Words on World Music

Royalty, Loyalty, Schmoyalty

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Billy Bragg wrote an editorial  for the New York Times about the proliferation of websites using songs to lure eyes and ears to MySpace and now Bebo.com.  Of course, website advertising works the way every other form of advertising does – you attract viewers or listeners to your site (or newspaper, or television program), and then sell those viewers and listeners to the advertisers, who pay for the site and leave a little bit extra for you.

Mr. Bragg has a website, of course, but he just sells himself, his music and lyrics.  Billy Bragg is a musician, and wants to protect fellow musicians, the unsigned masses of (mostly) young artists who want to promote their music but protect their rights to it.

how do musicians make a living in the age of the Internet? It’s a problem our industry has struggled with in the wake of the rising popularity of sharing mp3 music files

I took MySpace to task over its proprietary rights clause. I was concerned that the site was harvesting residual rights from original songs posted there by unsigned musicians. As a result of my complaints, MySpace changed its terms and conditions to state clearly that all rights to material appearing on the site remain with the originator.

Indeed, listening to music has never been easier.  But are these sites doing the musicians good or ill? After all, stealing music has never been easier, either.

The claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous. Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?Technology is advancing far too quickly for the old safeguards of intellectual property rights to keep up, and while we wait for the technical fixes to emerge, those of us who want to explore the opportunities the Internet offers need to establish a set of ground rules that give us the power to decide how our music is exploited and by whom.

All good points, and of interest to those of us who want to spread the word about new music without ripping off the people who make it. But what is the answer?  How do you walk that line?In a similar vein, this story in the New York Times is about royalties paid to Gibson Guitars for the use of their distinctive instruments in the video game “Guitar Hero” .

Gibson has long had a licensing deal with Activision, the company that makes and sells Guitar Hero now, allowing the trademark shapes of its guitars to be used in the game. But in January, Gibson’s lawyers wrote to Activision to say that the game infringed on a 1999 Gibson patent “for technology to simulate a musical performance” using virtual-reality gear. Activision responded with a snort of derision and a preemptive court filing earlier this month, asking a judge to declare its game non-infringing. That matter is pending.

One must query, “What the Hell?”  How is it that you can license the rights and still not own the rights?  I guess that’s why God made lawyers (though I understand the devil kept the licensing rights to them.)

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