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where are the magazines, applying the wrong ointment

July 14, 2010

I have often written about how I  think that the music industry is not doing them selves many favours in their fight against music privacy and in those discussions I seem to talk mainly of the RIAA and their role in the shenanigans but there are other organizations and collection agencies such as ASCAP or APRA that are also performers in this comedy of errors that is copyright and the music industry.

Performance rights organizations provide intermediary functions, particularly royalty collection, between copyright holders and parties who wish to use copyrighted works publicly such as public shops, restaurants and business establishments. These are the guys that shake down the local gym to pay for having the radio on, who incidentally have also been shaken down for royalties them selves. They are a big believer in every one should pay and that nothing should be or is really is for free, either that or I am missing some thing, in this article that  techdirt reported on the details of their ongoing war against Creative Commons, EFF and Public Knowledge it pretty much says as much.

About a year and a half ago, we reported on the news that ASCAP, who represents songwriters and publishers as a collection society, was holding strategy sessions on how to “counter” proponents of free culture, as if they were some sort of attack on ASCAP. Since then, we’ve actually noticed a growth in both the number of hilarious conspiracy-midned “attack blogs” from people tied to ASCAP, as well as an increase in the number of “anonymous” commenters on the site coming from IP addresses used by a few law firms that have connections to ASCAP. Funny that.

Now it appears they’re stepping things up to stage two: they’ve sent around fundraising emails that specifically ask for money to fight Creative Commons, EFF and Public Knowledge. What’s amusing (but really sad) is that this proves that the rhetoric out of ASCAP about protecting “artists’ rights” is bunk. Creative Commons does nothing whatsoever to undermine artists’ rights. It merely offers them more options for how they choose to license their works. It’s the sort of thing that ASCAP and the rest of the music industry should embrace. In fact, when confronted, many of these organizations often make the point that they have no problem with Creative Commons, and they’re happy if artists choose to use CC licenses.

Equally I also dedicate quite a lot of this blog to the woes that are be falling the print newspapers and their adaption to the digital age. I read and comment on the talk about the locking down of the news behind paywall’s and the use of the hot news doctrine to stifle competition and the news reporting. How blogs are plagiarising the work of others and if they don’t act fast that the same troubles that have beset the music industry will be their common enemy. The biggest issue is that the traditional revenue base that print media relied upon has moved as more mediums arrived to catch the desired audience with their message. The landscape has shifted and they are struggling to adapt a familiar theme so it was with surprise that I should stumble upon this article on the internet

The ASCAP example: How news organizations could liberate content, skip negotiations, and still get paid

This article suggests that the struggling newspaper sector take a leaf out of the music industries play book and introduce an adoption of the long-established ASCAP-BMI performance rights model by which they could collect payment for some of their content when it is distributed outside the boundaries of their own publications and websites. Now I don’t think this is going to be adopted and I think it is a perfectly fine thing to write of such ideas and propositions as I recently did with this article setting the intangible free, why not licence piracy however I can see some unsettling trends if we let this mob’s practices in place. I don’t want to poke fun at the author of that article and I intend to just explore a what if, if I may.

I often talk of unintended consequence and I think in this if ASCAP were to monitor and charge for incidental use of the media assets, its content well the consequences could be huge. Imagine a time you when were waiting in a sitting room at your local GP, dentist well almost anywhere and to help distract you as you wait for your appointment you reach for the magazines only find they are no longer there, you are of course a little bit dismayed but they have a TV so you immerse your self in “The View” on the large LCD screen in the corner forgetting about the lack of magazines.

The next time your out and you notice the same thing that no body has old magazines anymore; actually you can’t even get the daily newspaper at McDonald’s when you enjoy your morning coffee. What is going on? Why have all the magazines disappeared? Then one day you’re driving home from work and switch on the radio to catch some talk radio, when the announcer asks the question you have been asking yourself all this time “what has happened to the magazines in the doctor’s surgery”? Suddenly the radio is alive with callers all commenting on the mystery disappearance of the magazines when all of a sudden a caller explains that the surgeries have to pay a licensing fee to have them now and that so they all gave them up.The other thing that I think could be quite interesting is that if this model was adopted how would the advertisers feel a potential stream of new customers eyes denied by the same people you are paying to deliver you the said eyes, I think not well.

I think there is a limit that copyright holders should be able to go to exercise their rights and that commercial use if incidental and not core to your business should not incur licensing fees however collection agencies are ramping up their targets. I should hope that the above fairytale should not ever become reality however if the newspaper and media turn to performance rights models it could turn to be a piece of non fiction, I told you yesterday I don’t do fiction.

What do you think? Is a performance rights model the right one for the struggling newspaper industries? Leave me comments have your say.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 15, 2010 12:25 am

    Author of the NiemanLab article here.

    I’m not suggesting at all that dentists pay for the right to put old magazines, or new ones, in their offices. I’m talking about digital content. The dentist is not putting up magazine articles on her website, but if she did (let’s say an article about some new dental technique she wants patients to know about), without permission, that’s a copyright issue. She’d have to laboriously seek permission, in each instance before doing that. So she doesn’t bother. The content owner loses a piece of potential audience, the patient loses access to useful information, the dentist loses a marketing opportunity.

    Imagine, instead, that she could simply use whatever articles she wants, the way a radio station can pay any song, and have the usage be paid for through a common pricing and licensing arrangement. Wouldn’t that be more efficient for both the content owner and what I’m calling the remixer (in this case the dentist), than the current non-system?

    Pricing, for incidental use like that, is still likely to be zero, just as use of broadcast music is (in the US) for small establishments under a certain square footage and with fewer than a set number of TV screens, under the ASCAP rules and federal legislation. (See FAQ #15 here: http://www.ascap.com/licensing/licensingfaq.html).

    ASCAP is just my starting point — I could have started with any other networked commerce clearinghouse — and certainly what I propose would not literally follow ASCAP’s setup; it would have to be specifically designed around content transactions.

    And my big point is that enforcement is the wrong place to start. If a department store were experiencing a one percent loss due to shoplifting and other pilferage (what they call “shrinkage”), and they had an opportunity to invest either in something that would cut down on that one percent, or something that would increase their distribution and sales by twenty percent, which would they choose? Fairly obviously, the business expansion option.

    But news publishers, so far, are missing that point. They have a big opportunity in letting their content travel the Web in search of readers (a big opportunity), but instead they are focused on enforcing their rights against the minor pilferers out there (a small loss). What they need to do is reverse those priorities.

    • July 15, 2010 4:11 pm

      Thanks Martin for taking the time to read and to comment and of course I was not suggesting that you were for a minute saying that what I proposed would occur. I liked your article and I think that forward thinking is what is required with this and many other issues facing companies post internet. I agree whole heartedly that “enforcement is the wrong place to start” I have book marked your site and will check back regularly.

      I am a consumer of content . a lover of the internet and an accountant in time I hope to add successful blogger to that list.

      I hope I did not offend you as that was never my intention , debate of the issues should always start with the people most impacted . a fact often ignored by industry, thanks again

      Rory

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