IN THIS BRIEFING —
- COMMENT - ASCAP’s Download Woes
- COMMENT - UEA and YLI closures
- REPORT - Songfest
Welcome to the November issue of our monthly public affairs bulletin, BASCA Briefing. A digest of current activities and BASCA policy, in each issue the Briefing provides insight into issues we are concerned by, and looks at news developments from the music writers’ point of view.
This month we highlight a cause sadly fought and lost by ASCAP in the US regarding performance royalties, as well as the closure of Yorkshire Libraries and Information Music and Drama Services and UEA’s School of Music. On a more positive note we reflect on our recent 3-day songwriting event, Songfest.
COMMENT — ASCAP’s Download Woes
Last month’s decision by the US Supreme Court to uphold an appeal court ruling that there is no performing right in a download will hit composers and songwriters hard. The case was fought in the US by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in an attempt to ensure, as its CEO John LoFrumento said of the original decision in 2007, “that the law should reflect the full value to internet services of the music created by composers and songwriters.” BASCA applauds ASCAP for fighting this case.
On the other hand, we have commented in previous Briefings that the USA is out of step with Europe in the way it allows those who create music to earn a living: it still fails to comply with its TRIPS obligations, having created an exception in its 1998 Copyright Law that allows 70% of its Bars and Grills not to pay license fees to songwriters, composers and music publishers when they air music on their premises via radio or TV.
From the point of view of composers and songwriters in the UK, it means we now have a further category of royalties which will not be collected in the US on behalf of British and European writers, despite collections taking place by PRS for Music (and other European societies), when works by American writers are used comparably in the UK.
BASCA believes this imbalance should not be allowed to continue. There is a danger this could lead to “tit for tat” reprisals which will put pressure on the complex international royalty systems by which UK writers, as net exporters of music, are paid. This will be in the interests of no one.
BASCA believes action should be taken to ensure that the USA complies with its obligations and that those who use music as part of their business model appreciate the value it brings.
COMMENT — SHORT-TERM SAVING EQUALS LONG-TERM LUNACY?
BASCA has campaigned, and always will campaign, for more and better opportunities for writers of music of all genres. For reasons which are perhaps attributable to a history of patronage of the arts, or even attributable to the celebrity status which can come with success in the music sector, but which are nonetheless difficult to understand or justify, there has been scant provision of distinct career paths related to the development and advancement of being a composer or songwriter.
Given this status quo and a situation which has proved unbelievably difficult to change, the presence in the sector of educational opportunities — specialist establishments, relevant courses, apprenticeships and mentoring schemes — needs to be protected and fostered. There is therefore great dismay at the suggestion that one of the nation’s long established university music departments, the School of Music at the University of East Anglia, should be in the firing line and up for closure.
The recommendation of a panel of senior academics is that UEA should stop offering music as an academic discipline once current students have completed their degrees, citing reasons of the difficulty of attracting research funding and growing student numbers.
As always, it comes down to finance, but the worrying aspect is that decisions taken in the short-term in an attempt to ease financial pressures simply store up troubles for the future when the realisation hits that there has been under-investment in the music sector. This impacts on the nation’s ability to maintain its standing in a global market to which music creators have made a massive contribution over the last 50 years.
The same can be said of the consequences of another proposed closure — that of the Yorkshire Libraries and Information Music and Drama Services. Here we have a collection of half a million items of music which are made available to performing groups nationwide through a network of lending libraries.
What possible service can there be in fragmenting this substantial resource, which includes the copyright work of many music writers and which enables that work to be a living archive through performance and study. There is no better means of promoting music and those who write it than through live performance, which this collection has certainly supported for the past 37 years. Yes, times are tough and money is tight, but BASCA believes that those being pressured into taking these bad decisions in the short-term will discover in the longer term how wrong they have been for the health of music in the future.
BASCA urges both UEA and YLI to rethink their proposals and wake up to the fact that short-term savings will prove to be long-term lunacy.
REPORT — SONGFEST
On a more positive note, last week saw the second outing for BASCA’s SongFest event. Held at the Bedford in Balham, South London, SongFest provided young and aspiring songwriters with three days of discussion and advice about all aspects of making a career in music. Hosted by Tony Moore and with a line-up of panellists comprising writers, publishers, producers and collecting societies, it aimed to give the participants an inside track into writing and exploiting their music.
As with last year’s inaugural event, SongFest was sold out for all three days and the buzz throughout the day, as people listened, questioned and networked, was enlivening and encouraging even for the most jaded of industry professionals. There is a huge enthusiasm out there for the writing and performing of music of all types and it was good to be able to spend three days focusing on the positive, focusing on the music. For, as we have said in these pages before: without the music there is no music industry.