Photo: matiasjajaja via Flickr
The music industry is a big supporter of the SOPA bill being considered by Congress right now, which would make it much easier for copyright holders to force Web sites out of business on suspicion that they’re hosting copyrighted material.The industry doesn’t want people stealing its material. Fair enough.
But it’s also pretty hypocritical. For years, the big players in the music industry have been taking millions of dollars that belong to songwriters and musicians.
The labels know it — there’s even an industry term for it, “black box” royalties — but it’s perfectly legal and the big labels aren’t in any hurry to change it.
Jeff Price is the CEO of TuneCore, which recently set up a program to help musicians reclaim unpaid royalties. Here’s how he explained the problem to us.
Songwriters and musical performers can register with organisations like ASCAP and BMI to get paid every time their song is played on the radio, or streamed online, or performed in public. But those rights organisations only cover the United States. There are about 200 other smaller rights organisations around the world who are responsible for policing and collecting royalties on performances from other countries.
These rights organisations can’t always find the performers and songwriters. So instead, they pay a large amount of this money to publishing organisations owned by — guess who — the major labels. It’s distributed based on those labels’ market share. Those labels have no incentive to hunt down the actual rights holders.
The mechanics vary widely, but the end result is the same: the big players in the traditional music business end up with millions of dollars that rightfully belongs to songwriters and performers, including independent artists who have never had any business affiliation with them.
How much money? Just in 2009, these rights organisations collected more than $9 billion, says Price.
TuneCore artists alone have more than $120 million in uncollected royalties from 2009 and 2010. That’s why TuneCore set this program up, although the company eventually wants to expand it to non-TuneCore artists as well.
As Price puts it, “The major music companies, the same ones bitching about piracy, have absolutely no problem taking money from other copyright holders. What’s it called when you take somebody else’s money without their permission?”
We know the answer to that one: Stealing.