December 21, 2005

Good tidings we bring...

by Chris Randall

Schism sent me a link to this story, knowing it would incite me to rant, while small flecks of spittle formed in the corners of my mouth, and my eyes rolled back in my head. (I know that's why all of you visit this site; that, and gear pr0n.)

However, I think you'll be surprised at how I'm going to take something like this. First, you'll need to read the article, then come back here. [Go ahead. I'll wait.]

BoingBoing is, by far, the worst offender, but the Interweb At Large simply doesn't understand what performing rights societies are all about. To most of the self-styled intelligentsia, ASCAP == RIAA. This is fueled by various reports you see that read like the following: "John Doe has a really cool little store, that sells cool things we like, and he recently got a visit from [performing rights society], saying that since he plays cool music in his cool store, thus contributing to the overall vibe of coolness, he has to cough up $300 a year or some such. The OUTRAGE!!!"

I'll explain it in simple terms for those of you (and I'm talking to you, Cory Doctorow) that don't have the faintest idea what the fuck you're talking about. It's like this: I'm a musician that (barely) eeks out a living writing songs. It is a proven fact that people buy more shit in a store if there's music playing. They're playing my music so people will buy more shit in the store. Their profits go up as a result. I am (justly) entitled to a piece of that, because I helped sell more cheap-ass Chinese clothing.

That, in a nutshell, is what performance rights societies are all about. They make sure that if music is used to sell a product, the musician gets a piece of the action. Nightclubs bitch the most about this, because they have to pay the largest licenses. But you have to realize that a nightclub is simply a fiscal mechanism for turning beer in to money. It has nothing to do with music at all. Customers come to hear the music, and during the course of this, buy beer. In almost every nightclub in the country, the entertainment, be it Superstar DJ Blowme or Bob's Local Cover Band, is a loss-leader for the alcohol sales.

Which brings us to this fellow. (Or bloke, rather. He is British, after all.) Now, if there was a loophole by which a store that sold musical instruments didn't have to pay a license, well, then all Wal-Mart would have to do would be to have a musical instrument section. Sorry, dude, but it's for the greater good. Pay your fucking hundred and fifty quid, and get off your high horse.



Page 1 of 3

Dec.21.2005 @ 8:26 PM
did you read the article? it's not about music being played on a stereo in the store... it's about people picking up guitars and playing "known riffs".

...When he said they did, they told him that if anyone played a riff ? an identifiable piece of music ? he was in breach of copyright and was breaking the law. "They said it constituted a public performance!" he gasped.


Dec.21.2005 @ 9:01 PM
Chris Randall
Technically speaking, there's no difference, and the PRS is absolutely correct, aside from the fact that every statement in the article is hearsay, and the article was written (as usual) by someone that did no research to speak of and doesn't know what the hell they're talking about.

What I imagine happened is that PRS said "well, you're a music store of so many square feet. This is what music stores of that size pay." The guy, who has no fucking idea what is going on, says "why?" The person at PRS then gives a terrible explaination of why. The guy takes it the wrong way (understandably) and sees his reporter friend at the pub that night, and rants.

I tend to look a little sideways at performing rights societies like PRS, MCPS, SESAC, and BMI that are for-profit companies, I'll say that much. ASCAP is a non-profit, which is as it should be.

Ironically, someone that sells musical instruments to musicians who are the benificiaries of PRS/MCPS should have a fucking clue about the System. I have no sympathy.



Dec.21.2005 @ 9:33 PM
WalMart already does sell musical instruments. Well, if you can call the First Act crap an instrument.

I'm sure every coffeehouse whines this way when BMI shows up to a crowded, caffinated open mic.


Dec.22.2005 @ 6:08 AM
I still dont understand how you can claim that "Technically speaking, there's no difference" between situation

a) a performer playing songs to an audience and
b) a bunch of people NOT playing entire songs but bits and pieces of songs they happen to be able to play and which help them evaluating the instrument, and who do NOT play their bits+pieces to an audience that is standing there and listening but who play to themselves on headphones or to their buddy who came with them.

How can you make a shop owner responsible for what riffs come up in customers minds? he's not earning any money with what comes up in his customers minds, unless there was sign outside saying "Every day great cacophony of known and unknown riffs, a really noisy mess, 5$ admission". does the cacophony help him sell guitars because people enjoy listening to it? does it help him sell even more guitars when poeple discern "Smoke on the water"? no, this is nonsense. neither the owner nor the customers earn money playing some well known riffs because the shop situation is not a performance situation. if, on the other other hand, the owner would have regular demo concerts, with a guy playing famous tracks on the new guitar model, both the owner and the guitar manufacturer would obviously profit from the situation, which clearly is a performance situation. No doubt he should have to pay in that case.

