Friday, August 24, 2007

the truth behind "blanket licensing"

Have you ever checked into a hotel and asked to be shown to your room? Have you ever been told that in order to get your one room, you had to rent the entire hotel?

Have you ever rented a car and asked for, let's say a Lexus? Have you ever been told that in order to get your Lexus, you had to rent the whole fleet?

Have you ever rented a house? Did the agent tell you that in order to rent the one house, you had to rent the entire city?

Ever want just one drink of water, but you were told that you had to drink the entire ocean?

Ever own a business and someone comes in and tells you that you have to pay them to protect you from everyone? There is a name for this practice and I think that we can see examples of this practice in the movie "Godfather II."

This is what lies behind the concept of "blanket licensing" in the music business.

Restaurants, night clubs and bars are especially victimized by this practice. In order to perform a few pieces of music (generally standards and songs), organizations like the performance rights organizations ("PROs") ASCAP, BMI and SESAC demand that the venue rent the entire ASCAP, BMI or SESAC catalog. And if the venue doesn't, it gets sued for copyright infringement. The lawsuit doesn't admit that the venue was required to rent the entire PRO catalog or be sued for allegedly infringing on just a few tunes, no the venue is sued just for the specific tunes that it performed and the demand for a blanket license is ignored.

Same way with Sound Exchange, the licensing arm of the RIAA with respect to internet transmissions of music (otherwise known as "webcasting"). The webcaster just wants to play the film scores of a particular composer but is told it has to pay for the entire repertory of recorded music.

So, what is the solution? It is called direct licensing. It may take some effort, but you as the restaurant, bar, night club or webcaster contact the actual owners of the music or the onwers of the recording (sometimes known as "the master") and you buy a direct license from that owner. You pay them directly.

Or, perhaps, a new internmediate organization should be created to facilitate these kinds of transactions. If you directly license music from the onwer of the rights you can forego the blanket license because you do not want to be able to play the entire catalog of music from the PRO or Sound Exchange. You may want to perform only the songs of Cole Porter, you are not interested in performing the symphonies of, for example, Aaron Copland. So why pay for what you don't want--and why be forced or coerced into paying for what you don't want? Think about it.

1 comment:

agorist said...

I like the idea of direct licensing. And, due to a consent decree that both ASCAP and BMI are under, they cannot interfere with the right of any of their members to directly license with end-users.

But, you are right, intermediary services are likely necessary to make this happen. How do you match up your desired playlist with the composers and producers of these songs, so that you may directly license and pay them? We need that kind of matching service; are you aware of any?