardware rather than music. If investors wish to put their money into other services that depend upon music to attract users, surely the risk should be theirs rather than those who have already taken the risk of investing in studios and borne the costs of other careers which they have foregone.
COMMENT - GLOBAL REPERTOIRE DATABASE
One of the problems that the demand for music online has highlighted is the lack of an authoritative database detailing who owns or controls the music that needs to be licensed and in which territory. The increasing prevalence of split copyrights (songs which are controlled by more than one publisher) has complicated the issue and has created problems for licensed online services who frequently receive invoices amounting to more than 100% of a particular song from various collecting societies and publishers. When this happens they, unsurprisingly, refuse to pay anything until the question of ownership is resolved.
Just over a year ago Neelie Kroes (EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda) put together a working group of collecting societies, publishers and music users to talk about the problem and to deliver a Global Repertoire Database (GRD). Just before Christmas they published a recommendation – using the ICE Database (a joint venture between PRS for Music in the UK and STIM its Swedish equivalent) with support from a firm of IT consultants.
At roughly the same time WIPO announced that it was setting up its own working group to look at a GRD. We understand that discussions between the two groups have already taken place as to how they can work in harmony towards a single goal. BASCA believes that this is good news for anyone with an interest in licensing musical works for use on the internet. It’s just a shame that it didn’t happen before now.
COMMENT – Creators and copyright – an analogy
Think of an image for the exploitation of creative work and you will see an equilateral triangle turned on its head. The tiny point at the tip, which has now become the base of the structure, is the songwriter’s idea, the media composer’s vision and the soundworld of the symphonist. Built upon that tiny tip and rising in ever-widening layers are all the artists, publishers, concert promoters, record labels, broadcasters, internet service providers, digital music services, collecting societies, accountants, lawyers and any other outfit you could identify that plies its trade within the music sector.
That’s a fairly heavy structure for the small tip to support and sustain, but it does and has done for centuries and the reason it can and will continue to do so, if allowed to, is because of the infrastructure provided by copyright law. This enduring and venerable right, rooted in the law of Queen Anne, has served generations of music-writers and allowed the art of writing music to flourish.
The premise is simple – I create and, with my permission, and for an agreed amount of remuneration, you copy, reproduce, distribute, perform, and even re-arrange my work, and because you remunerate me, I create more – in fact, you invest in me. There is clearly profitability in an investment of this nature; otherwise music would not be the multi-billion pound business that it is today.
Copyright law has been forged over many years, engineered to provide the maximum raft of opportunities for the biggest range of interested parties, both providers and consumers. BASCA believes that any substantial changes to copyright law should be examined and tested to determine their impact on the creative community – the small tip of the entire structure. Were the small tip of the triangle to be ground down or crushed, then the industry as a whole will suffer and with it, the very substantial contribution it makes to UK GDP.