Today, I had a call from a lady who owns a beauty salon. She had just received a letter from a performance royalty collecting society stating that she had to make annual payments to them in order to play music in her business venue. Many people do not even realise they need a license to play music in their public venue and are shocked when they get such letters.
This is not the first time I have received such a call and imagine it won’t be the last!
Although the lady did not agree with having to pay the license for playing music, she, as many do, paid it rather than face the aggravation and possible consequences.
A question that comes up often in this conversation is, who gets the license money that I am paying?
Well, the official answer is, the artist / composer who owns the music you are playing – if only this was true. The fact is, the logistics involved in knowing who is being played when and where is so vast and random that the majority of the money collected goes to the mainstream artists and major record labels. Good for them, but not good for the independent artist or composer who ends up as a statistical minority and gets nothing or close to it (if they are lucky).
An independent artist only gets a worthwhile performance royalty payment when their music is broadcast on a major TV or Radio station. Big stations have to produce detailed data in the form of playlists / cue sheets from which accurate royalty payments can be awarded. Smaller stations’ playlists are randomly checked to collate statistical based payments. As an independent composer, the odds of receiving any money are stacked against you unless you get your music played on a heavily monitored broadcast.
The conversation I had today about this took my mind back to a case in Spain where a bar owner played music that he acquired online under the Creative Commons license. He won a case against the Spanish performance royalty collecting society (SGAE). (see links at the end for more info on this)
With SGAE, a composer assigns their performance royalty to the collecting society and can no longer give consent for their music to be played in public or broadcast. This permission can only be licensed through SGAE from this point forward. The SGAE composer can’t even put their own music on their own website, or play it in their own business venue without paying a licence to SGAE – Bizarre but true!
Globally, there are a number of PRO’s (Performance Rights Organisations) who collect license fees on behalf of composers / artists, some that require the composer to assign their performance rights exclusively to them, meaning that only the PRO can allow use of that music. I don’t claim to be a legal expert on all PRO’s T&C’s, but I do know that some performance royalty collectors allow you to enter into a non-exclusive agreement with them which gives you added flexibility. I believe ASCAP and BMI are examples of ones that operate non-exclusively.
At this point in Internet history, I personally don’t think it is a great idea for a composer/artist to assign exclusive rights to a performance royalty collecting society. My opinion is that you should be able to let your PRO collect for you, and you should be able to collect your own royalties directly if you wish. This can only work if you sign non-exclusively. Seasoned composers may shout me down and say that they earn a good royalty cheque from their PRO. Fair enough, it works well for many, however, there are other new ways of distributing and creating an income from music. I believe the option should be a choice, but this will only be possible if ALL PRO’s begin to offer non-exclusive agreements. This would allow composers to make their own decision whether to collect license money themselves, leave the PRO to do it all or do a combination of both.
It would also let composers decide whether to allow Creative Commons licensing of their music and would also let them play it on websites and in public venues of their choice without complications. I know many composers that would favour this and would use an opt in / opt out system to allow PRO’s to collect for broadcast on TV, Radio etc, whilst dealing with the rest directly or through the numerous online distributors.
Many PRO fans may say that things like creative commons are allowing music to be devalued to the point of distorting the market. I say leave the choice with the composer and make PRO assignment non-exclusive accross the board. The majors won’t loose out, but the independents could leverage the new order of digital distribution whilst retaining potentially lucrative broadcast royalties collected by established entities.
The Spanish case http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/7154
Creative Commons website http://creativecommons.org/
Creative Commons FAQ regarding collecting societies click here