Music: Intangibles and Over Aggressive Ownership

A slashdot post on licensing companies shaking down coffee shops caught my eye:

realjd writes with news out of Florida that music licensing companies are now hitting small bars and coffee shops that offer live music, even if only occasionally and even if the musicians don’t get paid. One coffee-shop owner told musicians they can only perform their own songs from now on.

From the article:

This aggressive — but legal — posture being taken by music licensing companies has the potential to unplug live music in many restaurants, bars and coffee shops in Brevard County.

Aggressive but legal.  Hmmm.  I don’t think its a stretch to consider this a less than ethical action on the part of the companies involved.  Some artists feel the same way (emphasis mine):

Professional guitarist and singer Eddy Fischer, who performs in the group “Robin and Eddy,” has been a member of ASCAP since he was 17. Having performed with members of The Monkees and The Mammas and Pappas, Fischer figured it was a good idea to protect himself. But even he thinks the industry might be going a bit too far.

“I think this is a little out of line,” he said a day before playing his new age-style folk music at the Halls’ coffee shop. “It seems kind of rough that little coffee houses with no stage or no lights that were not built for live music have to come up with that kind of money.”

The end effect of this is to chill one of the staples of modern music:  the cover.  The local DC station “The Globe” has a n incredible segment where they play covers by famous bands.  Small bands regularly belt out crowd favorites in addition to originals.

“It makes me so angry,” Hall said. “People like playing here because it’s not a bar, there’s no smoke and it’s a clean environment. I feel like the greedy music industry is extorting money from us and hurting these musicians just starting out.”

Its not just one company taking advantage of these small shops:

Six months later, other music copyright companies began calling the Halls and demanding money. Most days there would be three or four phone calls from each company, Hall said. Finally, unable to afford the fees, she had to call most of her musicians — those who did not play original music — and tell them they would not be allowed to continue performing.

At some point there has to be a reasonable balance between the holders of the copyrights and the rights of artists to express themselves.  Art builds upon art.  Jamming fees and ownership into the works stops the creative flow, and the result is we all lose.


4 Responses

  1. Well thats one way to energize a revolt against you. Thats why I hardly listen to the radio in years and don’t bother buying CDs, except for the off iTunes music buy. Besides, those little cover artist keep your music fresh and alive for newer generations, and what do these guys do, they go and buy that music! Stupid bullies!

  2. I’m just waiting for musicians to get wise and just sell their own MP3s on their own websites and completely circumvent the entire recording industry. Who needs some big name promotional firm when you’ve got myspace buzz, or whatever?

  3. Oh its already started, thats why the want to hike up the rate on Internet radio. Places like the Podsafe music Network (where I get the bulk of my podcast music) and many other services (like Facebook and MySpace) are circumventing the old Record Industry system. Soon they will go the way of the old Hollywood Studio machine.

  4. I’d like to think that the more they do this, the more it will backfire.
    Lot’s of new musicians make heavy use of myspace (including some up and coming former students). Also some big name bands experiment with various means of distributing their music. NIN comes to mind right off the bat as a particularly inventive artist in this regard.

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