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Re: Composers should also get paid

Oh, this topic just keeps getting better and better, while remaing
COMPLETELY OT for this list:


See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me - Pay Me
Dave Marsh  Monday, March 05, 2001

Pete Townshend keeps a diary on his website and the most fascinating
passage so far concerns downloading MP3 files with his son, Joseph,
who was appalled that they were "stealing." Dad didn't think so, and
the fact that such a prominent member of rock's ancient regime
supports file sharing has had many readers agog. Townshend's first
reason for not giving a damn whether his fans get access to his music
for free is that he doesn't often get paid for it. Among other things,
he comments, "during the 1989 tour, when we paid a huge sum of money
to BMI for the right to perform songs I had written, they eventually
paid me (after a lot of complaining from my manager) a tiny portion of
that sum, excusing themselves because their main payout area that year
was Nashville."

BMI is a performance rights organization (PRO), meaning it collects
money from broadcasters and "restaurants, nightclubs, bowling alleys,
aerobics centers, retail establishments" (to quote from its own
literature). Lately, it has been dunning assisted living homes for
seniors, on the grounds that these are commercial businesses in which
music is sometimes played. BMI "only" wants $2.25 a bed per year from
these places, which it pretends will come out of the pockets of the
owners with no effect on the tenants.

What's truly stupefying about this - unless you're used to the
machinations of the music world - is that BMI's own literature says
flatly, "Payment to writers and publishers is based primarily on
broadcast performances. Keeping track of all performances of music in
other areas...is impossible. With over 10,000 broadcasting stations in
the United States, however, it is safe to assume that what is being
played on the commercial airwaves reflects what is being played by
other music users." In short, the seniors listening to "Bicycle Built
for Two," or "Ebb Tide," or even the Five Satins' "In the Still of the
Night," will actually be paying the songwriters for Jennifer Lopez,
Britney Spears and Matchbox 20.

BMI's rationale would be more widely damned if the public understood
that this nonprofit corporation is owned by commercial broadcasters
who formed it when ASCAP resisted music broadcasting in the early
1940s. BMI helped the broadcasters cut their music licensing fees by
about 25 percent - ASCAP's share got cut in half. Because BMI needed
writers, it opened its door to black and country writers who had been
kept out of ASCAP by racism and snobbery, and this relationship to
"roots music" and the building tidal wave of rock and soul has always
been celebrated. The sweetheart deal is ignored. But BMI's allegiance
has always been divided. For instance, BMI has been a prime financial
backer of the most anti-music politician in America, Albert Gore. Gore
has a resounding devotion to the interests of broadcasters, many of
whom became billionaires as a result of the "deregulation" Gore
sponsored in the Clinton years.

The aggression of BMI is quite remarkable. It demands money from its
members playing their own songs in venues that have already paid for
music licenses (there are no prominent venues that don't). It even
attempts to collect from nonmembers who have titles that are the same
as BMI titles. Yet even an artist as famous as Townshend finds its
accounting practices overtly shortchange him. Even a deaf, dumb and
blind kid would recognize that smell as rotten.