Musicians and songwriters deserve to get paid, but do they lose respect by asking for handouts? Just this week, a consortium of British musicians and songwriters started pressing for a levy on consumer electronics manufacturers based on private copying, despite obvious practical issues.
The question is whether this makes any sense in the current climate, or if there are other ways to improve musician compensation. Part of the problem is that private copying, or multi-format time-shifting, was something that definitely existed five years ago, but is becoming antiquated today. Back in a simpler time, say 2007, things more or less looked like this.
In other words, a lot of distinct copies were being made, often of music that was stolen. Even more insulting, these copies were benefiting the hardware manufacturers, not the creators of the music itself. And the irony of it all? Without the music, these devices would be far less interesting (or even viable).
Fast-forward to a fresh 2013, and the terrain is largely shifting away from discrete copies.
This is a world we know well. Hard-stored files are phasing into cloud-enabled collections, with companies like Apple paying rights owners handsomely for the privilege of perfect duplication. On-demand and non-interactive formats (including internet and satellite radio) and now ubiquitous, with temporary, cached copies (or pieces) the norm.
Which is why UK legislators opted not to redirect taxes from private copying, ruling that duplicates are now mostly a way of digital life. “While we understand the need for this exception to bring the law into line with consumer behavior, we feel strongly that the lack of fair compensation will significantly disadvantage creators and performers in relation to the vast majority of their EU counterparts,” wrote John Smith, General Secretary of the UK-based Musicians’ Union (the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors (BASCA) is also part of the consortium).
Complicating matters is that the winners in the current space are actually paying for content. But the amounts are frequently low, and oftentimes never make it back to the artist. Meanwhile, the state of musician compensation continues to deteriorate, with the number of unemployed or underemployed fairly high. “It is a sobering thought that, despite an outstanding international reputation for British musicians, most MU members earn less than £20,000 ($32,000) a year from their profession,” Smith continued. “According to PRS for Music, 90 percent of UK composers earn less than £5,000 ($8,000) from songwriting royalties.”
The question is whether enacting an outdated tax is the solution to this issue, or whether it makes more sense to force better compensation from a system that actually exists.
Written while listening to De La Soul and JaBig.