On November 15th and 16th I was invited to a private conference on Music Licensing by the Berkmann Center at Berklee College of Music on the Harvard University campus in Boston. Arriving in Cambridge, feeling the history all around me, knowing I was at the wellspring of our nation’s political and intellectual history was both daunting and inspiring. The architecture, statues, even the streets filled with eager, bright young students form around the world was an energizing force.
This was my first event as the Director of the Copyright Forum, thought I would soon discover that any notoriety I had was inextricably tied to my years representing songwriters as President of NSAI. Berklee and the Berkmann Center for the Internet and Society are by reputation very much the home of the open source, “free” thinking side of the more than a decade long copyright debates in this country. So I was expecting lively debate, to say the least. But as the day and a half conference went on I discovered one important concept. Despite the historic tension between the business / label side of the music industry and the tech sector, songwriters are like Sara Lee. Nobody doesn’t like songwriters.
So in this mixed bag of Internet and music biz luminaries, I was very much taken with the consensus that creators should be compensated. These are folks who start their businesses with a computer keyboard and an idea. They recognize the kindred spirits of songwriters, who start their businesses with a computer keyboard and an idea. Whether due to a growing wave of popular opinion, or a sincere belief in the concept, everyone there subscribed to the overarching tenet that creators of professional content must be compensated; a great starting point.
And the music community owes it to themselves to embrace the ideas of folks like Jeff Price, who founded TuneCore and Adam Pamess with Rhapsody, who have a sincere love of music, play by the rules, and know they can’t eat the goose that laid the golden egg. Even Joe Kennedy, CEO of Pandora, seems to be a music lover, though obviously greed has corrupted the good intentions of that outfit. He asked me my main concerns about Pandora right now, in a real attempt at meaningful dialogue. When I expressed that my main problem was his ASCAP lawsuit that would make the gross underpayment of the songwriter copyright, and the disparity between it and the sound recording copyright even worse, he commented that he couldn’t be expected to pay 44% of revenue to BOTH sides. I thanked him for refuting an argument that no one had ever made. I simply think that as professed music lovers and big licensors of music, Pandora might be helpful in rethinking the structure. That’s what we were there for.
Except for Pandora, the problem that Film and TV music supervisors, content aggregators, music services and video game companies share is not that they pay too much, or that they don’t want to pay creators for their music. It’s that it’s so difficult to get the rights to both copyrights for all those songs in an efficient and timely manner to start and grow their businesses. The most promising conversations I had were with Lee Knife, President of DiMA, the Digital Media Association. He gets it. My takeaway:
The Music Business needs the Tech Side’s help to create efficiencies in licensing.
The Tech Sector needs the Music Business to streamline licensing.
The Music Business doesn’t have any money.
The Tech Side has lots of money.
Wouldn’t it be a beautiful irony if the original vision of the ‘97 DMCA, a thriving Internet economy feeding a vibrant Creative Class, with consumers benefiting from great, affordable content, were to actually come to life? And wouldn’t it be cool if the same technology sector that some have said “destroyed” the music business helped to create a new, better music business?
It’s called collaboration. Songwriters do it every day.