But if latter is not the the case i would suggest "the greater good" here is not the enforcement of an orwellian copyright absurdity but the freedom of individual non-profit expression - for the customers. because what is really disturbing is not that the owner has to pay a minor amount of money, but that copyright enforcing organisations seem to creep up really close to every individual allowing or forbidding things which are not related to business structures anymore and restrict people on a very personal level. If, for now, the shop owner has to pay the fee for the indivudual freedom of his customers, its merely grotesque. It is what might come afterwards which i find really scary, its 2 steps before universal thought-police and goes along the lines of new DRM methods and proposed anti OpenSource legislation in the EC.

i guess if i was caught humming a well-known song to a friend in a metro station, i should have to burn, shouldnt i? ah no, wait, its the metrostation company that would have have to pay, since by providing a situation for me where i can hum something to my friend this will make me a loyal customer of theirs and bring them more profit. yes, this makes perfect sense.


Dec.22.2005 @ 7:53 AM
If every other music store in UK (and world generally) pays, then he should pay too. End of story really...

Dec.22.2005 @ 8:14 AM
You need to get a grip laddie. If you think that struggling artists are going to benefit when tiny music stores get squeezed then you're a fool.

It's a standard and ugly practice across all large, money driven organisations. When you need more cash, you don't think that maybe the big guys are overpaid or the system is wrong.. instead you squeeze the small guy.. the easiest target with no leverage.. who just has to pay up or go out of business. Ultimately, it leads to boring homogeneity, and a tiny group of people getting all the benefit while the people who just about make a living (who are doing it for the love of it) get forced out.

PRS is, IMO, a good idea. But somebody testing an instrument does not constitute a public performance. In the same way I don't have to pay the PRS if I play someone a track when they come round to my house. Like "ax" said above, it's a completely different kettle of fish to playing it over the stereo in Walmart.


Dec.22.2005 @ 9:19 AM
Chris Randall
"You need to get a grip laddie. If you think that struggling artists are going to benefit when tiny music stores get squeezed then you're a fool."

I hope you're not talking to me. If you think the various performing rights organizations "squeeze the small guy," you have no idea of whence you speak. The entire point of these organizations is to help the littlest guy of all, one who routinely gets fucked from all directions.

That said, you're saying this guy should be exempt because, although he almost certainly plays every Van Halen record on the Peavy "DJ To Go" rig in the back of the store like every other music store, you can't hear it because the kid in the front is doing his best "Smells Like Teen Spirit." From the top again, the article is at the root about miscommunication. It has nothing to do with the license. This is a story about someone at PRS not explaining what the license is about correctly, or this guy not understanding what was explained. This has nothing to do with the license itself, which is perfectly reasonable.

And anyways, there is no difference, at the root of it. A public performance is a public performance. Because it's bad doesn't change the fact. Because one particular kind of shop happens to have a _lot_ of really bad public performances, it needs to be exempted? How on earth do you (a) judge what's bad, and (b) limit that to one particular entity? Music stores are exempt, because they have lots of bad public performances of "Stairway" and "Jump." Okay. So Guitar Center, which _blares_ shitty n?-metal every minute its 100+ stores are open is exempt? Or Sam Ash?

Or do you quantify it this way: if everyone within earshot generally agrees that what is performed is "bad," then the store doesn't have to pay. In that case, every coffee shop that has acoustic music is off the hook. In short, there's no way to separate it out with one simple statement, or at least one that can be justified to larger stores that have to actually pay large licenses, as opposed to the ~$300 this guy is supposed to pay. At least he's not in America, where he'd have SESAC and BMI climbing his ballsack, in addition to ASCAP.



Dec.22.2005 @ 9:24 AM
Complaining about taxes very British.

Dec.22.2005 @ 9:37 AM
Chris Randall
I was going to say... If this guy wanted to bitch about something, the 17.5% VAT would be a much better target.



Dec.22.2005 @ 11:23 AM
One thing to keep in mind about PR organizations and the collection of money in regards music used in general sorts of spaces like retail: the small artist generally does not receive a portion of that money.
The reason being is that since those sorts of venues do not keep playlists (unless they use some sort of environmental music service) the money is split up and dispersed according to who are the most popular artists at the given time. In other words, if a store plays pop and rock music and they don't use a service, the license fee they pay will be divided according to what is currently riding the charts as it is assumed that this is the music being played in the venue.
The rich get richer. Otherwise, those of us who are affiliated with some PRS should be receiving some cheque for some amount from all the royalties collected from general use venues.
I think this issue illustrates something larger: these practices (and the fess required) currently seem fairly reasonable. But what happens when the fees increase? In this case, will it start to squeeze out the small music instrument retailer in favour of some superstore who can easily pay the PRS fee? I hope not.

Page 1 of 3



Sorry, commenting is closed for this blog entry.