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  • Anselm Lingnau

    Anselm Lingnau March 30, 2006, 9:26 a.m. (Message 44910)

    Re: The Strathspeyer's CD - Mix and Match - MCPS licensing

    Iain Boyd wrote:
    >   However, is any money actually given to copywrite holders who are not
    > known to these two organisations - in other words, what effort do they go
    > to to pay copyright holders of country dance music and music composed
    > outside the UK?
    If the MCPS/PRS is anything like the German equivalent, they don't worry their 
    little heads too much.
    There are two main sources of income to such an organisation. The one is, 
    e.g., radio, where the broadcasters generally keep track (by computer, these 
    days) of what music was played and royalties can be assigned to the 
    respective composers/lyricists/musicians/publishers on a fairly exact basis. 
    The other involves generic fees that one pays when one holds a public dance, 
    disco or plays background music in a restaurant or shopping mall. The 
    copyright institutions are not about to waste endless man-hours sharing out 
    pennies according to which top-10 hits were piped to the punters in Bob's Bar 
    & Grill, East Podunk, South Dakota (especially because Bob has better things 
    to do with his time than to write them a list, such as frying burgers), so 
    there is generally a flat fee in cases like this. The fee ends up in a big 
    pot, together with additional contributions from, say, the sale of blank 
    cassette tapes and tape recorders, which at least hereabouts carry a levy to 
    cover the uncontrollable sort of copying where people tape music off the air. 
    At the end of the year the money in the pot is divided among the »members« of 
    the copyright institution, such as composers and musicians, according to a 
    complicated scheme that the organisation does not deign to publish in detail, 
    but which generally operates on the Biblical principle of »he who has, shall 
    be given«. The assumption is that if you have contributed a lot to the 
    repertoire of the organisation, and if your stuff is played a lot where the 
    organisation can actually find out about it (on the radio), you deserve a big 
    share of the pot; if your input is rather more insignificant and you are not 
    played on the radio, you get comparatively little. Obviously this means that 
    most of the pot goes to the bigwigs of the trade, and that this arrangement 
    is geared towards keeping the likes of Madonna and Robbie Williams from 
    If you are a composer of country dance music, your creations are unlikely to 
    end up on Top of the Pops, and since reels, jigs, and strathspeys are, as a 
    rule, fairly short pieces of music you will have to come up with rather a lot 
    with them to be able to compete with the composers of symphonies of more 
    significant length (there is a bias in the distribution scheme that pushes a 
    larger proportion of money towards the composers of classical music, since 
    living specimens apparently deserve a little extra consideration). This means 
    that, at least here in Germany, you would probably have to be Muriel 
    Johnstone to actually recoup the annual GEMA membership fee. For the likes of 
    myself, with two dozen little tunes to my credit and no chance of them ever 
    being played on radio or recorded by a top-selling artist such as, say, Rod 
    Stewart, GEMA membership is generally a non-starter, so we don't bother, 
    hence we don't see any of the money when the pot is distributed at the end of 
    the year.
    The situation is a bit different with recording artists, who even in the SCD 
    scene are usually members of the MCPS. This is on the one hand due to the 
    fact that the CD manufacturing outfits etc. will gently but firmly nudge you 
    in that direction (they also get a share of the pot at the end of the year), 
    and on the other hand because you will presumably be entitled to some money 
    directly if your stuff gets played on Take the Floor and the BBC does know 
    that it did.
    The other thing is that the MCPS/PRS (or local equivalent) can only license 
    the use of the music that they are actually officially in charge of. They 
    like to pretend that they do »own« every single interesting tune in the 
    world, but this is not really the case. You can get out of paying GEMA fees  
    for a function where you only play strictly your own arrangements of 
    traditional music (where »traditional« means the composer has been pushing up 
    the daisies for more than 70 years) and/or your own compositions (if you're 
    not yourself a member), but as the presumption is that they own everything of 
    consequence you have to prove to them that you played not even a single one 
    they control (and don't let them catch you play »Happy Birthday«, which is a 
    mainstay of the MCPS/PRS repertoire). So you send in a list of tunes, and 
    they will usually try to claim a bunch of them even so, on the off-chance. 
    I've had interesting run-ins with GEMA where they would make believe they 
    owned the copyright on various tunes written by Niel Gow, William Marshall or 
    J. Scott Skinner, all of whom easily fulfil the 70-years-dead requirement; 
    normally you query these and you never hear back from them.
    And speaking of background music in shopping malls, etc., there are people who 
    specialise in composing »elevator music« who make a point of *not* being MCPS 
    members so it is cheaper for the shopping mall operators to play their stuff 
    because they do not have to pay for a MCPS license -- they pay the composers 
    directly and save the overhead.
    Anselm Lingnau, Frankfurt, Germany .....................
    The viability of standards is inversely proportional to the number of people
    on the committee.                                              -- James Warner

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