Monday, 1 February 2010

Copyright exemptions for public performances

When (if ever) should charities be free to play copyright sound recordings in public without paying a licence fee? The government carried out a consultation on the future of the exemptions in sections 67 and 72(1B)(a) and paragraphs 15 and 18(1A)(b) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and published the results in November. It came down in favour of the option of repealing the exemptions, which it considered to be the solution most compatible with EC and international law. It proposes that charities should pay between £40 and £80 for licences to play music in shops and at fundraising events. PPL and PRS for Music have put forward a package of initiatives which the government thinks will make the changes more palatable to charities, including a simplified joint licensing system. The changes should be implemented by April 2010, but - unsurprisingly, as this is the way debates take place - the voluntary sector is not happy.

There's a piece on the This Is Hampshire website this morning (and I don't suppose this is a particular Hampshire issue) about the reaction to the government's propposals. It quotes Liz Atkins from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, saying: “Many charities rely on these small fundraising events to help them survive. This is a shameful way to treat voluntary organisations that help some of the most disadvantaged people in our society.”

I am not going to comment on the role of charities in society, nor on the proliferation of small (and indeed not so small) charities that compete for the public's money, dilute the fundraising and campaigning efforts and multiply the cost of administration. OK, I suppose I did just comment on that. What i do want to say is, what I see as "shameful" is the charities' belief that, because (by some archaic definition) they are doing what is considered good they have the right to avail themselves of other people's work with neither permission nor payment. This is not the government raising a tax on charities, though from their point of view I can see that the effect is identical. It is asking them to pay for what they are using. if musicians are inclined to let charities use their work for nothing (as REM are proud to do in aid of Haiti, and all credit to them) then let them do so - but unfortunately that's not going to get us very far, because it's going to be the record companies that call the shots most of the time, and they are casting around for new ways to sustain their profits in the digital age.

I for one would be delighted if charity shops did not impose someone else's choice of music on me - and the same goes for all manner of public spaces. I know this is a forlorn hope, so here's another idea. Charities would perform a much more useful service if they took the opportunity to present recordings by musicians who are not in thrall to a large record company, and who would therefore be happy to have their work heard on the same basis as via Youtube. Charities could be provided with copies of recordings that they could play without payment. Of course, they wouldn't get the repertoire they get from the radio - but it would bring about a very welcome and long-overdue revolution in listening habits, and provide some relief from the awful aural wallpaper we all have to put up with.


Martin said...

I'd like to ask a different question: why did the law need changing at all? The law has been in place since 1988 and has been working reasonably well. OK, it's not perfect, but laws never are.

The consultation document stated: "UK-IPO considers that these sections need amending to ensure the correct balance is drawn between the interests of right holders and these small organisations in a way which is consistent with EU and international legal obligations."

But did not state how it was inconsistent with those obligations. This is a change in a rather obscure bit of the law, where the amount of monies involved is fairly small, just to be 'consistent' with unstated 'legal obligations'.

Why bother?

Peter Groves said...

Martin, I don't think the concern wat that the present law is not consistent with those obligations - it's more that there are reasons for changing the law (partly because Article 8(2) of the rental and lending directive requires the law to give equitable remuneration to rights owners, partly because small charities are not happy) and the government wants to make sure that the changes are consistent with other obligations. They are not completely unstated - they are referred to elesehwere in the consultation document. But it does all seem to be a massive exercise (how much did that glossy publication cost?) to deal with a tiny issue.


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