This cannot end well

May 1, 2010 | Opinions

In the aftermath of the High Court decision regarding the three strikes malarky with Eircom, it seems that the licensing authorities in Ireland have decided to start cracking down on all kinds of content both online and offline.

Two stories in particular have crossed my path. The Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) have sent out notices to a number of large, non-profit Irish music blogs that they must buy a license in order to offer MP3s to their readers – files, by the way, that have been sent to them gratis by labels and bands for promotional purposes. The reasoning is thus – these bands and labels have signed up with the IMRO and granted them the exclusive rights to collect songwriting royalties on their behalf. If I understand this corrently, even if they want to give away their music, they can’t. The agreement they signed does not allow it.

Dare I say that this is all kinds of stupid? The blogs are doing free promotion, and getting people talking about music. The vast majority do it for the love of music, not because they want to get paid. They make no money. If this does occur, it can only put a serious dent in the promotion and discussion of Irish artists online. Less promotion = less people hearing about music = less sales.

The second story is about the licensing of cinemas in Ireland. The IMRO is in talks to increase the rates that they charge cinemas across the country – 1% of their gross box-office takings, regardless of the size of the cinema. At the moment, the rates vary depending on the size. That’s not a cut of the profits; it’s a cut of all money they take in, and 1% is a lot when you’re already on slim margins. This is apparently because “we have an obligation to treat all cinema operators in a fair and consistent manner.”

I’m not sure what to make of it. The whole Irish economy is being slammed right now, and all this seems to be doing is squeezing businesses even further. According to the article, they want to backdate payments for the last five years – that can easily put the cinemas who are just holding on right now out of business entirely.

This just cannot end well. I can’t imagine many artists who are signed up to the IMRO would be all that happy about these greedy, strong-arm tactics. With the ability of the Internet to provide a promotional platform for bands, the question may indeed become whether an artist would want to be signed up to the IMRO anyway. Make no mistake about this; there’s a market there for bands who choose to retain all rights and completely avoid the IMRO, IRMA, PPI and others. Take a song, for which you own the written copyright because you wrote it. Record it yourself, and you have the recording copyright. Sell the song to a business under your own commercial license, granting them the right to play it in their shop for however long you both agree on – forever, maybe? – for a small, set payment. You get a little bit of money, and free promotion of your song in that shop. They get a license to play music that doesn’t bankrupt them.

Can you imagine if a label decided to do this? I could easily envision one going into a shop and setting up their sound system as a direct stream from the label’s servers which contains all their bands’ songs, and the music is delivered as a service which costs a small monthly fee. The shop would get affordable music, and the label would be able to control their marketing and promotion. And that’s to say nothing of the feedback you could get; statistics on the most popular songs, sales figure comparisons, etc. What if there was a public computer in the store where customers could register their interest in the music being played, or show their interest in a particular song? The possibilities are endless!

This does assume, though, that the label hasn’t already signed up with any of the licensing authorities.

I can’t be the only person who can come up with a workable business plan that bypasses the IMRO. So… I wonder are they really working in the interests of the musicians, or are they only interested in their own revenue streams?