All your © are belong to us

The new law and the music cottage industry

The UK government (IPO) has announced it will legalise opt-out collective licensing. MCPS, PRS and PPL currently operate opt-in collective licensing.  Andrew Orlowski of The Register explains more here.

(Thanks also to @Copyrightgirl and @SaskiaWalzel on Twitter for detailed background information.)

Under this new law collection societies may license categories of content without the permission of creators. So if you fall into any category as a songwriter or record label they will license (i.e. own the rights to) your stuff unless you say no. I would guess existing societies will take advantage of these changes but that remains to be seen.

The IPO web site says:

Whether you’re an inventor, an artist, or an entrepreneur, our site can help you find the right protection for your intellectual property.

As they propose to abolish ownership and impose blanket licenses by default I have no idea what they mean by that.

Consumer Focus congratulates the IPO on their proposals although they offer no examples of consumers calling for easier access to privately managed material which is not currently part of a collective public license. (Speaking as a consumer I would say it’s a heck of a lot easier to get at non-members’ material on Bandcamp than some members’ back catalogue.)

This legislation presents new complications for the many songwriters and performers working in the ubiquitous music cottage industry.

Here is your license

Any collection society that takes up extended licensing will operate blanket licenses. Unless they opt out non-members will become members and be bound by the terms of these licenses. Their copyrights may then be used in a way they don’t like and didn’t agree to. Everyone who previously didn’t opt in because they don’t like PPL or PRS blanket license terms must now scramble to opt out.

There goes your money

There will undoubtedly be a de minimis payout for each distribution (as there is for traditional collective licensing) so small acts may never see any royalties while societies accumulate unpaid amounts and give them to Robbie Williams.

Who are you?

Societies lay down rules for identification and they may ask for proof of copyright ownership which is fair enough, if somewhat arduous. It’s not unknown for them to delay or refuse membership. That was one thing when it was an opt-in system, now it’s an opt-out system the identification bureaucracy will extend to everyone if only to allow them to leave and keep a record of it. Will every writer—in or out, or potentially in or out—now have a CAE? And who will pay the PRS fees of default opt-ins?

Your call is important to us

Collection society errors and hurdles have always been simply far worse for small acts than big ones. The little guy is often at the wrong end of PPL or PRS mistakes and finds it impossible to get them fixed. (I was recently talking to yet another artist who cannot get her PPL and MCPS repertoire registered correctly after numerous phone calls.) On top of this every composer I know—regardless of income—has persistent errors in their PRS. Everyone will now be opted into an error prone system which is to known to deal poorly with the very copyrights it will hoover up.

Goodbye international © cooperation

To opt-out, small artists must identify all their content (including text and images) and notify it to the collective licensing body or bodies. This runs counter to WIPO (the international copyright treaty) although the UK and USA have tried to sideline conventional IP rights before. I’m not an international copyright lawyer but it looks like the moderately complex, sort-of-working system we had is about to become really chaotic and the small artist will be trampled underfoot.

Territory-by-territory opt outs?

International copyright management will become more complex. Many artists tailor their international society memberships to optimise collection for their own needs. This sometimes means they are purposefully not members of one or more domestic societies. The new body may assume they are unlicensed and subsequently opt them in—this will interfere with exclusivity or planned non-memberships.

Thoughts are still occurring to me now I’ve finished so it’s likely I’ll update this blog in coming days.

5 thoughts on “All your © are belong to us

  1. This sounds like a headache. And a nightmare. Like having a headache inside a nightmare, while driving over a cliff.

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