Copyright Law

Jun 27, 2010 | Opinions

Something that I’ve been thinking about lately is the nature of the music licensing bodies in Ireland. I’ve talked before about IMRO, and no, I am still not impressed by their efforts to extract license fees from hobbyist music blogs. Promotion of up and coming artists is important, and those blogs are only going to become more prevalent.

Anyway. I’ve been pondering something tangentally related.

IMRO are licensed to collect fees from venues like shops, restaurants, clubs. The PPI collect as well, for performing rights. They collect regardless of whether the venue in question actually plays any of their music; their attitude is such that they assume that the musicians in the venues will, without a shadow of a doubt, eventually play something that they have the rights to.

Now, this worries me.

Let’s say a restaurant doesn’t want to pay the fees, and decides to play only non-IMRO, non-PPI music. Such music does exist – Creative Commons music, perhaps? Jonathan Coulton releases all his music as CC-Attribution-Non-commercial; it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to make a deal with him, or artists like him, to use their music.

Here’s the thing: his songs are specifically registered to him. He owns the copyright and he licenses them as he sees fit. “Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work…” so sayeth Wikipedia, which seems quite straightforward. Copyright lets the creator profit from their work in exchange for sharing that work with the world. The keyword there is profit, of course.

If you own the copyright on a work, no one else has the right to profit from that work. That would be in breach of the most basic elements of copyright law. So, consider for a second what happens in this scenario:

Restaurant contacts local musician and does a deal, such that the musician provides or performs their own original work (or their own original arrangements of public domain works) to the restaurant in exchange for a set fee, which is presumeably lower than the licensing bodies’ fees. Restaurant begins to use this background music normally. Both parties profit in that the venue gets music, and the musician gets promotion plus money; very straightforward, as the musician owns the songwriting and performing rights, and may profit from them in whatever way they see fit.

Enter the IMRO, as they like to do, and they demand licensing fees from the restaurant, because the venue is playing music. In short, they demand payment for the use of music to which they do not own ANY RIGHTS.

See the problem there? See what is just a little bit bothersome? The licensing bodies are essentially asking for money on the offchance a venue uses their music, even when the venue specifically restricts itself to music they don’t cover. If Jonathan Coulton owns the copyright on a work, and owns the exclusive right to profit from it… what exactly happens if the IMRO profits from it?

Breach of copyright law, perhaps?