Are the copyright organizations our enemies?

When I joined the Swedish organisation for composers in the early nineties, I thought that the idea was perfect. Someone handling the deals with radio and TV-stations to help me get some money when my music is used. But the longer I have been around, the more strange the deal seems. And when I dug into the record company start-up, it just got bizarre.

First I learned that I have to pay to myself for playing my own music. Minus an administrative fee at 9 percent. Then I learned that I cant sell my own music in a proper way, unless I pay a similar administrative fee. I also started hearing about horrible attempts from the same copyright organizations, to thwart file sharing by lobbying for new laws, harassing and suing my audience and trying to cement the old ways of distributing music as static, physical items, bound in space and time. Now after a lot of discussion and correspondence I have reached a limit where I have to speak up against this.The organizations – STIM, NCB, IFPI and The Anti Piracy Board – have no idea in what world they work any more. They regard the industries as they worked in the fifties – with separate composers, musicians, distributors and record store owners. But today a composer can be sound engineer, musician, distributor and web shop owner. It is cheap and easy to get the music to an audience. This audience is moving, restless and used to huge amounts music they don’t pay for from radio, TV and Internet. But still these organizations remain in an old world of physical distribution of plastic discs, hit lists, copy protection and they motivate their existence by telling the politicians to impose new laws, protecting the old methods of musical expression and distributions.

Trying to be innovative in this business is almost hopeless. Because how do I create interactive products, changing over time, collaborating with other musicians and the audience to o something organic and alive, when I have to work with bureaucratic forms and deciding the length of a musical work before it is even created? How do I get the freedom to run my own business and use my own music, when a large part of the revenue goes to the organizations that is supposed to help me as a composer? Of course they have worked out a small exception, for small numbers of physical albums, released by a single composer. It can be free from the administration fees. But this exception, helping the smallest and poorest, is surrounded by strange criteria.
When talking and corresponding with the people in this business I have gotten these glimpses of their views: NCB (Nordic copyright bureau) regards cooperative companies as too large for this exception. So if you are a few composers, joining up to start your own record company, you are suddenly a large company, and are supposed to have a lot of cash to put in to your releases.

Hip hop collectives, where members are floating, are not valid for these exceptions either. I suppose we all have to form Beatles-like bands, with very few composers, for these organizations to understand what we do. Is the copyright organizations supposed to decide how and with who we create and distribute our music?

The handling can be extremely slow. I waited three months for the first answer to my initial questions, when trying to start my record company. They are mixing Internet sales with Internet downloads, resulting in bizarre fees. If I sell my physical album in my Internet store, sending it via mail to the buyer, it is strictly a business agreement between me and my buyer. But if she buys the album as MP3-files, there is suddenly a downloading fee to the copyright organization, that is a result of their ideas of downloading as something threatening. But if my audience pays me for my music, why do they have to pay more to STIM? They do not even follow their own policies. I have a strong notion that they do not know how to handle the Internet explosion, and improvising to override around their own rules. Examples: If you release your own music on Internet, they have concluded that you dont have to pay anything, as long as you own the web space and have full control over the FTP. Principally, the MP3-original on the web server, is also a copy and should render a fee from me as a composer to the copyright organizations, but ”for the moment” as they state in the deal, they have chosen not to demand that fee. It is kind of strange, and even more insecure for me as a composer/distributor. When will they decide that these temporarily free details will apply for payment?

2 Responses to “Are the copyright organizations our enemies?”

  1. 1 Peter November 15, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    Well, this is why you will be successful with your music endeavours and the big record companies will fail. The speed of online business is increasing and any measures to try to limit that speed will be circumvented or ignored.

    Large organizations are slow to pick up new business methods. This is old news. Consider the ice delivery company in Stockholm that had a huge distribution organization but didn’t understand what to do of it when the refrigerator was introduced.

    I am sure the “big” record companies have valuable things that could be sold through new business models (their catalog maybe?) but my guess is that they will fail anyways. In a couple of years time we will see their last dying moves as we find catalog excerpts in the 50th “Best of…” compilation in the gas stations. Oh, is that already happening?

  2. 2 gramtone November 16, 2007 at 7:25 am

    Thanks/Tack. I can not have the confidence to believe we will be “successful”, but I really hope that these ideas we have will make a change. I think you are right about the slow moves of the majors. Come to think of it – Is large = slow?

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Gramtone är musikutgivare och bas för ett gäng musiker och låtskrivare, baserade i Norrköping. Vi äger bolaget och studion tillsammans, folk med olika bakgrund och olika smak. Två dussin är vi, som ställer allt vi äger i ett rum och säger: varsågoda. Ett kollektiv av individualister har vi kallats, och varför inte: Grammisar har vunnits, stipendier har fåtts, medan somliga är kända för helt andra saker. Alla spelar roll, men inte nödvändigtvis rock. En driver ett enmansprojekt, en annan är med i fem band samtidigt. Några är runt 20, några har fyllt 50. En fick pris för årets bästa museum. Någon ligger bakom Softubes banbrytande pluggar och någon har fått utmärkelse för, hör och häpna, bästa fotbollslåt.

Gramtone satsar på en liten, spännande utgivning av ostyrig, vacker musik. Lyssna där du vill, vi finns i alla de vedertagna kanalerna. Vissa spelar live, andra spelar in. Några älskar att skriva låtar, andra spelar gitarr så fingrarna blöder. Gramtone är en plattform som används av varje band och artist som det passar dem bäst. Ibland är vi en lekplats, ibland kreativt nav, affärsyta eller en trampolin för musikkarriärer. Vi blir planterade och uppodlade av varandra, och vi gillar't. Vi tycker att musik gör tillvaron större och vill man att något ska finnas, då ska man också skapa det. Tre dussin utgivningar hittills, och mycket på gång. Titta in, lyssna in, och häng med.

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