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Thanks to Mandolin Cafe for the pointer to an article about how businesses (think pizza shops, e.g.) are being forced to quit playing CDs as background music unless they pay licensing fees to BMI:
Citing Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, BMI insists the creators and owners of music are entitled to money each time their songs are played publicly.
Regular readers of my blog know that I am a friend of legitimate copyright protection. I even hold the unpopular opinion that the RIAA is well within its rights on many of the things it is trying to do. Regular readers also know that I am against some of the crazy directions that copyright-related issues are going -- I think it's time for Mr. Disney's copyright on Micky Mouse to expire, e.g. The things that this article talks about squarly falls into the crazy direction of copyright-related issues. The pizza shop owner bought a CD and the people responsible for the creative effort behind that CD were compensated at the time of sale. I don't think the Constitution requires that they be compensated every time that the pizza shop owner plays the CD as background music.

I was mightily taken aback when I got to the end of the article and saw that they are applying this same (misguided) logic to live performances:
As a treat during last year's bicycle race in downtown Beaver, Fratangeli hired mandolin player Egidio Faiella, a friend from Aliquippa.

A BMI spokesman told Fratangeli that without a license, his pizza shop no longer will be permitted to hire local musicians, even for such special occasions. Fratangeli said the BMI representative told him it doesn't matter if a hired musician performs only his own music, "because sooner or later, he's going to play a copyrighted song."
What's next? Is my mandolin teacher going to have to start paying a licensing fee every time he teaches me a new song? Will I have to pay one every time I practice it?


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 17th, 2004 07:23 pm (UTC)
If we're all just leasing music when we buy a CD, or if there's no such thing as fair use for non-commercial purposes (such as learning to play the mandolin), then don't all private consumers just get annual music licenses... in exchange for which, we could have all the downloads, CDs, sheet music, live performances, we want for no more than the cost of actual production? Of course, that'd mean that any "musician" who could not get hired by a participating label (or chose not to be) would be priced out of the market, but hey, that's what everyone seems to want.
May. 17th, 2004 07:30 pm (UTC)
I'm very sorry to inform you that you will no longer be allowed to post to livejournal, because eventually, you're going to post a copyrighted work. Your compliance in this matter is greatly appreciated.
May. 17th, 2004 07:36 pm (UTC)
I think I hear a song in that.
May. 17th, 2004 07:47 pm (UTC)
Citing Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, I insist that it is well within the rights of American consumers to travel to the headquarters of BMI and apply large amounts of cleansing fire.
(Deleted comment)
May. 18th, 2004 03:54 pm (UTC)
If he is using someone's work for his own profit, that profit should be passed along..

He bought the CD -- that's when the profit was passed along. Why does shop owner need to both purchase the music and play a perpetual licensing fee to play it?

Would the scenario you described be any different for a painter demanding licensing fees if the shop owner hangs a print or a painting on his walls? (Think, do you hang around in restaraunts that have completely bare walls?)

I just pulled a couple of CDs off my shelf and looked all over the liner notes and didn't find anything in them restricting the playing of CDs in public.

I also have a hard time seeing how you can be on the other side of the issue on the live music bit. They're essentially the same situation. In one case, the shop owner purchases a CD and uses what he purchased to provide background music. In the other case, the shop owner purchases the services of a live musician and and uses what he purchaced to provide background music. If licensing fees need to be paid, why is the shop owner not ultimately responsible for that payment in both cases? If the live musician is responsible in the one case, why isn't the CD distributer responsible in the other?
(Deleted comment)
May. 19th, 2004 07:33 pm (UTC)
that the artist has filed for Copyright protection, that's the same violation

But you don't have to file for copyright protection in order for a work to be copyrighted. The work is copyrighted at the instant of creation: "No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright." (source: US Copyright Office.) So, whether or not a painter has filed for copyright registration, the work is still copyrighted.

So, I guess it's a violation of copyright to hang artwork up in places of business.

How is the Pizza shop any different from a radio station?

The business of a radio station is to play CDs. The business of a pizza shop is to sell pizza. The pizza shop should be allowed to play CDs as background music.

There are certainly problems with the current state of the copyright system.... the law is not on the side of the small business in this instance.

I agree on both points, which is what I was trying to point out in the beginning.

Thanks for the good discussion on this topic. It's one of my favorite issues to explore.
May. 18th, 2004 04:12 pm (UTC)
Isn't the song copyrighted by the author of the music, and the performance copyrighted by BMI? If so, BMI shouldn't have a right to someone else's performance of it. Or do I have that backward? Either way, they're having their cake and eating it.

In any case, I have to agree with Dr. Mellow about the painting analogy.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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