Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Legal Extortion

A little more than a month since we opened and there is still absurd turmoil behind the scenes.  Most notably, Music Licensing Fees.

Before I get into my extreme displeasure (that's a gross understatement) with having written checks to the big three (ASCAP, BMI, and Sesac) let me say that I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with paying for the rights for something I use.  Being something of an artist myself (music, graphic design, photography, etc.) I'm more than happy to pay someone for the use of something they created.  In fact, I *WANT* to pay them for it.  In no way do I want to screw other artists out of money they are due.

However, ASCAP, BMI, and Sesac do just that.

Music Licensing Fees are little more than extortion.  And here's why.  These companies take a survey of music played on the radio in the US and distribute licensing fees based on extrapolated total airplay from that survey.  Sounds alright, eh?  But there's a problem.  They only sample a whopping 1% of *all* radio airplay.  (To be fair, sampling much more than that would be an overwhelmingly daunting task.)

If an artist's song is never played in that 1% of sampled airtime, they will never, ever see a check from these companies.  And that's where The Phoenix comes in.

Because of its size and thanks to the Sonny Bono-introduced "Fairness in Music Licensing Act" from, I believe, the mid-1990's, The Phoenix is exempt from paying music licensing fees provided we only use music off the radio or over the television.  And that seems fair.  I'm fine with that.  But, when we throw in karaoke or CDs or Internet Streaming music, we "have" to pay.  (And paying for internet streaming music seems redundant; the internet stream has *already paid* these companies.)

The chances are very, very good that the music we use during karaoke never see the light of day on the radio anymore much less in that 1% sample these companies survey.  When was the last time you heard "The Sound of Music" on the radio?  Or "My Way"?  Or, "Born Free"?

In other words, these three companies take money that is owed to an artist and give it to someone else.  Rob the poor and give to the popular.

And the demand for money from these three companies amounts to mafia protection money.  These companies sometimes send in spies to make sure a business isn't using unlicensed music that is in their company's catalog and then threaten the business with fines totaling thousands of dollars for *EACH AND EVERY* song that hasn't been "properly licensed" from their company.  So they "advise" businesses to pay the "reasonable" license fees to avoid being threatened with a business-closing lawsuit.  In other words, Mafia Protection Money.

If these companies sue a business and win, they won't send the money to the artists whose copyrights were violated; they'll use the money to sue other businesses.  So, even if these companies win, the artist is *still* screwed out of money that is owed them.

There's a story on the Interwebz of BMI trying to sue an artist for using his own copyrighted arrangements of traditional Irish music in his performances.  It was astounding.  BMI claimed they owned the rights to all Irish music; even Irish music in the public domain.  The artist eventually won the suit but it was a long time getting to that point and lost the artist at least one client and major source of income and goes to show the lengths (and arrogant stupidity) of at least one of these Big Three.

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