Support for the creative economy

Further written evidence submitted by Live Music Forum [SCE 091a]

We would be grateful if you would allow us to present some important points for consideration as a new UK copyright system evolves.

The implementation of the Copyright Hub is an excellent opportunity to make badly needed changes to the music copyright distribution and collection system in areas which have previously been ignored. Particularly the processing of recorded music track play information.

Nobody could have foreseen the explosion of mobile discos in the late sixties and early seventies. Within a year there were suddenly thousands of non-registered, semi-professionals filling the dance halls and clubs that were previously the province of live bands.

Their 'performance' of playing top twenty records to an enthusiastic and receptive crowd fell under the category of 'recorded music' for copyright licensing purposes, so the new DJs were free of any obligation to pay the artists whose records they were playing or to supply any information to the copyright distributors about the tracks they played. Since that time there have never been any serious attempts to improve this badly lacking system.

Forty years ago the kind of chart and radio analysis which the copyright agencies base their distribution calculations on could have been deemed quite reasonable, considering that it was virtually impossible to have your song recorded unless you were signed by a record company or a publisher.

That approach was outdated by the arrival of punk and independent record companies in the late seventies. The very nature of this movement prescribed that hundreds of tracks recorded in dingy studios by local bands would be played in public. At their gigs through the PA, as requests to DJs by followers in clubs, on local radio interviews and at small festivals.

And now, thirty-five years later, there has been an even bigger technical explosion leading to home-recoding and self-promotion through the internet and social networking.

The further you wind forward through this thirty-five year period, the less DJ's playlists resemble the charts or top 500 on which many commercial radio playlists are based. From independently pressed vinyl records in the seventies to white label dance records in the nineties and the home produced content which is currently being produced, the actual diet of music in the larger world has become less like the standard format on which the distribution calculations are based.

As musicians accessed the means to burn their own CDs on a PC or Mac, more 'unpublished tracks' have been played in a wide variety of venues. Venues which have paid copyright licensing fees.

The first thing a songwriter is going to do when they have finally got a CD of their songs is to get it played by whoever and wherever they can, as often as they can. Imagine how many regularly succeed up and down England and Wales. Even CDs are becoming 'old hat' now with Bluetooth, wireless technology and memory sticks taking over.

These days all marketing advice emails sent out by online music companies such as Reverbnation and CD Baby incite and inspire the creator to be pro-active in securing track plays by DJs at clubs, on radio, online and, in fact, any situation where their music might receive some exposure.

Like many others I am as pro-active as I can be in this department. But, in a sense, the effort is futile. Because, if I manage to get my track played in town anywhere, the royalties that are rightfully due to me will go to somebody else. Because, PRS will not be told about the performance of the track and I am not allowed to 'self-report' the title, as with my own live performance of the song.

When you consider how many towns there are in England and Wales and the average number of venues entertaining crowds every week by featuring live music and DJs, you are talking about a lot of performances of tracks. A fair proportion of these will be the result of local lobbying. A fan or a musician can copy a track to a DJ in a club in seconds from phone or memory stick and young people are more in the habit of using every facet of current technology. If their perseverance gets them a play in public then they should be entitled to receive their fair share of copyright.

It seems to me that there are three ways to approach the problem. One is to get the DJs to do what they should have done all along, and that is to provide lists of tracks they 'performed', so that the artists can be paid.

The second is to employ technology in the identification of tracks that have been played.

Audio recognition software might be the first solution that comes to mind. However, there have been recent problems on youtube where media companies have issued numerous spurious copyright claims on audio to which they did not own the rights. I have personal experience of this and to be honest the copyright challenges were laughable but very time consuming in getting them dropped. These seem to have arisen as a result of the inefficiency of audio recognition software and a different approach might be necessary to reach a successful technical solution. Or, perhaps some simple piece of software could identify and report the output from a DJ's laptop or similar device. If it could generate a report it should be an easy task for the DJ to email it to PRS/PPL. It is only reasonable to expect some kind of effort to make it possible for the artists they chose to play to receive their fare share of copyright.

Alternatively, some form of self-reporting (as exists with PRS for live performances) for DJ and local radio station plays could provide non-charting musicians with a mechanism to recover their fair share of copyright. We feel it is vital that the new copyright system addresses this massive failing.

We have already provided examples of the effect that copyright licensing has on small live music venues in our Copyright Campaign Statement and a "single license' would no doubt aid small businesses of all kinds to manage their copyright commitments better.

As a working musician I have heard many stories from publicans about the heavy handedness of PRS and PPL. Some licensees, in fact, seem to be quite frightened of them, requesting anonymity. With an apparently considerable amount of power and income, we feel it is important that some regulation exists to curb any excessive behaviour of the rights collection agencies. Especially with regard to the collection of and level of fees applied to small venues.

There are hundreds of small live music pubs that might have a capacity of one hundred or more but have to manage with attendances of nearer forty and be happy. Licensees' plight of falling attendances, especially following the smoking ban, have not been reflected in lower copyright licensing fees. We know of several examples where Copyright demands were "the straw that broke the camel's back", so to speak, in terms of the survival of the venue. Greater care needs to be taken in the calculation of copyright fees for small businesses constantly under threat in this harsh economy. It does not seem morally right that intellectual copyright should tip a business over the edge.

We hope you will consider our suggestions and give some priority to a wider distribution of copyright revenue and measures which will protect the fragile live music economy in small venues.

January 2013

Prepared 28th January 2013