Local Lessons In “Theft”

Hey, if downloading is “theft,” what shall we call this? Pay to play [pdf]

Across New England, church coffeehouses, library cafes, and eateries that pass the hat to pay local musicians or open their doors to casual jam sessions are experiencing a crackdown by performance rights organizations, or PROs, which collect royalties for songwriters.

Copyright law requires that any venue where music is performed publicly, from cheerleading competitions and mortuaries to nightclubs and stadiums, have a performance license. Recorded music is subject to license fees as well. The three US-based PROs — ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC — collect the fees and distribute them to their members.

With the music industry in steep decline, PROs are ramping up their pursuit of the little guys, who acknowledge that songwriters are entitled to compensation but are angry and frustrated at what they see as unfair targeting of small businesses and nonprofits that make no money from the music they present.

[…] Most coffeehouses would be eligible for the minimum fee of $200 to $400. But even that is roughly a quarter of the profits one South Shore summer music series, at a rural education center, brings in during an entire season of concerts.

“I think the artists should be paid something for their work, but at the same time you shouldn’t be hitting these coffeehouses that are volunteer-driven and lucky to be breaking even,’’ said the center’s executive director, who has been presenting music for 15 years and began getting letters from ASCAP a year ago. “It really feels like extortion.’’


Later: See also Copyright: The Elephant in the Middle of the Glee Club from Balkinization. [also see New iPhone Apps Put You in the Mixpdf]

So what should you do in real life if you and your friends, inspired by Glee, want to make a mash-up, or a new music video for a popular song? Should you just leave this creativity to the professionals, or should you become dirty, rotten copyright violators?

Current law favors copyright holders. […]

Defenders of modern copyright law will argue Congress has struck “the right balance” between copyright holders’ interests and the public good. They’ll suggest the current law is an appropriate compromise among interest groups. But by claiming the law strikes “the right balance,” what they’re really saying is that the Glee kids deserve to be on the losing side of a lawsuit. Does that sound like the right balance to you?